Look Who Came Up the Beanstalk by Doug Lipman

When I saw her in the 6th grade classroom, I was surprised.

It was the first day after spring vacation. After eight weeks “in residence,” I thought I knew every child in the school. But there she was, an unfamiliar face in the third row.

I said, “Hi! I’m Doug. I’m the storyteller. What’s your name?”

No answer.

The boy in the right front desk said, “She doesn’t speak; she’s French.”

Calling on my two semesters of college French, I said to the new girl, “Bonjour! Je m’appelle Doug.”

Framed in her shoulder-length, dark hair, her face lit up. She returned the greeting in French.

I would have added the French words for “I’m the storyteller,” but I didn’t know them. True, I’d had two semesters of French—but they were both first-semester French. I could only make a few simple statements in the present tense.

My stomach sank. I had a new student who didn’t understand a word of English—and six storytelling sessions to go. But I had been hired by this well-to-do suburban school to use storytelling as a tool to teach the subject of diversity. I wasn’t going to shirk from the added challenge of telling to a more-diverse class.

That day, I told my story largely to the French student. I exaggerated my tone of voice and used as much body language as I could. I looked at her after each line of the story to see if she understood. When she did, she rewarded me with a golden smile. When she didn’t understand, her face showed her puzzlement—and I tried again with added pantomime for her along with a new set of words for the rest of the class. When all else failed, I tried to use a French word as an additional clue for her.

Telling to the One Who Doesn’t Understand

By the third session, I appreciated what an extraordinary listener she was. Her face was a perfect mirror for my story. Now I looked at her as much as possible while I told, not just for her, but for my pleasure in a supremely alert, encouraging listener.

In this session, I got stuck making her understand a crucial part of the story. Mime failed me, as did my minuscule French vocabulary. Then I had an idea. “Would someone look that word up for me in the French dictionary?”

Silence. The teacher’s look seemed to tell me of too many demands on her, of helplessness at being saddled with this disadvantaged student so late in the year, and of resentment that I should expect her to have a special dictionary for an inconvenient, late-entering student who didn’t even speak English.

The boy in the right front desk said, “We don’t have one.” I stopped in shock, feeling the enthusiasm drain out of my body.

I had been proud of this school, which had chosen storytelling as its art form for the year and diversity as its theme. But now a breathing piece of diversity had flown across the ocean and landed in this classroom, and the school couldn’t be bothered to have a French dictionary!

The next time I showed up to tell stories, the boy in the right front desk held up a French dictionary. “Look,” he said. “I got it from the library. But it’s hard to find the words fast enough.”

I said, “Thank you. You are a good friend.”

That day, I had prepared “Jack and the Bean Tree,” an Appalachian variant of the familiar English classic “Bean Stalk” folktale.

The telling went well. All the children were with Jack and me as we explored the world in the clouds. At the end, they applauded.

Then the French girl raised her hand.

Five Words That Changed Us All

I was so surprised to see her hand go up that I didn’t say a word. She had never initiated communication with me.

I called on her. Slowly, she said several words in French, the longest phrase she had so far tried out on me. I repeated what I heard. She said it again, correcting my mispronunciation.

I hadn’t understood any of it the first time. But having spoken it, I caught the first word, “Jacques,” and wrote it on the blackboard. Trying to involve the rest of the class in my decoding process, I said aloud, Like the song, ‘Frere Jacque.

As I said it, I recognized the last word, too. “Magique?” I asked. She nodded. This sounded like French for “magic.” I wrote “Magique” on the board.

What were the words in the middle? I said to her, “Jacques, hmmm-mm, hmmm-mm-mm, magique.” She repeated the whole phrase. It sounded to me like “et le” (“and the”) followed by an unfamiliar word that started with a “Z” sound. I wrote “et le Z” between the other two words.

She shook her head bemusedly and gestured toward the board. With my nodded permission, she went to the board, erased the “Z” and wrote “s H-a-r-i-c-o-t.”

At that moment, I thanked the stars for my interest in the folk musics of North America. One kind of music I had been drawn to was the French Louisiana style called Zydeco. Long ago, I had read that “Zydeco” was a misspelling of the first two words of an early song in that style, “Les Haricots (“The Beans...”)

Trying to hold the interest of the rest of the class, I pronounced the entire phrase aloud, “Jacque et les Haricots Magiques.”

