Lavendilly Storytime: Why the Swamp Hen Has a Red Beak

Autumn Leaf Fairy3We spend a lot of time hanging together down by the creek. We play and we explore there, never really with much of a plan. Our story times often unfold while we sit together doing nothing much more than just watching and listening. We call to the river to tell us a story, and then we look around, and listen carefully to find it. The story then appears in a natural and collaborative way between myself, the children and the place we are in.

A few weeks ago, after a morning of delightful unstructured play and wandering down by the creek with my 4 year old daughter, we sung our Story-calling Song to the river, and then it answered in a most delightful way. One of those rushes of wind came hurtling up the river from a distance and when it blew by us, little leaves swirled all around us. There was a story there, but what was it? It sure wanted to be told. My daughter listened for a moment before saying that it wanted to tell us the story of the swamp hen. We didn’t know what the story was yet, and so we watched the swamp hens nearby so that we could find out.

The swamp hens were stepping carefully with their long toes on the lawn near the bank, and digging with their red beaks in the grass. Stepping and digging, stepping and digging. Their purply and deep blue feathers shone in the sun. Unhurried, peaceful, purposeful. Other hens were paddling in the water, and one dived right under and disappeared for a moment before shooting out of the water again like a rocket. We found this most interesting! And so we started talking about what we saw, and why we thought the swamp hens were doing these things.

My daughter had a lot of theories about what these waterbirds were doing. We wondered why they were pecking the grass – she thought they were eating the “moisture” (moys-cha), which, it turns out, she thought was lovely dark dirt. I wondered, if maybe they might be nibbling at some roots or grubs that live in the “moisture”. We wondered how they could swim when they were birds – she thought they must kick with their long toes. We wondered why the swamp hen whooshed out of the water so quickly – she thought the eels might have bitten it on the nose because it had been rude.

AH! That explains why it has a red beak!

And there we found the story. It just came, and we told it while we tried to copy the swamp hen’s movements. Have you stepped like waterbird? Stepping slowly while lifting knees and pointing toes at the same time takes balance! When we got home we looked up swamp hens in our bird book and on the computer and discovered that they DO eat the grasses and soft roots of plants near the river, and they DO sometimes attack eels (known as jurun in Yugambeh Language) – but no one knows why.

Well, we do! Here’s why:


Lavendilly Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen was swimming in the shallow water of the river, looking for some food. It dived down under the water and swam about for a moment, before popping back up for a breath.

It was a beautiful bird with shiny, purply and dark blue feathers, and long, long toes that it could use to pick up food, or to swim for short distances under water. It was a neat bird, a tidy one, and it liked the way its  sleek feathers glimmered in the sunlight. Swamp Hen stepped carefully so that it would never get dirty.

Eel saw Swamp Hen swimming underwater one day. “What are you doing, swimming in my river, bird?”

Swamp Hen replied, “I’m just looking for a little food. There are some delicious delicacies here in this river. Have you tried the snail? What about these little fish? Those are delightful, but you have to be quick to catch them.”

Eel said “Only I am fast enough! This is my river and you cannot fish here! I am Jurun! I am king here.”

Swamp Hen looked Eel up and down, then rudely said, “What are you? You are too slimy to be a fish and too fat to be a snake. You couldn’t possibly be king of the river! Not like I, with my shiny feathers and graceful toes. Perhaps I should be king.”

This boasting from Swamp Hen made Eel so cross, it rushed forward and bit Swamp Hen on the beak. Swamp Hen got such a fright it whooshed straight out of the water like a rocket! Its poor beak was bright red and sore!

And that is why Swamp Hen now much prefers to spend its time stepping carefully and only using its beak to dig in the softer parts of the grasses and plants that grow by the water. Sometimes when its beak is feeling really red and sore, it uses its toes to lift up soft plants and shoots, rather than to bend down and dig. And it never spends long underwater, in case it meets Eel again.

Spontaneous Storytelling in a Group

I love ALL stories,  but I do from time to time like to vary from traditional fairy tales and our well-loved stories that we tell over and again. Sometimes though, I just don’t have any ideas of my own. Today was one of those days. It was glorious at playgroup today – this wonderful winter sunshine turned on a hint of summer today – we were all outside in our hats and singlet tops and bare feet really enjoying every moment of this magic day. I didn’t want to think about a story to tell the group today and I’d been so busy throughout the week that I hadn’t given any time to dreaming up some new stories.

