The International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN, just celebrated its 50th year of the Storytelling Festival. It was the perfect October weekend to have thousands of folks listen to stories under the big white tents scattered through the oldest town in Tennessee. I am indeed lucky to live in this beautiful town where the storytelling movement began.

Early in my life, I was blessed to have a father who told wonderful stories: Uncle Remus, Classic Tales, and his personal stories. He embedded in me a great love for stories told and their power to entertain and teach.

When I began thinking about my research for my dissertation, I already had a question I wanted to answer, “How do stories told or read impact the Oral Language of Young Children?” My research helped me realize that both reading and telling to young children positively impact their story sense, expand vocabulary, and help them understand the meaning of the story (moral). But storytelling has unique benefits that strengthen story comprehension, including remembering the sequence of events and inviting engagement with the story.

The children who had their stories told could better retell the stories – a measure of their story comprehension. Twenty years later I replicated the research with different 3–5-year-old children and had very similar results. Of course, we should read a book every day to young children, but we should also enrich their language experiences during these critical early years by adding stories told.  Find a great story, with a few characters, and repeated phrases so children can join in and help you tell the story. They will ask you to tell it again, and again.

Original Stories Created by Young Children”

Let’s talk about stories. What are some of your favorite stories? What do we need to include in our story creation?

Setting: Where does the story take place?

Characters: Who do you want to include?

What is going to happen in our story? (sequence)

What can we learn from the story? (moral)

In a collaborative group, we begin to create our story. Once there was…

…and the story continues. Each child in the group can add their own element, sound effects, or repeated phrases as we progress around the circle. Any child can pass if he is not ready to add anything. But, always return to that child later so he can contribute when he is more confident. Provide supportive comments as the children provide their addition:

  • Interesting idea…
  • Tell me more…
  • What happened next?
  • Can you add sounds?
  • What happens after that?
  • What if…?
  • How did…happen?
  • You are so creative when you say…

Teacher directions: Have paper or a technology device so you can record the words the children use in the story. This story can be reread later or told again. The story can be revised and refined another day with those who are interested in the story development. Some children may want to draw illustrations or dramatize the story as they expand their interest. Children who have heard stories read and told love to create their own intriguing stories.

My hope is that you catch the storytelling bug! You will experience the intensive interest the children demonstrate when you tell the story.

It has been a busy time with schools and centers opening and getting started with professional training. It has been wonderful to return to live and onsite Conferences and to be with “real” early childhood educators. As I travel from Amarillo TX, to Florence, KY, and on to Jonesboro, AR, at each conference I was reminded why I went into the early childhood profession. It has always been the teachers and children who gave me the joy and support. People like Jamie, Myra, Kim, Jeanie, Janice, and Joanne who are so dedicated and working diligently to create wonderful places for young children and their teachers. These amazing women have found so many ways to encourage and support their teachers. They have designed and implemented fabulous Conferences, selected books and resources to add to teachers’ professional library, and celebrated each teacher’s accomplishments. They are an inspiration to me and all the others who have worked with them!

For the next few months, I am going to be sending you (in my blog) some ideas that will spark creativity in your young children. These suggestions can be adjusted and tailored to your unique children and their interest. We are going to begin the new school year with some intriguing ways to encourage our children to think creatively, to communicate, and to collaborate with their peers. I hope you will also nurture your own creativity as you observe and interact with young children who have so many ideas, suggestions, and interest.

 

Creative Spark: Improving a Toy

Materials:

old teddy bear, or toy, chart paper, and marker

Steps:

  1. Bring an old Teddy Bear (or toy) to group time
  2. Lead a discussion about how the Teddy Bear may have been used? How was he played with? Who did he belong to? Do you have a teddy bear or favorite stuffed animal?
  3. Ask the children to think of ways they could have more fun with the Bear. Seek suggestions for improving the object.
  4. Write down the children’s suggestions and comments they make on chart paper.
  5. Extend their answers by asking “How would that make Teddy more fun?”

Suggestions:

This is an open-ended activity and was inspired by one of EP Torrance’s items for discovering creativity in children.

You can repeat this activity with different objects and gain other unique suggestions. Each time children will generate more ideas and be more willing to contribute as they participate in the process.

All answers are accepted and valued.

