I lived in Africa as a child/young man and there’s a part of me that has never gotten over the African sky and the beautiful people I knew. So, when I received a guest post submission from a missionary there, I was eager to pass it on to you. Alan Howell and his family live in the little town of Montepuez, Mozambique. Alan says his three daughters “have accepted the fact that he can only cook things that start with the letter ‘P’.” –Sam
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It started out as a method of distraction. I was trying to get the rambunctious group of kids to be still for a little while as we waited for dinner to be ready. I had used up my own repertoire of stories, so on a whim I said, “Alright… Let’s make up a story together.”
That experiment started a sort of tradition in our little community. Every so often, the kids and I will come up with what we have called a 6, 7, 8, and now a “9 friends” story. The number has grown as our group of young families has added more little members.
My role in the “9 friends” stories is to be the facilitator. I take care of the transitions in the story and make sure we don’t get bogged down. They supply the creativity. I try to make sure that everyone gets heard. They supply the adventure. And now we have worked out a kind of rhythm.
Here are the different markers I use to help us move our story along:
1. “Okay, everyone choose a character.” In order to start the story we need to know who the characters are. Some recurring ones: Gerald the Giraffe, a dragon, some pink princesses, a dolphin, and Kalmar the Wolf (yep, we have some Wingfeather fans over here). This step usually takes longer than I think it should as the kids have been known to change their minds. This is also one of their favorite parts – so we don’t rush it. Often the characters have a special ability or super-power. Once everyone is satisfied with their choice of character we can move on.
2. “So, where are they?” The kids shout out place names: the desert, a spaceship, the bottom of the ocean, a jungle. We pick one of these as the setting for our story.
3. “And what are they doing?” or “Where are they going?” Some examples: looking for buried treasure, taking a walk, exploring a cave, searching for rare bugs. At this stage we establish plot and movement in the story.
4. “But, then what happened?” At this point we introduce the problem: one of the characters fell in a hole, someone got lost, they ran out of gas, along came a hungry bear, a giant captured Gerald the Giraffe, etc.
5. “So, they tried to…” At this point the kids share different ways the characters try and solve the problem. Maybe they use their specific abilities or superpowers. We usually have them try a few different ways with limited success. Sometimes, we’ll have my character, ‘Moses the Mouse,’ show up with a needed resource or some helpful advice.
6. “And finally they…” Now we move to resolution. They find a solution that works and the problem is solved. Often in the story, teamwork is a key component in overcoming the challenge.
7.“So, to celebrate they…” At this point the characters throw a party or have a special snack. The kids love naming the different foods and drinks the group shares together.
One of the great things about crafting stories together like this is that it doesn’t draw solely on the well of my own imagination – which at times can be a little dry. A group of children certainly doesn’t lack for creativity or energy! Often at the completion of a story, the kids will ask to tell another one and we repeat the cycle two or three times. By telling a handful of stories in one sitting, I can also make sure that all of the kids have had a chance to play the hero or have an important part in at least one of the stories.
I usually rely on the older kids for plot development while the younger kids participate more by just naming their characters, the setting, or contributing the delicious (or silly) foods at the end. In this way, we have involved kids from 0 to 10 years old. Big brothers and sisters like supplying names or attributes for the little ones. Even the toddlers will sit and listen for a while as their friends and siblings get animated as they craft the stories.
Also, since we are trying to create a certain kind of ethic in this group of boys and girls, one thing I encourage is that all the kids are playing good characters. If ever we have an antagonist, it is an imaginary character not assigned to one of them or an adult.
Well, thanks for letting me share about our experiments in crafting a story together with a small group of kids. If you have a chance, try creating a narrative like this with some children in your life. They will love it… or at the very least it may buy you some time until supper’s finally ready!