By Shannon McFarland
It was recess and most of the children were running around and playing. It was a short break in between arts and writing classes, a few minutes for them to run and get out some energy. But one group of children sat on the stone steps of Atwood Hall in Worcester, Mass. taking turns making up a story. Telling me wild tales about unicorns and treasures, oceans and volcanos.
Storytelling came naturally to all of them. We each took turns, adding to the setting, characters, and plot. Saying “yes” to each child’s addition to the story in an improv-style where we believed anything was possible. Even though I was their teacher, at this moment, this activity was all them. I encouraged, listened, and tried to let their ideas lead. Enthusiasm burst from each of them. They jumped up, sat down, leaned close, and expressively gestured as they acted a scene.
They could be playing games, running, playing with the jump ropes, bubbles, and anything from the box of toys available to them. But these kids were deeply into the game of stories, wanting to keep telling their stories in between our creative writing classes.
For the last seven years, for five days each summer, the Main IDEA program has brought art teachers, volunteers, and a group of children together to explore the arts. Creating a place to enable creativity through visual arts, dance, music, drama, and creative writing. Storytelling is part of each of these arts.
While I taught them creative writing, sharing my experience and knowledge, they were also reminding and teaching me.
Storytelling is natural
We all have a story. Our story is a collection of many stories and many days. Each with a different a point of view from every character involved. We are free to tell and interpret our stories, to reflect on and reinterpret, to find new meaning in the past.
The themes, goals, and desires in our stories are often common. Love, adventure, belonging, etc. But the perspective and path we take toward those goals are always unique. Our journeys might be shared or similar, but never identical.
Some of these stories, like the ones children were writing and telling at Main Idea, are pure entertainment. Many movies, games, comics, and books fall into this fictional storytelling. They’re built on the imaginative and creative power of “what if” to transport us into a world of possibilities. Even when we sleep, our brain creates stories through our dreams.
Storytelling is innate, it’s something we do every day. We do it without thinking, making up stories about our day as we go. Telling stories to our friends and families each time we answer “How was your day?” It’s a good day, it’s a bad day, this or that happened today.
Storytelling is innate, it’s something we do every day. We do it without thinking, making up stories about our day as we go.
I can help give these children new words, describing “setting” and “plot.” But they already know the mechanics of it.
Our stories matter
I believe that everyone has a story. I also believe that every story matters and deserves to be told.
This comes out of the belief that every person matters. Whether our stories are published, posted, or shared in a private conversation, we crave telling them. We want to be seen and heard. To believe that we matter.
There’s an incredible power in this belief. It makes you pay attention, listening to the people, world, and places around you. Opening your interest to even the way a child makes up a story.
Main IDEA is a nonprofit in Worcester, Mass. Main IDEA empowers youth by encouraging self-expression through quality accessible arts programs. Learn more or donate to this amazing organization at http://www.mainidea.org/