So today we made one up on the spot as a group. It was fun! We sat outside under the shady trees on some picnic blankets together and picked an items from a variety of objects I had put in a pillow case. We sat with our item for a bit, thinking about its potential, looking at it with new eyes, stretching what we knew to be ‘true’ of this object, then we began to talk.

Our story today involved a knitted lady (wearing a sling), a needle felted figure with a cloak and a diamond, two tiny dolls (that just so happen to fit inside the knitted lady’s sling), a length of plaited wire with shiny beads threaded on, a long seed pod, a short seed pod and a doily.

What story would you make up with these objects? It’s best really not to think about it too much, just to open your mouth and the story come out. One person began the story with their item and then we took turns introducing the object we had and developing the story. Sharing a story with other adults is delightful because while you think you may know what is going to happen next, another person always has a wonderful idea that you hadn’t thought of!

Would you like to read our story?

I will write it down and post it soon 🙂



Story: The Old Woman Who Went Inside

I am working more and more with fairy tales for adults these days. I have re-written a few, and I have written a few new ones. I have been re-discovering the amazing transformational power that is held within a simple story and have worked closely with a few people recently to re-write stories or write new ones that re-tell their experience with a new eyes. Stories don’t always have to have happy endings to be powerful, either. Melissa and I have been writing transformational stories and meditations for Sacred Essence for several years. You can read a few of them on our website (and keep checking back, we add a new story every month!)

This particular story is not one for playgroup! It is one I wrote at the end of last semester. It came into existence after listening to the song “Hold It Up To The Light” by David Wilcox, and it partly describes my personal experience, and partly describes the companioning journey of client and creative arts therapist, however, like most fairy tales, there is a subtext. I know what it says to me – what does this story say to you?


Crone, by Jennifer McCormack

The Old Woman Who Went Inside

by Jennifer McCormack, 2013

Once there was an old woman who lived in the middle of a village. She would sit on a bench in the sunshine at the front of her house spinning her yarn, and people would come and sit with her when they needed some support. She would share her wisdom with those who had troubles without answers, for she had lived long and listened well. She would mix up special brews, lotions and make talismans, for she was interested in many things and had long realised the power of the natural world. She would also tell stories and people would come to listen, for her words took them to other places.

She was happy to help, and had done so in this way for many years. She would receive payment, exchange news, enjoy the company of the villagers and was loved in her community, but she wasn’t content. She was starting to get pissed off.

The villagers would come to her and praise her for being so wise, so patient, so clever at knowing just the right thing to do. Of course they were right – SHE knew it! She’d lived long enough to recognise her own wisdom, experience and mistakes, but she had grown tired of being everyone’s first stop. She thought they probably could have solved their problems by themselves if they’d given it some thought, or if they had listened to her last time they asked. She had begun snapping sharply at people who came to her for answers. She left her bench in the sunshine and shifted her spinning wheel inside where she sat in the darkness, the only light coming from the one window in her small cottage.

The villagers were confused and left her alone for some time. Old women can do what they like. They had a right to be snippy if they chose to! They were not sure what the matter was though, and they didn’t know what kind of reaction they might receive if they knocked on her door. Inside her house, sitting in the dark the old woman was enjoying the solitude, but after a few weeks she opened her door just a little. She didn’t mind the darkness, she didn’t mind her own company – but why wouldn’t anyone come inside? She might not want to solve their problems but she missed their company, and besides, the less people who came, the less payment she received.

Eventually someone did knock at her door. The door creaked open a little more at their knock and they let themselves in, calling softly to her as they stepped hesitantly inside. The went to sit beside her and the old woman pointed to a chair but said nothing, just kept spinning her yarn by the light that came through the window. Except for the hypnotic rhythm of the spinning wheel, the house was quiet. Still the old woman did not speak. Eventually the visitor held their trouble up to the light of the window and the old woman looked up. With a few words, she pointed out the obvious, the not-so-obvious, and the curious but would not give an answer, just kept on spinning. The visitor thought for a moment and suggested an idea that came to them, suddenly finding that their trouble felt lighter. The old woman smiled as her visitor went home, after leaving payment in a bowl on the table.

Soon others arrived. Those with troubles held them up to the light and they would tell their story and together they and the old woman would comment on what they saw, and somehow things started looking clearer. Those who need talismans and potions were directed by the old woman with a flick of her head to her garden, where they helped themselves to the things they felt they needed, and those who came to her for stories found rhythm in the sound of her spinning wheel, and they ended up telling rich and wonderful tales of their own. Some people just came to sit in the dark and the quiet with the old woman. It was cool and reassuring in there. They would leave payment in the bowl as the left the house: some money, a gift or some food.

