OUR CHILDREN’S VOICES: What We Can Learn From The Stories They Tell

January 17, 2013

Last night, several dozen parents gathered in the Toby Hayward Community Room at Walden School for the third speaker in this year’s Parent Education Speaker Series, sponsored by Walden’s Parent Guild. Dr. Olga Winbush, core faculty at Pacific Oaks College, has conducted extensive research on the role of culture in children’s literacy and learning. She addressed parents on how to gain an understanding of the use of children’s narratives to develop anti-bias and inclusive curriculum as windows to expanding learning.

“Children are intentional in the stories they tell us. Do your children draw a lot of pictures? That’s a story! Do your children tell you about something that happened to them in the greatest detail over and over? That’s a story!” Winbush encouraged parents to collect their children’s stories, in all their forms, and look for common themes and topics. Approach your children’s personal narrative from a place of non-bias and strength; in other words, do not project your adult experiences onto a child’s story and make judgmental inferences. Rather, simply identify the child’s presence in the work by focusing on what the story actually says. Look for what the child values and what appears to be important to the child.

If a common theme or topic emerges from the child’s stories, share and discuss other stories about that topic. For example, if dance emerges as an important part of a child’s life, explore different kinds of dance and styles and stories about diverse culture’s dances. This introduces your child to diversity and also validates their voice in contributing to the world’s collection of stories about dancing.

From there, children may think about how to take their identified values (e.g. storytelling through dance is important) into some kind of collective action that builds social justice. Winbush’s research demonstrates that children are natural agents of social change and it begins with their active role in building community at school and beyond the walls of their classroom. Posing questions to children like, “What can we do about this?” helps children brainstorm possible activities that are grounded in social justice. Using the dance example, Winbush shared that children might create and perform a dance that tells a crucial message about world peace or food justice for all. “By sharing their life narratives and stories within a critical literacy context, children collaboratively and collectively emerge as agents of social change.”

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