Using Storytelling To Build Self Worth

Podcast Episode 44. To truly learn, it has to be caught rather than taught is the mantra of this week’s podcast with Diane King, author, and special needs teacher. One way to do this and at the same time develop childrens’ self-worth is through storytelling and creativity.

We start with Diane’s own journey which has been an interesting one. As a child Diane was a selective mute and struggled to communicate with the world; that was until her sister introduced her to the magic of storytelling. Diane found that through storytelling she could release the built-up emotions she had kept hidden. She also decided quite young she would become a teacher and help children who were struggling as she had.

Over her years as a teacher working with children with additional needs, she noticed that the vast majority of children had speech and language issues which limited their ability to communicate impacting on their confidence. After working with speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists she realized the importance of the relationship between rhyme and alliteration in stories, and how this could be used to help children learn easier and, through that, feel better about themselves.

Using this knowledge and from her own experiences as a child, Diane has written a number of children’s books, including Ruby Red which uses rhyming and alliteration. Ruby Red is a story about a young girl with additional needs and how she is constantly learning how to deal with her emotions, how to articulate her thoughts and how to communicate with the people around her. It is also about the inner struggles young people with additional needs have as they try and understand a world that for them can sometimes be a very scary place. The stories are intended for younger children but could also be used as a tool to teach anyone more about the struggles children with additional needs often face.

Diane talked quite a lot about the importance of allowing children to express their feelings. If a child isn’t allowed to express their emotions, it’s like a dam that’s ready to burst. She believes, as parents, we should always encourage children to express their emotions and make sure we model to them the best ways to cope with and release these emotions.

Diane acknowledges that there will be times when it will be difficult for parents to find the time and space to deal with their children’s emotional releases, so she offers some ideas as to ways that we can help our children manage their emotions. She talks also about the different ways everyone learns and how some children are oral learners, others visual learners and others are kinesthetic (learning by doing) learners. Diane is a strong advocate for providing as many kinesthetic experiences as possible because these, she argues, will enable children to manage their emotions better in the long term. She uses her own journey as a parent to illustrate what she means, and how she would encourage her children to express their emotions and the kinesthetic experiences that worked for her children to develop their sense of self.

Diane also talked about how even young adults can benefit from storytelling and other creative activities. These can provide them with spaces to express themselves, understand and manage their own emotions and through all of that develop the confidence to become more independent because of their increased feelings of self-worth.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 44 of the Journey Skills podcast. This week, as they say, something a little bit different! Often I wanna stay away from talking about the school years in this podcast partly because I believe there’s already some great resources out there, also because I really want to focus on young adults and the things that matter to them in terms of future independence so focusing on relationships, work, and daily living, so housing and things like that. But sometimes, I come across a story that I think is worth sharing even if it doesn’t strictly fit into the box.

So I’m talking to Diane King, who’s an educator and an author and if I really wanted to, I guess I could fit this into the relationships box because what we are talking about is how to develop children’s self-worth through storytelling and creativity. Diane is the best kind of educator, the one we want for our children, passionate about bringing out the best in the individual not conforming to some preconceived standard. There’s a great line in here that she says about learning being caught not taught. And although she talks about her role as an educator, this is more about how we can use stories and creative ways to help our children, even when they’re older, feel valued, develop resilience, all the things that will help them have a fulfilled and happy life.

I know some of the strategies she talks about like Art Therapy actually work because when my daughter was younger she had art therapy and it was really useful in helping her to talk about some of the issues that she was worried about like going to the hospital for example. She was able to, through art therapy, share her feelings and make us aware of how she was actually feeling. Another thing that we talk a little bit about is that Diane is an author and she’s creating some stories that reflect what the world is like to be a child with additional needs so she’s written a book called Ruby Red. And in fact, there’s brief excerpt at the end of the podcast read by Diane herself. So you can have a listen to that at the end as well.

DEBRA: Welcome to the Journey Skills podcast. This week I’m talking to Diane King. Diane is an author and also a special education needs coordinator at a special school. Welcome, Diane!

DIANE: Thank you.

DEBRA: Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’ve come from your journey to where you are now?