After continuing in this way for a while the old woman began to leave her house again, to tend her garden, to do her shopping, to sit on her bench in the sunshine to spin. Sometimes she would sit with the villagers on her bench, at other times they would go inside and sit by the window. Sometimes she would mix a brew or make a talisman or tell a story, but at all times people were invited to respectfully choose what they felt they needed, and create their own stories. The old woman began to enjoy the company of the villagers, again discussing ideas together, walking through the garden and meeting on her bench. She lived a long life, sitting on her bench in the sunshine. As far as I know, she is sitting there still.

Lavendilly Storytime: The Red Caps

image from

traditional story retold by Jennifer McCormack

Once there was a man who made himself a red cap. It was long and pointy and had a bell on the end of it that went ting-a-ling! He wore it everywhere and everywhere he wore it, people admired his red cap. Soon people started asking him to make a red cap for them to buy, and so he did. He made so many red caps with bells on them that he couldn’t carry them all. He put them in a sack and started walking to market to sell them.

It was a long way to market and he had to walk for one day and one night through the forest. He enjoyed the walk during the day because there was lots to experience. He loved looking at the light dancing through the leaves and the shadows making patterns on the ground. He loved to hear the crunch of leaves and twigs under his feet, to spy the hiding animals and listen to the birds. It was a pleasant walk, but when the sun went down the man couldn’t see where he was going anymore, and he so he found a tree that looked like it had cozy roots and made himself comfortable there for the night. He had a little something to eat and he put on his red cap and went to sleep.

He had a great sleep, and when he woke up in the morning he stretched and yawned and looked around for his bag of caps, but the bag was empty! There was not a single red cap inside it? All his hard work was gone!! He looked everywhere – he looked all around the tree and all the trees around him. He looked under leaves and twigs but he couldn’t see his caps anywhere – just the empty bag!

“OH NO!” he groaned.

And then he heard some groaning coming from up in the tree. When he looked up he saw some monkeys sitting in the branches – and each one of them was wearing a red cap!

“Give those back to me!” he yelled, shaking his finger at the monkeys.

“Chee, chee, chee, chee, chee!” the monkeys yelled back, shaking their finger at the man.

“I need those caps! Give them to me now!” yelled the man, this time stamping his foot.

“Chee, chee, chee, chee, chee!” yelled the monkeys, stamping their feet so that the leaves shook and fell from the branches. All the monkeys laughed.

“Give me my caps right now!” yelled the man again. He was so frustrated his pulled his own cap from his head and threw it on to the ground at his feet.

“Chee, chee, chee, chee, chee!” yelled the monkeys, and they took off their caps and threw them on to the ground too, all the little bells going ting-a-ling as the caps landed all around the man.

Quickly he gathered up all the red caps and put them back in his bag. He put his own red cap on his head again, his little bell going ting-a-ling as he strode through the forest to the market. The cheeky monkeys all giggled to each other as they watched him go.


Snip snap snout – this tale’s told out!

Meditation Story: The Prelude and the Ending

I was going to post last night’s meditation story today, and I will do it, but first I thought it would be best to share with you the prelude and the ending that my meditations are sandwiched inside.

The environment to storytime is just as important to me as the story itself. At bedtime in our house I like the children to have a clean room. I think it is important to go to sleep with all affairs in order, with nothing cluttering up our journey into the night. So we spend a few moments putting away clothes and books and other bits and pieces … my children keep their most of their playthings in the playroom so there is never much to put away in the bedroom before hopping into bed. We get all settled in bed, sometimes after a short, quiet walk in the evening, turn out the lights and listen in the darkness. I don’t generally have a lamp on or a candle lit for meditation stories, because for meditations, I like their attention to be inward: directing happy, healing thoughts into their bodies. A soft story, a gentle lullaby and the loving presence of a parent is enough comfort to be able to meet the unfamiliarity of darkness at night.

The prelude is in my words, but it might be similar to something you’ve read before. I’ve used several books of meditations for children over the years, and I don’t have them anymore – so unfortunately I can’t share where the original idea of the tree and the garden gate came from. I’ve called our tree the Grandfather Tree because I like the image this implies to the spirit: a great old tree who has seen and heard everything. A loving being who adores children and wants to keep them safe. Someone who can absorb their worries and look after their troubling thoughts for a while, transforming them into love.

