Grandparents

THE JOYS OF STORYWORK

Story time with grandchildren is always a time to cherish, whether reading storybooks to them, or acting out their favourite stories, or creating new stories with them.  When we sit back and ask ourselves what we are hoping to achieve, the ideas that come to mind distill down to three areas:

[1] To entertain the grandkids. For example, maybe grandpa is visiting from far away and takes the opportunity to read a bedtime story.
[2] To build a relationship between grandkids and grandparents. For example, maybe grandma sits with the grandkids once a week and sets a pattern of always reading favourite stories. Or maybe grandpa makes up a story about an interesting character (Florence the Seagull) so that the grandkids look forward to hearing the next episode.
[3] To develop imagination, creativity and self-confidence. The example here might involve making up a story and initially expecting the grandkids to add details and eventually to shape the direction that the story takes.

For example: Once upon a time there was a very big seagull. Her name was Florence, but her friends just called her Flo. Flo’s head was white. Her feet were yellow and her back was a lovely shade of grey. There was one thing that Flo really liked to do… she liked to paint her toe nails. What colour do you think Flo picked to paint her toe nails? Pink. I bet you’re right. Can you imagine a big grey seagull with a white head, yellow feet and bright pink toenails? Maybe we should try to draw a picture of Flo, etc., etc.
As you can imagine this story could go in all sorts of directions from here.

The focus of the “third area” is when the intention is to engage the grandkids in the creation of the story, ranging from initial details to eventually creating and telling parts of the story. It is this third level where we see a link between general stories and Indigenous Storywork. As indicated by the Lady Louse story, on this site a central purpose of the storyteller is to engage the listeners to think and learn, to problem-solve, to recognize their emotions, and to share their perspectives.

To work with Indigenous stories requires some preparation on the part of grandparents so that the storywork experience becomes meaningful for all.  Here are a few tips for grandparents:

Look for books published by Indigenous authors or Indigenous community groups.

Identify the Indigenous cultural group and geographical location of the author(s) and the Indigenous story.

Learn something about the cultural topic or issue presented in the story.

Indigenous storywork approaches to consider:

[1] Repetition and routine help grandkids come to know what to expect (and look forward to).

[2] Starting with a favourite story and using questions such as, I wonder what s/he was thinking? or I wonder what s/he is going to do next? or I wonder why s/he did that?

[3] When making up a story it can be useful to include the grandkid as part of the story. For example, One morning Flo (the seagull) came tapping on (the name of the grandchild) bedroom window, etc.

[4] The stories don’t have to be elaborate but might include things that are not really possible. The seagull came to get grandkid to come to the beach. When they got there there was a whale stuck in the sand. They talked to the whale. etc. etc.

Indigenous Storywork

Indigenous stories often provide examples of cultural teachings and practices. For example, The Secret of the Dance, by the late Judge Alfred Scow, tells the story of a nine-year-old boy who witnessed his family’s Potlatch which at the time was forbidden by law. To get ready for this story, grandparents should learn about the purposes and importance of a Potlatch to Indigenous people and the impact of the Potlatch Law/Ban. See the book, “Potlatch as Pedagogy” by Robert Davidson and Sara Florence Davidson.  (Available at Amazon.ca)

Other Indigenous stories often involve a trickster character… sometimes a coyote or raven. The trickster character usually doesn’t follow the rules and gets into trouble… suggesting a lesson for the listener. For example, Silly Birds, a book by Indigenous Australian writer, illustrator and teacher Gregg Dreise, tells of an eagle by the name of Maliyan who gets into trouble by going along with a friend’s silly bird activities. (Available at magabala.com)

Another option is the use of hand puppets.* When the grandparent and the child each have a puppet all sorts of stories and conversation can develop. The puppet shown here is Mouse Woman. In his children’s book, Where is mouse woman? Haida artist Gryn White tells us, Mouse Woman or Grandmother is a tiny busybody which is featured in many of our traditional stories. She is highly respected as she offers great wisdom and sound advice to young people and helps to restore balance and order in the world. 

* Wickaninnish Gallery is one of several sources of Indigenous hand puppets.