Stories Sew Us Together

Immediately after understanding what I had just said, I spoke the English equivalent. My voice caught as I said, “Jack and the Magic Beans.” I just stood there, facing the board.

There was silence in the room behind me. It was that special silence that only falls when an entire group grasps something, all in the same instant. It took my breath away.

All at once, we understood that “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a story with a secret life in other worlds. We understood that the Appalachian “Bean Tree” shares something with people who didn’t seem to have any stories, with people in some place called France, who ‘don’t speak.

These people, we realized together, also fear for simple heroes facing terrible giants. They somehow have magic beans in their imaginations, just like we have in ours.

We understood, deep in our bellies, how stories are stitches that hold humanity together.

I don’t know if my other lessons that year had any effect. I don’t know if the other classes in that school ever made a connection between my folktales and their lives.

But that one day, in that one class, I know that—without any intention on my part—multiculturalism actually climbed the thick-trunked vine of story and emerged, dazed and breathless, into the far-away castle of our classroom.

The blog editor asked Doug about his work. He said,
In 1970, I was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. I had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, I found myself telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, I have pursued the power of storytelling.
Over the decades, I have coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. I am the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of my own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach” (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).
A professional storyteller since 1976, I have performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars.  My ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers and an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills.

Children Who Journal: Hanging Onto Their Inner Resources

a204574e2c53124336dd72f9af6771e0By Joanna Tebbs Young

The journal is a place to nurture what is best within the self, and I think children understand that. — Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children My daughter, who is eleven, has already managed to accumulate a pretty impressive collection of journals. While the explosion she calls a bedroom obviously doesn’t reflect the tidy genes I passed on, her love of paper and pens and writing does. Although many of the pages are filled with the inked characters that spring from her imagination, as her writing abilities grew, so did the number of written pages. And on those occasions when she comes home from school fighting tears of hurt or frustration, I send her to her journal. This tends to calm the emotional-fireworks enough for a more rational, productive, and pro-active conversation.

Journaling is an extremely flexible and beneficial method for children to explore their creativity, express their emotions, and discover their own inner resources.There are so many reasons why it is a great idea for children – even pre-writers – to keep a journal. Whether it is pages of healthy scribbling, a self-portrait in thick crayon, a retelling of an experience, or a complex fantasy story featuring themselves in the lead role, any self-expression has been proven to improve both physical and mental health. For example, the very act of writing down emotions has been found to promote healing, regulate emotional extremes, and reduce anxiety (resulting in less illness and missed days of school).

Lucia Capacchione, founder of the Creative Journal Method and Inner Child work, lists in her book, The Creative Journal for Children the many benefits of journaling for children:

• The privacy* of a journal with its freedom from judgment or failure:

• The writing and drawing practice — verbal and nonverbal expression:

• The emotional release which comes through the writing and/or drawing allows for:

o Fosters feelings of safety and relaxation

o Encourages self-honesty and spontaneity

o Cultivates a child’s innate creativity and imagination

o Encourages and enhances communication and brainstorming skills

o Develops and integrate both right and left brain functioning

o Acceptance of feelings; self-understanding

o Self-Confidence

o Self-Discovery (of own beliefs, desires, and talents)

But above all, teaching them at a young age to express their feelings in a healthy manner provides them with the skills to not only be aware of their various emotions, but to not be afraid of them. In general, our culture teaches us to suppress our “negative” emotions and intuition at an early age (and in some cases, due to family dynamics, religious/social teachings, and/or trauma, this suppression can be exacerbated to the point of emotional numbness), and re-connecting to this vital, message-giving internal language can be extremely different as an adult. We want to give our children a defense against this unfortunate human habit. Learning from the get-go that emotions are neither good nor bad but rather just messages that can and should be expressed in a safe place, your child will have a leg-up on developing into an emotionally mature adult.

*Privacy: PLEASE respect the privacy of your child’s — especially your pre-teen/teen’s — journal. I have heard from many an adult who can no longer write down their own feelings and/or secrets, or write at all, for that matter, because their trust was broken once upon a time by a snooping parent, sibling, or friend.

Children Who Journal: Helping Themselves in School and Health

Joannaheadshotsmall2-275x300By Joanna Tebbs Young

On the pages of a fat, 3-subject notebook I recorded my loves, my losses, my fears, and my (many) mortifications. Every year from age 13 until I began college I reported the details of my daily life, which to my adult eyes could seem so trivial and silly.

