By Tessa Riley, Kindergarten Teacher & ECE Manager
After returning from the West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy in October, I decided to tell “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” to the children in my Mixed-Age Kindergarten class at Kelowna Waldorf School. One of the conversations I had with my Waldorf mentor (it is customary for Waldorf teachers to have a mentor in some cases for as long as you teach Waldorf) was about helping the children to move from frenetic play to more meaningful transformative play. When I began teaching my students in September, I observed that many of them had not developed ways of playing which engaged their imaginations. My mentor recommended to me that if I wanted to help the children play, I should focus on my own outer and inner gestures not on the children as having a problem “with playing”. When I returned to Kelowna a week later, I brought this advice into being by engaging in gross motor activities while the children played (sweeping, laundry, and table wiping) and telling stories using pine cones, branches, driftwood and silks as props instead of puppets. I found that this did reflect positively on the children’s play. They began to use play stands and silks to build houses and one day they covered the whole classroom floor with blankets and silks like a checkerboard and laid out picnics with pine cones, pieces of wood and acorns served on plates to be the food. During these times there was a hum of cooperation and harmony in the air. I was very happy that the children had come together as a group during these times.
During that first week back, I first introduced “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” as a story without any props – only words – in the oral storytelling tradition. The children were captured by the story. They sat still on their chairs in the circle and looked at me – their eyes becoming glazed over as their imaginations were kindled.
The next week, I lay a log on the story telling table to be a hill and covered it with a spring green silk. Then I had a piece of driftwood as a bridge, a small piece of cut branch block as a troll and tree pine cones – one small, one medium and one large – as the three billy goats. I tried to keep my voice even and calm because I do have three year olds in the class. As I kept the original language: “ I’ll tear out your eyes and ears”, I did not want to frighten the younger children. The children watched transfixed while I told the story and moved the pinecones to go: trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap over the bridge. I continued this story for another two weeks and the children often reminded me if I did not put the troll in the right place under the bridge or if the three billy goats were out of order. When they did this I know that the story was making an impact.
One four-year-old boy in the class, who often had a difficult time with stories that have any aggressive content, was unable to sit through the story after I began the puppet show with the driftwood and pinecones. It was too scary for him. He would cover his ears and close his eyes. I had my assistant teacher gently take him from the circle to help wipe the table or put the children’s bread into bags depending on what day it was. I spoke to his father, who always picks him up at the end of the day, and told him that his son was having some difficulty listening to the story and that these sorts of traditional tales are part of the Waldorf Curriculum and that he was helping the assistant teacher with her work during story time. The father was fine with this explanation and I let him know that I would speak to his son about the story in the next few days and see if he was ready to re-enter the circle.
In a few days I spoke to the boy with his father at pick-up time. I said to him, “I can see that you are scared by “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” story. But you know those billy goats don’t let that mean old troll boss them around. They tell him to go away and then they get to go to the field and eat as much grass as they want until their bellies get round and fat.” The boy looked a little reassured. The next day the boy did stay for story time. Before I began I spoke to him about what I had said about the bossy troll. He listened to the story for the rest of the week and though he never was completely relaxed with the story, I think it helped him to face some of his fears to learn that the mean troll could not be the boss of the billy goats. I will be interested to see how this child develops and grows over the year in his response to these sorts of traditional stories and folktales.
After I finished telling the story in class, I set up the puppet show on a play table and the children began to reenact the story together. At pick-up time in our after-school program, a 5-year-old boy proudly told his mother the whole story from beginning to end. As a result of these experiences and observations, I felt that the experience of this story was very meaningful to the children.