This is the long version of the prelude. It is nice to spend time here, for this is the important part of the experience: letting go, relaxing, feeling wonderful before having some fun in our imaginations. I don’t always tell the long version though. Depending upon what I think the kids are up for tonight, I may shorten it and move on to the next part of the sequence.

From the prelude we then begin a short story – usually a journey through a place, and an observation of the things we do there. I keep it really simple. Then when that journey is over we retrace our steps, back to the garden gate and back to the Grandfather Tree, where we can pick anything up that we want to keep. Often I end the story by meeting our angel (what does your angel look like?), who picks us up gently and carries us back to our beds and tucks us in. Our angel closes the curtains and waits at the end of the bed, caring for us until morning. When I tell this ending I often speak the verse:

Guarded from harm,

Cared for by Angels,

Here stand we,

Loving and Strong,

Truthful and Good.

A reassuring ending to a peaceful experience, and an affirmation that we are good and loved and our experiences are valid. A beautiful way to slip into sleep. Then, after a short little lullaby my little ones are very content to lay in the darkness and drift away into sleep, if they have not already crossed the threshold.

Here is the prelude:


Right up high, here on this hill, we are standing underneath the Grandfather Tree. Oh, he is so tall and so strong. His thick roots stretch far out in every direction, and are buried deep within the earth of this hill. He has lived here on this hill a long long time and he has seen and heard many things. His trunk is covered in mottled, crinkled bark and his branches are straight and strong. They are just the right height for you to climb, and you can reach up with your arms and pull yourself up stepping on the branches as you go. Hand over hand and step over step. Hand over hand and step over step. Higher and higher … until after a long time and a lot of climbing you have reached the very top of the Grandfather Tree!

You are up SO HIGH and you can see everything and everywhere! You can see the rivers run from between the mountains and trail their way to the sea. You can see the beach and all the people swimming, and the ocean with the whales returning from their winter wanderings. You can see the city with its tall buildings and the shops and businesses and houses that surround it, with the roads and the cars and all the busy people! You can see schools and parks and playgrounds. Farms and forests and bushland. Animals and birds and clouds and everything and everywhere.

You are not afraid of falling … the Grandfather Tree holds his branches firmly to keep you safe, and even if you did slip he would move his branches to catch you and you would land softly in a pile of leaves. You stay up here for a while, looking at everything, just quietly watching the world go on without you for a moment.

When it is time to go down, you want to take that awesome feeling with you. Take several deep breaths and breathe it in! And when you breathe out you can breathe out all the things that might be making you feel worried or unhappy. You can whisper those things to the Grandfather Tree if you want, and he will take them into his care. Anything that makes your heart sad, or your tummy sore, you can breathe them out or whisper them into the leaves. You don’t need to bring them down with you because you are making room for feeling wonderful.

And when you are ready you can start climbing down the Grandfather Tree. Hand over hand, step over step. Hand over hand, step over step, back down the branches until you are standing amongst the thick roots again, your feet covered in soft grass.

Are you ready to go exploring in that wonderful world you watched from high above in the Grandfather Tree? Give him a hug goodbye and walk over to the garden gate. What does your gate look like today? Well, push it open and let’s see what lies behind it!


Mr Wiggle and Mr Wiggle … and Nadia!

One of my favourite stories is Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle – you don’t need any props for this one, it can be told anywhere at anytime and has saved me at many awkward moments: when tired and overwrought children need a moment to calm down, whilst waiting (an insanely long time) to see the doctor, and of course it is a bedtime favourite too.

I have written down the story as I know it HERE. I learned it while I was at uni doing my Early Childhood Education training, and I’ve changed it a bit over the years and made it my own. Actually I change it every time I tell it because Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle DO get a bit tired of going up and down those hills to visit each other so sometimes they go somewhere else and have other adventures.

I’ve been asked to video it so that people can learn it easier, but for lack of appropriate equipment I haven’t done that yet. I did manage to perform something on my phone camera – but the phone went for a swim in the washing machine – oops! So that one is lost forever now. Fortunately, however, my friend told me that she found a youtube clip of Nadia Sunde, a local Gold Coast singer and radio personality, doing Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle. Hooray! Her version is quite exuberant and lots of fun, different to the way I tell it, but I was full of giggles watching it. Have a look!