This activity relates to increasing fluency of ideas (many possibilities) and problem solving. The children are also communicating their ideas and listen to others.

Share with me:

Share with me some of the amazing suggestions your children identified. Some I thought were wonderful were, “Make him sing”, “Have a shiny coat for him”, “More arms so he could hug better”.

 

Remember we want to nurture creative thinkers and problem solvers ready for the 21st Century!

Make sparks in your classroom,

This past month I was given a second chance!

My husband and I were having lunch. When we left, I noticed my right arm had fallen asleep, my cheek became numb, and my speech was slurred. My husband, an optometrist, immediately took me to the ER, which was 15 minutes away. After an MRI, they administered the “clot-busting” infusion. After 24 anxious hours, I regained consciousness. The second MRI showed no signs of a stroke. I am thrilled to say I have entirely recovered, and I want to share with you the importance of recognizing the symptoms of a stroke. A helpful acronym to remember is FAST – Face, Arm, and Slurred Speech. The T is to remind us that speed of getting the treatment is critical. If you see any of these symptoms on yourself or someone else, call 911 (US) immediately. They will arrive and begin treatment while notifying the ER to be ready.

I am thankful to have a second chance, and you can help another potential stroke victim have another chance, too!

We also have a second chance after Covid to create an amazing environment for young children that will help their development blossom to their full potential. We can re-establish a place designed for the specific way young children learn: holistically, actively, and joyfully. This place will be filled with opportunities to play and choose where they will be involved. The materials in this space will be interesting, allowing many different ways to be used and varied ways to create. This wonderful changing space will be filled with art, music, and movement opportunities to enrich young children’s world and extend their thinking. It will include opportunities to use the 21st Century competencies: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Problem Solving. Children’s ideas, work, and creations will be treasured and valued!

At the center of this inspiring environment will be a close relationship between the teacher and each unique young child in their classroom. They will value each child’s capabilities and possibilities in the engaging space.

We both have a second chance to do things in new and better ways!

After two challenging years, it is time for each of us to move to a more encouraging view of the world and the people within our universe.

The following suggestions can help us uncover the moments and people who have shown us the way.

  1. Identify the people who have mentored you as you developed into your true self. Find those people and let them know how they have shaped your life and how you appreciate their contributions. Sharing this moment with your meaningful person will make you both delighted.
  2. Remember the actions that have brought you joy over the years. Reading a book to a small child, listening to a story of a family member, singing a favorite song, or walking in the forest. Do it again and often. Celebrate the returning joy you feel!
  3. Search your space and find the objects, books, pictures or collectibles that make you smile. Pull them out, dust them off, revisit, and display these treasures so you will see them often. Reflect on the value of these gems and the accompanying memories.
  4. Reconnect to those you have lost contact with during Covid. Search them out, contact them, and find a time to be together again. Reviving friendships will have a positive impact on both of you.
  5. Remember funny stories, cartoons, or quotes that help us move beyond ourselves. If we laugh more often, we can begin to return to a more positive place. Some research on laughter indicates that the brain makes connections even if we are “faking” the laugh. More laughter leads to laughing more and encourages others to laugh along with you.

During our isolation we have learned that it is the special people in our lives that we miss the most. By rediscovering these treasured people, we find the joy and interactions that will help us return to our joyful world!

During this season of Thankfulness let us think of those who have shaped our thoughts and dreams. Sharing this appreciation with these influential people will bring joy to both of you.

I am thankful for you, your friendship, and support!

 

In this continuous year of uncertainty and mammoth changes we need to think about, how do we make the best beginning of this new year for both young children and their teachers? What are some of the ways we can help make the transition from isolation to group continuity? How can you build a caring, and learning community?

It is important that we establish a community of learners that will thrive in this unsettling time. Young children need a safe place – emotionally and physically – where they feel secure. They need to feel valued and supported by adults who can be trusted to take care of them. You can create that amazing environment that will encourage these wonderful and capable children by planning with these few suggestions in mind:

Building relationships

Every child needs someone who thinks they are wonderful and capable. How can you help your young children understand that you can be that person to them? You listen to them, you observe their interests, you follow their ideas, you treasure their uniqueness. You demonstrate your positive feelings, using words to support these thoughts, and their involvement in group work and projects that interest them.