But I know now that those daily scribbles served as a life-line at a tumultuous time of my life. I know from my research into women’s development that it was what allowed me to hang onto my voice – my sense of self – as I was learning who I was and who I wanted to become. At a time when I most needed someone to talk to, my journal was my therapist and friend.

In school, I was a hardworking and high-achieving student, who loved to write research papers. And despite high test-anxiety on such standardized tests as SATS, on lower-stress tests I was able to recall retained knowledge fairly well. And in college I was an honor student.

I can’t say whether it was my daily journaling that helped me academically, but research indicates that it most likely did. I know for a fact it helped me through grad school–without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Academic

[Journaling] makes learning more concrete, personal, and alive. – Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children

It has been found by both psychologists and teachers that children who journal have a higher success rate in school. Among the findings of the benefits for students are:

·       Improved grades

·       Lower pre-exam anxiety

·       Increased cognitive function

·       Higher problem-solving and decision-making skills

·       Expanded memory

·       Positive social-emotional development

·       Helps those with behavior problems or learning disabilities

Students tend to score higher grades when they first record their feelings about an upcoming exam or school project. It is believed that journaling allows children to gain understanding of their own particular learning style and thought patterns. This would explain why those who journal are able to enhance their own learning experience by giving it personal meaning.

Heightened self-awareness also allows for empathy for, and understanding of, their peers and the self-confidence to speak out on their (and their own) behalf. This allows for an improvement in group dynamics within a school setting.

Teachers who use journals as a classroom tool can be extremely creative with this flexible tool. Both writing and art can be used (some methods and prompts will posted at a later date), and traditional pen-on-paper journals or computerized ones are equally beneficial. Parents should also encourage their children (starting as soon as they can hold a pencil) to journal outside of the classroom as a way to process their thoughts and feelings about their home, school, and inner life. Privacy of these writings is imperative, however!

Therapeutic

Providing our children a place and permission to express themselves is one the greatest gifts we can bestow. Help them open a door into themselves. – Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children

Children who express, explore and evaluate their thoughts and feelings have a self-awareness that encourages problem-solving and decision-making in a direction of positive change. When a child is aware of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and values, he or she can identify and achieve goals and work through problems and their solutions.

Journaling helps children become self-actualized. Ira Progoff, founder of the Intensive Journal Method and author of At a Journal Workshop, believed that when you can identify your own resources – your own inner strengths – you can use them to proceed towards wholeness. By recording their life and their reaction to it, children learn who they are and what they want. Instead of thrashing around in a forest of fear and vulnerability, this knowledge gives them a clearer path on which to travel. Especially in trying times.

Lucia Capacchione, among many others (Kathleen Adams and Julia Cameron are just a couple), calls the journal a friend. It serves as a non-judgmental confidant during difficulty. It is always available day or night and listens to anything and all you have to say. For a child who may be feeling unnoticed and unimportant in an adult world, this is so vital to their sense of self-worth.

According to Luciano L’Abate journaling also helps develop coping and problem-solving skills and promote self-growth. As an adjunct to therapy, journaling has been found to enhance, prepare for, and clarify talk therapy and allow the client to obtain a better understanding of his own beliefs and of personal behaviors. Writing “I…” in a journal promotes personal responsibility and involvement in the healing process. It has been found through various studies, one in particular by Dr. James Pennebaker, that the actual act of putting an experience or memory into words changes the way the brain processes the information, allowing healing to begin. Dr. Pennebaker recorded statistical differences in the mental/emotional health of students who had written expressively and those who had not.

Introduce your child to a new friend, one who loves and listens unconditionally. Encourage them to express what’s inside – whatever is inside. Together, your child and her journal will navigate the sometimes choppy passage of childhood and adolescence and come out the other side a stronger, more confident and emotionally stable adult.

References

Capacchione, Lucia. (1982). The Creative Journal for Children: A Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Counselors. 

Zyromski, B. (2007). Journaling: An underutilized school counseling tool. The Journal of School Counseling, 5, Retrieved from http://www.jsc.montana.edu/articles/v5n9.pdf

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is a writing and creativity facilitator, certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy, and freelance columnist living in Vermont. Her blog and workshop info can be found at her website, wisdomwithinink.com.