I recently finished a five day residency at the STEM Academy in Fond du Lac. The school focuses on technology and science, but they wanted to have a musical experience as well, because there’s no regular music class. They asked me to come in and write and sing with kids. We learned some songs and wrote a couple of new ones about their school. One was about the need to take a “Brain Break.” Teachers and students at the Academy recognize the importance of allowing our brains to rest and integrate what they’ve learned. The second song was about the ways in which the school is different. In particular, I saw students take charge of their own learning in ways that are unheard of in most schools. Students are also able to reflect not only on what they’ve learned, but how they learn. It’s an impressive place and the staff are all wonderful teachers.
Every time I went, we had time together for just singing. I also told stories, and students became addicted to the experience. After the first couple of days I was routinely met with requests for stories.
I’ve experienced this kind of atmosphere before, but for some reason it seems to be intensifying lately.
One student at the Academy— call her Madelyn—was a very serious looking child. I rarely saw her smile. However she was completely focused on the stories I told. She would stop me in the hall and demand that I tell a story the next time we were together. I always complied because I saw the kind of effect stories had on kids. They were quiet, focused, completely absorbed, and engaged.
I believe that we are wired to hear stories. Kids rarely get to sit and listen to stories, though, so when they get the opportunity, it’s like a hidden channel opens up.
In the book NurtureShock the authors write about how we need to do more than teach kids how to not be distracted, We also have to teach them how to pay attention. Stories are a major tool to teach this.
I love the intense listening that happens with stories. I’ve experienced it again today with kindergarteners here in Zurich. Assuming that the conditions for listening are good, it never fails.