Slowing the Pace

This is not the time to rush, push, or demand. This is the time to slow down, take your time, don’t be in a hurry, and enjoy each precious moment of your children’s discoveries. Observe what your children are doing, what they are curious about, who they are working with, and what they are saying. This slower pace will allow them to move at their own speed, retry, and move on. It will also give you the time to best understand the unique abilities of each child and determine ways to inspire those capabilities.

Make notes, videos, and pictures of what you are seeing for future inspiration. Your insights will help you shape additional  possibilities and opportunities that match your children.

Finding more time to Play

Play allows young children to influence their world, to work through problems, and control the events as they are happening. During play, children can adapt and adjust to the situation, collaborate about the experiences, and build confidence in their growing capabilities. Their language will be nurtured as they use words to accompany their activity and listen to others as they share their thoughts. By providing more time to play, including open-ended materials to use, and opportunities for them to interact with others, you are creating a place where children can become collaborators, creative thinkers, and problem-solvers.

Integrate Music and the Arts

The arts can provide safe ways for children to express themselves, to explore their feelings, and use different tools in these engaging experiences. These unique ideas and use of new materials encourage and support young creative children with different abilities and capabilities. You value their work, so celebrate their possibilities as they are immersed in these expressive arts.

 

This is a new year for you and your young children.  You both need a caring and safe environment in which to grow and think creatively. You can provide that nurturing place and the loving relationships that are needed. You will find great joy and satisfaction by knowing you are providing a “safe haven in a storm” for your young children!

Today is a new beginning!

 

I just read an article that has identified new ways to describe the power of early childhood to others, Life Outcomes, Not Test Scores. These positive benefits that last a lifetime are so much more important than test scores for determining the benefits of programs for young children. We have known for years that test scores of young children are not good predictors of the benefits of quality programs for young children. Now the media and the public are beginning to recognize that the effects are far reaching.

Today, in the New York Times, a new important study was released on the importance of PreK and long-term effects. This research study done in Boston was conducted by University of Chicago, MIT, and University of California, Berkeley. The design of the study allowed the researchers to compare 4,571 young children who attended a quality PreK in Boston and a control group of 4215 young children who did not attend.

The findings are very important for early childhood educators and supporters of young children. In this very carefully conducted study, compared with a control group, the effects can be clearly understood.

Children who attend PreK in Boston, when compared to those who did not attend, were found to be:

  • Less likely to be suspended
  • Less likely to be incarcerated as juveniles
  • More likely to graduate from high school (70%)
  • More likely to enroll in college
  • More likely to graduate from college

A Berkley economics researcher concluded that “large scale public preschool programs can improve education attainment for those who attend.”  It was further explained that the benefits were more encompassing than simple test scores. These long-term achievements were considered positive life outcomes which positively affect the educational level of society.

Share the news, sound the horn, and celebrate the findings from this important study.

We are concerned about “life outcomes, not test scores.” 

We are involved in important work, and your effort is valuable!

 

 


Leonhardt, D. (2021, May 10). Life outcomes, not test scores. The New York Timeshttps://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?uri=nyt://newsletter/f71bc80c-51b0-5a66-9de7-3a6826e9bb7d&productCode=NN&abVariantId=1&te=1&nl=the-morning&emc=edit_nn_20210510

Gray-Love, G., Pathak, P., & Walters, C. (2021, May) The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston SEII Discussion Paper.

During these dark times, there is a light shining on early childhood education. The country, media, and economists are recognizing that Early Childhood Education is essential for the United States and the families of young children. We have seen women, mothers, and families being devastated economically because of the lack of sufficient child care and inadequate funding for programs.

We are at the tipping point. A time when interest, concern, and information is focusing on the benefits of quality early childhood programs. If we join together to make our voices heard, we have the opportunity to make things happen. If we are to push the tipping point to positive action, we must be strong, loud, and focused on the needs of young children, their families, and the teachers who work with them.

The time is now! Not since the 1980’s have we had this opportunity to gain support for young children. How can we gather the voices needed for improvement, support, and the vision for quality programs for all young children during their critical stages of development? How can we gain support for families as they try to work while trying to provide a nurturing home environment?

We have watched as other countries throughout the world have gained support, funding, and amazing programs for young children. It is time for us to demand that young children and families in the United States deserve quality programs!

