May I Have A Present Please ?

People often ask me how I discovered Montessori, and I tell them it is a serendipitous tale. I still remember when the deal was signed, sealed and delivered to me—the exact moments when I decided that this is what I would do for a very long time.  I felt connected, inspired and incredibly motivated. All thanks to some incredible storytelling.

The tales told, left me in awe and helped me weave images of not just a person with incredible foresight and a vision. It also painted pictures of worlds where immense possibilities are the norm, where education is a catalyst for peace.

One of the skills I’ve honed in on over the years is storytelling, the more stories I told, the more I connected with my kids. Somewhere along the road, I would discover that storytelling is central to human existence. So it’s in keeping with all that comes most naturally to us humans.

The ability to engage in an exchange, one between, the teller and the listener, begins to develop in infancy. It’s what every known culture on our planet has in common. And from the very beginning, mankind has used stories to make sense of the world and to share their understanding with others. These tales are an intrinsic part of our environments and who we are. It’s the best means of knowledge transfer between adults or adult and child.

In our schools, it is how introductions are made and imaginations sparked. So even if we were to take away all the material housed in our environments, Montessori guides are still left holding one massive trump card and this they carry with them every where they go.

Neuroimaging now shows us how brains light up like a Christmas tree when we are listening to stories, not to mention all the neurons that start firing together. This is what triggers us to remember the information we are receiving. Scientists can now prove that neurons that fire together, wire together. The icing on the cake is the connect that it brings. In addition to linking the teller and receiver;  it connects the receiver to the subjects/protagonists in the story.

The mere act of listening to a story triggers the release of oxytocin, referred to as the love drug. Its why some kids love being read to or grow up on the laps of a grandparent. It’s the same stuff that is released when a mother is interacting with her baby. So every time a guide delivers that story/lesson, she is instrumental in creating conditions where the group collectively experiences love and builds empathy.

The most incredible part is that once you are acquainted with what appeals to; what the characteristics and needs of a particular age, you can tailor necessary elements to better suit your listeners. This just further guarantees an enthralled audience, and the guide graduates to more hits than misses with time.

I’ve been privy to many well-planned stories over the years, some from friends, others from peers. Many of them have stuck with me and acquainted me to new worlds just as much as they did with the children and other adults that heard them. Whether it was the lifecycles of stars, a story of growing up in old Hyderabad or the story of sunflowers that cleverly brought in the myth of Apollo and Clytie. All of them wove in elements of relatability. They were brilliant in their simplicity and brought down to the fluency of the listener.

These stories had the listeners sitting at the edge of their seats from time to time. Even if you are not a natural storyteller, you learn how to use body language, modulate tone and intonation with time. Most importantly, kids make the best and most forgiving audience. Gradually one learns the craft of transforming a seemingly uneventful walk to school into a spectacular journey full of adventure.

I will never forget how Gandhi the coconut cutter was a star in our household for several months. It all began when I decided to make him the main protagonist in a story based on the events of one beautiful day. This was how I shared snippets of my day with my then two year old. This particular story was so loved that after a while, the repetition made me want to weep. Let’s say the whole event made for a great story; there was the climbing of coconut trees, some massive kites that were not very happy and a helmet that may have been used for protection.

Leaving your audience guessing and creating those moments of anticipation can leave the listeners with higher levels of dopamine in their systems. The byproduct of this is elevated levels of focus, memory and motivation.

What I love most about storytelling in our schools is that the focus is never the delivery of copious content but the quality of content and delivery. The goal is never to give all there is to know, but to ignite interests. You somehow learn what that magic proportion is. To top it all off, its not uncommon to hear a group of listeners burst into laughter. I would often find my self smiling when I heard laughter coming from another environment. Besides being contagious in a lovely way, it left others curious. The recipients of the enthralling tale I knew were experiencing a surge of endorphins. The chemicals that relieve pain, reduce stress and boost our immune system.

It no surprise then that on more than one occasion I’ve had a little girl say “may I have a present, please?” every time she wanted a lesson.

So in these trying times irrespective of where you may be, spin a little tale, give a little present and be well.

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