Storytelling With Children #3: Stories from Pictures

Our son has a hearing loss. For him this means that as he was learning language in his early years, the experience of incidental learning wasn’t as available to him. Incidental learning is the kind of learning the rest of us take for granted – the learning that happens just by soaking up language in a language-rich environment. This is how we gain our implicit knowledge of grammar, sentence structure and those silly rules (and exceptions to the rules) of our language:  through listening, imitating and being supported in our learning by the modelling of language from others. It is language that is not taught, rather it is gained through our social and cultural interactions. With his hearing loss, our son has had to struggle his way through this incidental learning, and with his hearing aid, therapy, and correct (and patient) modelled speech at home and school, by 6 years of age he was beginning to form sounds and structure his sentences in a way that demonstrated a deeper understanding of language. He has always been so keen to learn, he patiently self-corrects after hearing words modelled, and he is so extremely proud of his achievements in learning.

The process of learning language consciously is challenging for a child. It took our son a long time to begin enjoying himself at his speech and hearing lessons, because he had to put so much energy into listening and also had think so hard about what he was saying and how he needed to say it. It is pretty exhausting (and emotional) to struggle through this process. His speech lessons were tiring and more than once he would just refuse to participate because of the effort it took. I hated putting so much consciousness on his speech, but for him to be understood, and to be able to share his wonderful ideas, and to understand all that is going on around him, it has been necessary – and worth it.

The shift came for him when he changed teachers to one who understood him as a little boy, and who appealed to his interests and structured lessons in a way that didn’t require him to ‘respond’, but rather to ‘create’ with her. What a change did we see in him! It was a wonderful break through. We’ve had a few different teachers since then, but that one person, through her creativity with stories and making the tasks come ‘alive’ for him made him excited about the possibilities of language … and what a story-teller has he since become!!

Some of the resources used in these lessons are available at our toy library – and many of these resources would have been so utterly boring and pointless to use if it were not for a great and creative relationship between teacher and learner. When my husband came home from the toy library with a game designed to help children learn about verbs I recalled how important creative relationships are when teaching. It was a set of photographs with people of different ages and ethnicity doing things. It is a great set of cards, and good to get some discussion going about what each of the characters are doing in the photographs, and my husband chose it because it was the kind of work our son was moving through in his speech and hearing classes at the time – but the instructions for the game were so DRY:

                 Question- What is she doing?

                Response – She is sweeping the floor

                (Extension) – She is sweeping the floor with a broom

Alternately you can choose a few cards to build up a sequence to ‘tell a story’. For example a sequence can be built about the preparation for a party:

 The girl is sweeping the floor and washing the dishes.  

The woman breaks eggs to make the cake …

BORING! Whenever a game like this has been introduced to our son he has refused to participate … and I don’t blame him. Why would you want to tell someone something that is plain for you both to see – he was probably thinking “I don’t need to tell you! Look at the pictures and see for yourself!”

The experience of this activity reminded me of a set of cards I made while I was teaching grade ones. They were cards that I had made by cutting out interesting pictures from magazines, and laminating them on to cardboard. They were pictures of everything: food, clothes, people, cartoons, vehicles, rooms in houses, parks, plants, animals. The idea was for the children to challenge ME with the cards! At the end of every day, or moments when we needed to settle for some quiet time, the cards would come out and the children would select six different pictures and it would be my challenge to make up a story with the pictures they had chosen.

We had so much fun, making up wild stories each day with six unrelated pictures – if I was stuck for ideas then the children always came up with some amazing and hilarious connection to the next picture. Sometimes we had adventures that would lead on to the next day, and sometimes they would last a week or so.

Of course, my hidden agenda was the same as the instructions on the game my husband found: to use the cards to build a story that demonstrated different forms and uses of language. It was subtle and effective. The cards would always be left in an accessible place and it gave me such joy to see the children playing the game by themselves in free time.

I do understand the need for some children, like our son, to focus consciously on their language and their speech, so that they can think about how to form their words and sentences before they speak. My form of storytelling relies heavily on the modelling and the incidental learning I spoke about in the beginning of this article. There were also children in my class who needed more attention with their language acquisition, and so I would do some supported storytelling with these children, which involved creating the story together from the pictures with a bit of call and response mixed in: I would ask open questions about the pictures that the children would answer, or encourage them to create their own possibilities for the events the characters were involved in. I would then repeat their replies with modelled speech and encourage these children to briefly self-correct their speech (with praise!) before we moved on to the next part of the adventure. Of course there are lots of writing experiences that can be involved in this activity also … plenty of rich follow-on experiences.