Unite for Young Children,

I wanted to let you to know the exciting news: all Four (4) “Home Spaces” have just been released. These are unique booklets that include all the information needed for setting up inviting spaces in your home. These spaces will actively engage young children in meaningful learning. They are specifically designed for families who have young children in their home during this pandemic.

My hope is that these spaces, with materials easily found in the home, will encourage families to nurture young children’s play. In these spaces the child(ren) can play and learn independently. They can follow their interest, shape the play in creative ways, and make decisions about their active participation.

Parents are so overwhelmed and stressed today they need to know that their child can learn actively in their home. It is not necessary for young children to spend so much time in front of a screen. Young Children are capable learners who can create their own play experiences if they have an inspiring environment available and includes open-ended materials.

Help me spread the word that these “Home Space” booklets are available and free. Pass it on.

All they need to do is go to drisbell.com/families and obtain the descriptive explanations, materials needed, and how to observe your young child learning. It is easy to do and appropriate for young children.

Together parents and teachers can nurture young minds, encourage thinkers, and problem solvers. These are the skills that are needed in the 21st Century.

Stay safe and find time to play.

For years, I have wanted to learn how to play the Native American Flute. I thought about it, checked on places to purchase, but never had time to follow through.

A couple of weeks ago, our local paper ran a story about an individual named James. He lives in my community, about 5 miles from my home in Jonesborough. His story was intriguing to me. He had been taught how to make and play the flute by his grandfather and father, both of Cherokee descent.

I saw this as my chance to learn how to play the Native American Flute. Every year I try to do something I have never done before, and I decided this year I would play my own authentic flute.

My husband Ben and I drove the short distance to his home and shop. James had begun making flutes again after his retirement. When confronted with a personal health crisis, he chose to return to the craft. He once again began creating beautiful wooden flutes reminiscent of his father and grandfather.

I found James to be creative and interesting. He was kind enough to show us how each flute was made and tuned. What a wonderful process! In sharing his talent and knowledge, he was keeping alive the tradition of his family.

As we talked, we learned we had a personal connection. Over 40 years ago, Ben had fitted James with his first pair of glasses, at around 6-years-old. We learned further that James also was one of my students from when I taught music at his elementary school. This was my first teaching job after graduating from college. This revelation had brought us full circle.

This amazing story and connection was the highlight of our holiday season. We reestablished a relationship with James, saw his creative process, and purchased a beautiful Native American Flute (tuned in G). I can hear the music in my mind, and now it’s up to me to replicate it. This season, learn something new, reestablish friendships, and value the creative work of an artist!

Happy Holidays,

For the past few months, I have had a growing concern for families with young children in their home for long periods of time. I have watched as parents and caregivers have been spending more and more time sitting in front of screens and directing their child’s actions. Having been a working mother of two for most of my professional life, I feel for the difficulties that parents and caregivers are encountering and the stress they are feeling to do the right thing. All this is complicated by the pandemic and the changes this virus has caused to our home life and families.

How could I help, as an early childhood educator? After much brainstorming, I have decided to provide a free gift to families of young children. I have just completed the series of Home Spaces for Learning that families can provide for their young children in their home. The focus is on providing a place where their child or children can play and learn independently. These home spaces will allow the caregiver to do other essential tasks while their children are engaged in joyful learning.

To give you a taste of the new series that will include Four (4) Home Spaces for Young Children’s Learning, I have attached the introduction of the areas and a way to register to receive the Home Spaces series free – over a four-week period. My hope is that this will help your family as things are getting busier for the holidays.

Why are these learning spaces important?

Young children will be able to shape their play, actively engage in activities that interest them, make choices, and problem-solve. They will be learning in the way young children learn best… through meaningful play.

You can access the content starting Monday, Dec. 7, by signing up at drisbell.com/families. You will be receiving the introduction of the series and the first “gift” when you register. I will also be sending these resources to everyone who is already on my list as well.

I will also be available to speak with parents, and caregivers free via Facebook Live.

We will discuss, answer questions, and support your family during this difficult time. You can visit drisbell.com/families for the dates and times for the Facebook Live sessions.

Families, teachers, and caregivers: If we work together, we can create a great learning environment during these critical early years!

Together we are stronger,

Note to Early Childhood Teachers:

Share these free resources to your families and encourage them to let their children work independently!