DIANE: Absolutely. My journey as a teacher has really taken I’d have to say journey of 50 years, really, because I am in excess of 50 and my journey started as a little girl and one of the things that most motivated me to be who I am today is the fact that as a child I was a selective mute and I struggled to communicate with the world and my mom was my best friend and I struggle to say her name. It used to take me about 5 minutes to get a word out. All that emotional was building up on the inside until one day my sister introduced storytelling to me and that released something in me. I remember to this day and I was so enthralled by what I could do through storytelling. It has allowed me to release the emotions that was building up inside and my first articulate sentence I said to my mother at 7 was “One day I’m going to be a teacher help children just like me”. So that’s where my journey started.

Alongside that, I wanted to motivate children to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be. And all they had to do was believe. So I went into education that way. My journey in education was over 30 years and everything I went through in that journey pointed to me focusing on the children who were struggling behind and I realized that I really have a passion and a calling for those that were not on target and had low self-esteem and struggled to follow instructions. And I would always engage them in ways that I believe is outside the box. So anyway I could reach them, I would. It’s all about inspiration and I believe that to truly learn, it has to be caught rather than taught and that’s through inspiration. So that’s what brought me to this point.

DEBRA: You talked about stories and motivating people and before we started, we talked a little bit about empowering. You’ve written a book, Ruby Red. It’s also a little bit about that. What the book’s about? What you’re trying to achieve?

DIANE: Part of my journey, I worked in a resource-based. So that’s for children with special needs. And a lot of the children struggled with speech-language and communication needs. I was working with speech therapists, physiotherapists, and an educational psychologist. And we worked around the table together to solve problems that children were going through. And one of the key elements I learned from a speech therapist was rhyme and alliteration.

So the more rhyme and alliteration, you can introduce to the children, the more you enable them to articulate words to form sentences. A lot of the books you see in the shops for children that were preschool, they rhyme and the more they rhyme, the more the children remember them. And the more they remember them, the more they rehearse them. The more they rehearse them, the more articulate the children become. So I then felt inspired, myself because whenever I talk, I’ve either rhymed the word that I wanted them to do, so I’d say “Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! And the children would do that and then we would say “Si-si-si-sit” and the children would copy “Si-si-si-sit”. And they learn phonemes and graphemes, and how to spell, how to speak through the rhyming and alliteration. So that story was inspired by children I see all around me every day and I just literally encapsulated all their characteristics and put them in the story called Ruby Red.

DEBRA: If you had to sum up the book, what’s it about?

DIANE: It’s about a child who has additional needs. Now I don’t like to say necessarily special needs because I believe all children are unique. So Ruby Red is really Ruby unique and she’s not really understood by most people. And she’s in a world of her own most of the time and she can’t see past her own ideas and concepts. So consequently when she decides to do something, she’s going to do it her away and mom has a rather a struggle to get her to see from all the perspectives. And Ruby’s journey begins when she stopped school and she starts to learn what it is to share and to see things from another perspective as she’s around her friends at school. And on that journey, she recognizes that there are other views other than hers so she begins to experiment with friendships and she begins to practice what she’s learned with her parents at home. So it’s a journey that she’s on. There are other stories about Ruby Red and she has to manage her behavior when she goes to the zoo when she goes to the restaurant. She’s constantly learning and she has to adjust her behavior and her concepts based on her experiences that she’s going through. And I think it’s a lesson that we can all learn not just for children. How we can adapt to change and how we can learn and grow from all the people. That story is typically talking about Ruby and her journey and how she has to adapt and adjust and how she manages her unique personality.

DEBRA: Who would you say the target audience for the bookies?

DIANE: Preschool to 7-year-olds.

DEBRA: Do you think it would also be a useful tool for parents to be reading it and maybe siblings of children with additional needs?

DIANE: Absolutely. I mean one of the things that I’ve engaged in is storytelling and reading with parents and children and very often even observing parents reading stories to the children, there’s a lot of questions and that’s how we learn. And the children always ask questions like “Why? When? What? How?” and that’s what my aim is with the stories. That when the parents read them with the children, they’ll be getting all these questions and as they get the questions I’m hoping it will lead to all the questions and they will learn to the experience of this character and it’s almost like they’re learning themselves through this third party and that’s my aim. So not only they learn, but their language, if they’ve got poor language acquisition. Stories absolutely brilliant because it’s a rhyming story. So the parents are actually helping the children to articulate through rhyming and alliteration because that’s the precursor for articulation when the children are dispatched from school.