With all this in mind, I reached for the cards from the toy library, and sat together on the couch with my children and began storytelling. The children joined in happily and excitedly and together we created a grand adventure. And throughout the story we used appropriate verbs and tense:

She wanted to climb the ladder.

She began climbing the ladder.

She climbed so high! 

She climbed right up to the clouds in the sky!

We snuggled together on the couch, found a picture of a baby and a ladder and began laughing and creating a wonderful adventure about a baby who wanted to climb as high as she could. The baby tried stacking things from the kitchen to climb on:

She found a pot and a cup. She put the cup on the pot … but it wasn’t high enough!

She went back into the kitchen and found a bowl and put that on top of the cup, on top of the pot … but it wasn’t high enough!

She went back into the kitchen and found a cake tin and put the cake tin on top of the bowl, on top of the cup, on top of the pot … but it wasn’t high enough!

This example above uses verbs, past tense, sequencing and memory … if I used the cloze sentence technique by pausing before I list each item the baby found, then my son had to rely on his memory finish the sentence and to repeat to me all the items in the correct order. He didn’t even know I was testing him. I could support my son’s language, and my younger daughter’s developing language and we all got lost in a magical world of words, and were swept away with the hilarious antics of an adventurous baby.

Isn’t this a lovely way to spend time with your child? To sit close with one another and bond over stories is a beautiful way to ‘wake up’ together after a nap, or to settle before bedtime or after a hectic day … and isn’t it much better to learn language by learning to love what language can do for us?


Copyright Jennifer McCormack, August 2010

Please do not copy or reproduce this article without my permission.

Storytelling for Young Children: Simple Short Stories for the ‘Moment’

An article written by and copyright to Jennifer McCormack.

Why Oral Storytelling?

When you hear a story being told your mind creates its own pictures. These mind pictures are based on your own life experiences and the concepts you have developed up until this point in your life. As you listen, you see things with your own colours, and you can add your own sounds and background noises in your mind. Someone else might tell the story, but it is your story in your head. When you ask children to retell stories the essential parts they give you will generally be correct, but the way they see things happen, and the way they understand things in the story differ from child to child. They have made that story live for themselves.

Making a story live in this way is something that can’t quite be achieved by reading a book with a child. Now at this point I want to say that book reading IS very important. It is an essential part of literacy learning. When you snuggle up with your child and enjoy a book experience together, you are doing a great deal of groundwork for their literacy development. Mem Fox insists that reading to your child for at least 10 minutes a day is the best way to kick start not only good literacy skills, but also a love of books and stories. I agree with her, however reading from books should not be the only experience of stories that children have. Picture books do not develop the ‘inner mind pictures’, and this is an essential skill for a creative thinker and successful learner.

What is the “Inner Picture”?

Young children live in the moment. While they do have an amazing capacity to remember very interesting experiences after seeing or hearing it only once, their understanding of this learning comes from living and practising and playing out a concept again and again and again. When you watch young children play, the themes of their games will not vary much until they reach about 6 years of age. Until then, children still use toys to physically represent the pictures they have in their minds. At around age five/six, children begin to draw upon their long-term memories in play and drawings. It is now that children start bringing to life those ‘inner pictures’ they have stored from listening, watching, imitating and doing. Children at this age are less reliant upon using props for their play, because much of the play is based upon “lets pretend”, or “just say”. They are now able to hold long play sessions with very little toys at all, and will often re-enact moments from their favourite stories in their games. Stories provide fuel for play. Children who have not yet developed the capacity to hold inner pictures are not ready to join in this kind of play yet.

“Children want an image, and want to think of themselves as an image, too. It is just in these things that we see how the teacher will meet the children with a truly “living” quality of soul. And this living quality works upon the children in an imponderable way – imponderable in the best sense.” Dr Rudolf Steiner, The Kingdom of Childhood.

Another word for the inner picture is Imagination. Children who are able to hold an inner picture can become creative thinkers. They are able to grasp a concept, shape it in their minds, relate it to their life experiences, and then use it in creative ways. What a truly remarkable ability – and one so necessary for overcoming abstract concepts such as reading and mathematics. While reading aloud to children will help familiarise them with text, their inner picture will help shape it in meaningful and relevant ways in their understanding.

