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The Youngest Story-Makers
April 13, 2020
Storytelling is within us. We know how to hook and reel in our listener from the time we are very young. We read body language and adjust our eyes and our tone and our sounds, drawing and stretching and pausing and letting our voices rise and fall, all from the time we are old enough to string words together. My littlest learners, the not-yet three year olds, will draw me in: “My Little Pony is crying because she is sad.” Ananya is drawing big blue circles falling from her pony’s face. Why is she sad? Because her friend is sad. But why is her friend sad? Because she lost her favourite shoe. When we support our youngest learners, believe that they can make books without even knowing yet how to read, without knowing even the sss of s-a-t-p-i-n, without being able to use a tripod grip yet, they will surprise us. It is this journey, of tapping into every child’s natural story-making, that is a joyous and compelling one for any early childhood educator to make.
Our priority has never been to nurture writers. But imagine if it were. Imagine if instead of standing lines and sleeping lines and wavy lines, we were teaching our children to think like writers: to think of composition and craft; to create stories that sound just like the ones their teachers read to them each day; that they could create hungry caterpillars, and Harolds chasing purple crayons, lasting artefacts to adorn the bookshelves of their classroom.
The first step is to believe that writing and story-making are important, as important as learning to read, to spell, to count and to sit criss-cross. For young learners, story-making is born out of picture books, with pictures based on their own ideas. So the next step would be for teachers to encourage their learners to draw what they did or saw or felt. Randy Bomer says that a blank page is an invitation to children to make meaning (2006). As soon as they put a crayon to the paper, a story begins to form. Teachers can ask questions, and gently nudge their learners (Glover, 2009), keeping in mind what they can do independently, and then determine the next step in their writing development. They can attach value to the work of their learners so that they see their writing as being just like other writing in the world. And teachers understand that the most important reader of this book is the writer, and while the story may not carry nearly as much meaning without the young author’s explanations, the writer is developing both as a reader and a writer through this process.
We know that writing development progresses at a faster rate than reading development at least initially. If we give our learners the opportunity to invent spellings, this opens up windows for their passive vocabulary to float through onto paper. This allows them to draw on their oral vocabulary and use the thousands of words that they wouldn’t have normally recognised if they encountered them in a book they were reading, spelled conventionally. If we support our young learners’ writing, perhaps we will also accelerate their access to reading.
Ray, K. and Glover, M., 2008. Already Ready. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Glover, M., 2009. Engaging Young Writers, Preschool-Grade 1. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Bomer, R. 2006. Session at Conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. Nashville, TN.