DEBRA: I’m just wondering how much you think it would help increase understanding among other young people as well in the class maybe if you wish to read this to class. It may be only one child had additional needs. You think that would help the understanding of the others?

DIANE: Absolutely, that’s a good point because having read it in schools, a lot of the time when we read stories like this one, we have spinoff activities so that children are actually not only talking to the teacher about the character but they’re talking to each other and they’re talking and adjusting all the time to what they’re learning through the story. Sometimes, we go off and do a drama from the story and we dramatize how to make friends, how to show pleasant facial expressions to a partner. And sometimes we discourage certain emotions and encourage others. Well, Ruby’s journey is like that. Ruby has so many different ways of expressing her emotions and in the drama, we do that. I’ve actually written a sequel to Ruby. It’s actually a poetry book. One of the poems is “I stomp, stomp, stomp because I want to stomp. I feel cross, I’m not the boss. I want to stomp! I want to stomp stomp stomp!” Children need to recognize that anger is an emotion. It’s alright to be angry. And if we compartmentalize our emotions and approve some, and disapprove others, I don’t think that’s a healthy mindset for children. They need to recognize that these are the emotions as humans that we have and it’s how we use them and there is a place for them to be released.

DEBRA: Do you think that then has a long-term impact if they’re holding in their emotions?

DIANE: I absolutely believe that children need to recognize that it’s not the emotions that’s an issue, it’s the self-control. So it’s the opportunity. So if a child says “I just want to be by myself” repeat I think that should be respected if a child feels angry I think that’s alright but the trouble to demonstrate that. And as the child becomes more mature they’ll know how to handle those emotions and I think it’s that steady stream where you allow the children to express their emotions and then you model to them. Now you’ve said that it would have been even better if you had said in a calm voice and children then learn “Okay, it’s not that I’m not allowed to express emotions, it’s the way I express them. If children aren’t allowed and encouraged to express their emotions, it’s really like a damp, that’s just locked away and just one day burst and that’s not what we want to see. We want to encourage them to release their emotions and these artistic ways of releasing and managing our emotions come through storytelling, come through dramatization.

DEBRA: For parents, it’s often difficult to let them express their emotions. [Yeah] So as an educator, I don’t mean this disrespect but you’re in an environment where maybe you have the time and space to do it. When you’re a parent, how the parents deal with that?

DIANE: One of the things I would encourage and certainly getting my experience, we have children learn through so many different mediums. We have oral learners, we have visual learners and we have kinesthetic learners. The more experiences you give the children, the more opportunity they refine the experience and they gravitate to them and to me. All of these kinesthetic experiences enable children to manage their emotions. When we, as parents say “Actually don’t touch that. Don’t do that. Do this. Do that”, it actually stifles the creativity and what I’m actually advocating here is that the more creative opportunities parents give their children, the more balanced emotionally they can become. One of the things that I would really advocate is having meals around the table together and allowing children to express their opinion and hearing their opinion as opposed to talking over them. That’s something on a basic level that parents can do. The other thing that we do as well, I did it with my children and we would hide in the dark. We would create a forest in the house. I would allow the children when they were hearing the stories, they would cry at certain parts, they will shout at another part, they would be screaming in another part of the story. Now all of this was allowing them to experience different emotions in a controlled environment because it was story time so I’d always use creative ways of allowing the family, the children to express their emotions and then as they grow up as teenagers, they would come to me and say “Mom, do you remember when you read that story. I thought we were really scared because, well I know it’s a bit strange but, I went to college today and I felt really scared because…. this happened. What do you think?” I’ve allowed the communication level to continue because they have those basic experiences. I’m hoping that those some way towards your question as to how parents can support their children. Give them as much kinesthetic experiences, individual experiences through the doorway of creativity.

DEBRA: It does it, the question but there’s also their underlying thing of getting emotions run wild in some children that can be very difficult if you let them get to the point when they’re too emotional. You think storytelling can help bring them down if that’s the right way of putting it?