Children who experience stories and play through mediums that often leave very little detail to the imagination (such as an excess of electronic entertainment/commercial toys/merchandise) may struggle with developing their inner pictures and creative thought life. It becomes a part of the brain that is not well used. In terms of brain development: if a part of the brain is not exercised frequently it gets taken over by other areas of brain function that require more space to store information! These children will not have had the need to exercise their thoughts and imagination, and they are out of practice. It becomes too hard. These children may find it initially difficult to sit through an oral story, especially when it is the same story told day after day, however very soon (in my experience) they become captivated. It is as if the story is a light that is trying to awaken a very sluggish and sleepy imagination. This can be hard work! And it is best achieved by setting aside time in each day when the television is turned off, putting away the toys that think for themselves (including ipods, electronic games and mobile phones for older children), lighting a candle and beginning with “Once upon a time…”

How do we tell stories without books?

Ah! What a daunting prospect! Putting the book away and telling a story from memory! Stories are unfolding around us all the time, and young children love nothing better than to hear stories they can relate to in their daily life, especially if there is a child who has the same name as them in the story! Day-to day activities are not considered boring to young children (unless referred to, in a resigned tone, as “work”). To little children, the story of their day, or even a moment in their day is quite satisfying. These stories do not have to take long, they do not require any props, and they do not require any preparation. They are the simplest, and easiest stories to make up on the spot! You can be sweeping the floor and telling a story. You can be in the car. All you need is a short beginning and ending that remain the same for every story. You make this up, it doesn’t have to be tricky or fantastic, in fact the simpler the better. A word of warning: once you get going your child will never let you change this! What ever you do in the middle is up to you.

I have a favourite story that I tell to all age groups, from babies to adults: the story of Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle. I learned this story when I was at university and it has stood by me for all these years since! Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle have helped me out of many an awkward moment with big groups of children, they have helped make sad children giggle, and they have helped over-excited children settle down. All you need are your hands, and a little inspiration.

I tried to make a video of this story so you could see the actions but was foiled by lack of appropriate video equipment! So I will try to describe how it goes: in this story Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle are your thumbs. Their homes are your fingers and when Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle are inside your thumb is tucked inside. Your thumbs are out when Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle are out and about. Whenever the ‘door’ (your fingers) opens and closes you say ‘pop!’.  When Mr Wiggle goes for a walk up the hill and down the hill you make your fist move up and down.

The basic story goes like this:

Once upon a time there were two friends. Their names were Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle. Mr Wiggle lived on this hill over here (pop!) and Mr Waggle lived on this hill over here (pop!). One day Mr Wiggle decided to visit Mr Waggle. He opened his door (pop!), came outside (pop!) and closed the door (pop!).

Then he went: Down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill… until he came to Mr Waggle’s house.

He knocked on Mr Waggle’s door. Knock! Knock! Knock! “Hello! Mr Waggle! Are you home? Its Mr Wiggle!”

Mr Waggle opened his door (pop!), came outside (pop!) and closed his door (pop!). “Oh! Hello Mr Wiggle! Do come in, you must be tired after your walk. Lets have a cup of tea.”

So Mr Waggle opened his door (pop!), they went inside (pop!) and closed the door (pop!). Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle shared a pot of tea and ate some scones together. When they were finished it was time for Mr Wiggle to go home.

Mr Waggle opened his door (pop!), they came outside (pop!) and he closed his door (pop!). “Goodbye Mr Wiggle, thankyou for visiting me! Do come again soon!”

“Good bye Mr Waggle,, thankyou for the cup of tea and scones”.

Mr Wiggle went down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill, down the hill and up the hill…until he came to his home.

They each opened their doors (pop!), waved goodbye to each other (*), went inside (pop!) and closed their doors (pop!).

And the sun went down, and the moon came up, and that was the end of another day!

I love this story because in it so much happens. First of all there is the beginning and the ending: they are always the same. As are the ‘pops’. Believe me when I tell you that the children will notice if you forget a pop, or if you pop in the wrong place! These are the fun elements that attract children to the story. You say whatever you like in between, so long as the beginning, the end and the pops are always there. When I have told this story, depending upon the age of the audience and the situation, Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle have gone swimming, fishing, boating (lost at sea and washed up on a deserted island), jungle exploring, skateboarding, driving, bicycle riding (down those hills!), cooking and picnicking. They have hung out the washing, washed dishes, tidied their rooms (because they kept losing things in them) and have ended up in hospital with broken bones many times from their adventures!

