“If one says ‘Red’ – the name of colour – and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.” – Josef Albers (Artist)
Remember those evenings when grandma or grandpa would enthrall us with wonderful tales? We heard about Rama and his brave efforts to save Sita. We learnt of Surpanaka’s and Ravan’s evil intentions. We met with fairies and monsters, princes and princesses, Alibaba and the forty thieves. Every evening was a time to meet and learn about someone new, a time to discover ourselves. We have all heard these same stories and yet like the 50 different shades of red each of us has a different image of the same character. Stories are windows to our creative minds. Opening these windows to see the beautiful world beyond is absolutely necessary.
However, it is sad that children these days don’t have the opportunity to listen to these stories from grandparents. Stories are the best form of therapy and especially with children they work wonders. But all is not lost because the magic of stories still surrounds us. Every day of our lives is a story being played out.
Little Dolly has just started Primary school. When she comes home she tells her mommy about her day in school. The next day in school she tells her teacher what she did at home. What is Dolly doing? At five years, Dolly is narrating her experiences to her mommy and teacher. That is what stories are, our day-to-day experiences and imaginations. Stories are our own world.
I am a child psychologist and I work in a school. One day I overheard a few kids of class two and three using bad words. Later that day I went to their classes and told them the story of a cute little boy who was very short-tempered and who used bad words like stupid, idiot, and mad. The boy was getting worse every day and finally God decided that for every bad word that the boy used a little part of his face would turn into glass. Soon more than half of the boy’s face turned into glass. He no longer was cute, instead he became the boy with the weird face. The boy realized his mistake and apologized to all those he had hurt. He soon got back his cute face. After the story I asked the kids to write down five bad words they didn’t want to hear from others but used against others. Then I asked them to think of five good words to replace them. The story and the little exercise afterwards helped the kids realize their mistake and they stopped using bad words.
Stories are like magic wands that touch every type of child – normal or special. I have had wonderful opportunities to work with children who are physically or mentally challanged, children with autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, etc. And these children are as normal as other children and have the same abilities.
Once there was a little duckling who was very sad because he thought he was the ugliest among his brothers and sisters. They would not play with him and teased always him.
Why did the little duckling think he was ugly? Why did his brothers and sisters tease him? Why do some children underestimate themselves? It is not the children or the duckling that think they are ugly. The world makes them feel ugly. One day the ugly duckling leaves home unable to bear the taunts and the lonely feeling anymore. He goes far away into the deep woods. He faces a lot of troubles, escapes many dangers and survives the cold snowy winter. Despite the hardships he did not want to go back home to be teased again. Then the spring arrived. The ugly duckling now older and wiser was swimming across a lake and what did he see? The reflection that stared back at him was not that of an ugly duckling but of a beautiful swan!
Every child is like a duckling and children we call ‘special’ are treated like the ugly duckling. They struggle, they fight, they fail at things that other ducklings can do easily. They are teased and taunted. And then the little ‘ugly ducklings’ really start feeling ugly. But remember the ugly duckling did turn into a beautiful swan.
The first time I met these special children to tell them a story I was taken by surprise. These kids were extremely talented. They knew their music, dance and drama. They were expert potters and artists. They made me question the need to call such children disabled and challenged. When I asked them, ”Do you want to listen to a story?” They all screamed, “YES.”
I was to tell them the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in Marathi. I started the story by introducing them to a stick puppet of a butterfly and a song, “Chan kiti disate fulpakharu….” All the kids started singing with me. The session went on much better than I had expected. These kids knew how to count, they knew the days of the week, and therefore they enjoyed the story a lot more. After the story I asked all the kids to sing the song again. There was one child who did not open his mouth during the story. He did not answer my questions after the story either. His teacher told me that he was always up to date with his school work and was not a troublemaker but he never spoke a word. But a miracle seemed to have happened during the storytelling session. When all the children started singing the song again he started saying, ”fu, fu,…” He was attempting to say the word ‘butterfly’ in Marathi. I was speechless. His teacher’s eyes filled with tears.
This is the magic of storytelling. It brings stories alive and helps children engage with stories visually and aurally. The experience is so enriching and joyful that children learn faster. So let us tell more stories and tell them with passion so that every child transforms into a beautiful swan.
The author is a counselling psychologist with an international school in Mumbai. She runs the Kathalaya story space in Mumbai called Kathamrut and is also working towards developing storytelling as a healing therapy and as a tool to develop life skills. She can be reached at email@example.com.