DIANE: Well, absolutely because storytelling can also, and I’ve often used it in music, there certain music streams out there that are deliberately created to calm the children Everytime I teach in school for example and I’ve done this at home, I put on calming music and it creates a pleasant amenable atmosphere and I think sometimes we have to look for ways like that as parents, bedtime for example. You can create a routine with music. You can have music in the background where the child knows it’s messy play time, it’s time to talk, it’s time for meal although we have a meal here we put music on. Then we have another set of music that we play when it’s bedtime. My children are adults and we played this music and everyone knows, you know, we winding down and we’re going to bed. And I think if you train the children from an early age with these areas that have a boundary to them, they will work within them. I think if there is no structural tool in place and we reacting rather being proactive. I think that’s when you find that the issues start to arise, so I use music at home and at school and it works very well. Again, my sort advice from people that I know that could help me, not sort alone necessarily on a medical basis, but I’ve often going to parent coffee mornings and shared ideas with friends and I think parents need to know that they’re not on their own and if in doubt, I always say communicate. Get rid of all this that going through. Similar things to you and share ideas together.

DEBRA: That’s what I said with you earlier, Journey Skills is really looking at young adults. How can storytelling help them?

DIANE: What I actually work, currently with children within that age group now, I have to say to you because I’m a creative individual and believing creativity. I’ve been pleasantly pleased to see that same vein and being used with children that I teach and what works really well the children absolutely, thoroughly enjoy therapy. That could be art therapy, music therapy, and even physical therapy where its activities they do outside. Everybody enjoys things, some things more than other things and what tends to work with children and even myself as an individual, if I’m going to be productive I work with art. So the children that we teach, we’re teaching them math but we’re teaching them in the art room. We’re teaching them math skills, literacy skills, we’ve been doing that, we’ve been in music studio because I believe that the way our brains are created, we need that creativity outlet so that things that we’ve never experienced we can begin to think about them and the more relaxed your brain is, the more functional it becomes. And the other thing that we do, we go to clubs such as horse riding and we do waterboard surfing and we do drama and dance and these elements feed into the children achieving and the parents and the children actually experience really good results based on the amount of creativity we’ve been able to children to participate in.

DEBRA: You think that creativity as well increases their self-confidence being able to be creative?

DIANE: A lot of the children that I’m currently teaching have come through their major struggles and a lot of the time we structurally look at their grades and say “In society would say, well actually you’re a failure because you haven’t achieved that grade or that level. You’re a failure because you can’t read as fluently as we’d like you to put your age group”. But it’s those children that have written some amazing songs. It’s those children have achieved some major breakthroughs in acting and drama and dance and areas that you and I would be wanted to watch them on the screen because they have tremendous talents that have not been given enough credence to but I’m happy to say that the school that I’m working in, they constantly praise and award them for those achievements that they’ve made.

DEBRA: Do you think that’s not an underlying issue then that we’re judging, particular children with additional needs, who may not be academically as able, we’re judging them on any of those results rather than on their creative abilities.

DIANE: I think that statement could be made across the board to all children. And I think educated it makes me feel really sad that we’re not giving children enough opportunity to be creative and to be who they’re meant to be. And I think we just need to think outside the box when we’re with our children and allow the voice to be heard. Parents need to believe in the children even if it’s off the beaten track. When you believe in them not compare them but just believe in them, anything’s possible.

DEBRA: Thank you very much, Diane.

DIANE: And you’re welcome.

DEBRA: And now let’s hear a short excerpt from Diane’s book Ruby Red as read by Diane.

DIANE: Ruby Red wanted to roll as she thought it was cool. She rolled all the way to bed she preferred it instead. Instead of being charming she was quite alarming. Instead of being gracious she was really rather outrageous. Sometimes she’d go on a rampage but mom couldn’t engage. Sometimes she’d go on a rampage she just wouldn’t change. Sometimes she goes on a rampage and wanted to disengage. Ruby Red wanted to roll as she thought it was cool. She rolled all the way to bed she preferred it. Instead of being polite she would rather backbite. Instead of doing things right, she would do things out of spite. She didn’t like a beans and said it means she would be sick and it wasn’t a trick.

DEBRA: Key takeaways? Creativity and storytelling need to be an everyday part of their lives. They are essential to helping out children to develop the skills that they need to live
independent lives.

Resources
Ruby Red 

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