With this story you can:

  • Catch the attention of any child of any age,
  • Explore ranges of voice, using sound effects, high and low pitch, exaggerated tones. Be free!
  • Throw in little songs they might know (‘row, row, row your boat’ came in when they were on the sea) – Run freely with your imagination, your child’s suggestions, or even just tell the story of your child’s day,
  • Use Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle to work through worries or fears in a humorous way,
  • Give your child a settling strategy: if they are old enough, ask them to tell you a Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle story while you are driving the car, making dinner, waiting for playgroup to begin…

And the best thing about it is at the end of the day, it all comes good again. They always make it home for dinner and bed, the sun always goes down and the moon always comes up again. The world is good. After all, that is the message we want to pass on to our children.

The Crone’s Eyes … and My Tummy …

Last night was our Sacred Essence Evening – and ah! I slept so well afterwards. Better than I have in ages. Melissa’s yoga and chakra balancing meditation was so soothing and healing for my body, the story was a fascinating modern fairytale and the needle felting (and the conversation that goes along with it) was a wonderful creative meditation too.

The story I told is called The Crone’s Eyes. You can find it within a book I highly recommend reading: The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton (published by Allen and Unwin, 2008). I have been trying to choose stories that sit with you for a while, revealing layers of meaning the longer you ponder them. I just love the way I can tell a story in the circle, and each woman gains something different from it – often a perspective I had not considered will arise.

When we read stories to ourselves, we create meaning by associating the events of the story, and the feelings of the protagonists, to our own experiences. I am not saying you will LOVE The Crone’s Eyes, as perhaps you may not be able to relate to it, but I am pretty certain that everyone can find a deeper meaning in this particular story. I planned to tell this story about a month ago, but it wasn’t until the day before our circle that I really understood why it came to me. This often happens to me a few days before I am due to publicly tell a story!

To me, this particular story highlighted how much there is in front of us that we do not see – and that we do not need to rely on our vision to see it!

My message came in loud and clear the other evening when an acute bout of abdominal pain (that was quickly and lovingly treated by my midwife) gave me an ultimatum: listen to your body or your body will protest!

Yes, I have been ignoring those little whispers of intuition for some time. It is mostly connected with food. When I reach for particular foods there is a ‘twinge’ or a hesitation deep within me, and sometimes I can even feel my lungs wince as I touch the food, or even when I think of it … and yet I will continue and happily munch away. Yum.

Well my digestive organs had the last word and now not only may I not eat the foods I KNOW I should avoid … there seems to be a whole lot more on the list now too! So here is my opportunity for some creative gluten-, dairy-, nightshade-, soy-free cooking! There are a few more miscellaneous foods on the list, and a couple of items I should even avoid touching at the moment.

Time to embrace brown rice and develop a taste for buckwheat 🙂

I had fun today giving myself little tests – reaching for, or even just thinking about, items of food and seeing how I react inside. Sure enough that my body told me what was what. My lungs screamed loudly as I reached for the cheese (I love cheese!) and a pain in my side reappeared when I thought about the delicious bread I had been making for my family for a while.

I’ve been on this eating regime before – not as severe as it is currently – and I remember feeling sooo good and almost entirely ridding myself of any traces of asthma. I’m looking forward to being in that place of health again, and looking forward to the challenge of being creative with my cooking.

We really do rely upon our eyes for evidence and fact, don’t we? But sometimes we can look and look in front of us, and the thing we are looking for just IS NOT THERE until someone else points it out to us … in the most obvious place. What has been dancing about before you that you simply cannot see with your eyes?

Living the fairytale

Melissa and I initiated a Women’s Circle last night ,

and it was a








place to be. We lived a woman’s life time in fairytale time. The story unfolded in ways I hadn’t thought of – and themes emerged that I also had not considered. For my own part I was grateful for the insights I witnessed and received. From the traditional fairytale of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” came threads of


finding and expressing our courage

trusting our sense of inner direction

allowing people to help us on our way


transforming responsibility into joy

budding, blossoming and fruiting


A gift of words that I gave to another woman became a gift that I also gave to myself:

” What you give out to the world will come back to you.

Accept the gift you give to yourself.”

We sang Melissa’s divine music, listened, shared, received and created through painting, drawing and words.

Our Circle continues again next month. If you would like a little taste of what is to come next time I will give you one word to play with over the next month: