Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holistic Parents Workshop #2 - The Bardic Parent

Renown firm believer in play, Joseph Chilton Pearce, was known for uttering travesties such as this, 

"What we are teaches the child far more than what we say,
so we must be what we want our children to become.” 

This type of rhetoric is dooms-talk for teachers and parents that have long since strayed from pathways of learning. I hear it all the time, 

"Oh, I'm not an artist." 
"I was never good at drawing." 
"I'm not very musical." 
"I sucked at math in school."
(ad infinitum)

If what Pearce claims is true than future generations are doomed if left in the hands of the defeated. 

Thankfully, there are small bands of menacing crooks stirring up trouble wherever apathy dares even to whisper.  Be on the lookout. We are THE BARDIC PARENTS. What we are teaches our children far more than what we write in our blogs. We know what we want. We our children to be bards as well.

And you? What do you want for your kid? A job? Ha. All Bards have jobs, but not all jobs have Bards. 

Along these lines, was the kick off for the second workshop of our Holistic Parents Certification Program. The topic of the night: THE BARDIC PARENT. 

God bless the Welsh.

See for yourself a window peak into the magic of Eisteddfod, a modern annual gathering of bardic families scattered all across the land of Wales:

Upon viewing, excitedly, our parents committed to slowly growing an Eisteddfod of our own, here in Shishi China of all places!! 

I must admit a certain thundering epiphany seemed to rumble through the room as our parents recognized how our bi-monthly MT Shows are headed towards a bardic North already. Time will tell. Dreams this big require committed community. Ember style. No flickering wicks in these winds of flat and stale uncultured modernity. 

What is a Bard?

The etymology of Bard. 

The roots of the word BARD stretch back to the age of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE). PIE is the mother of over 400 languages currently spoke around the world. It was a language spoken more than 6000 years ago at around the same time when the two main strands of eastern languages, the old Chinese and ancient tibetan-burman languages were also one, now referred to as the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language---around 4500bc, long before the era of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. 

Etymologically, the word Bard, derives from the PIE word for: gwredho which meant: THE ONE WHO MAKES PRAISES. 

What a beautiful idea to consider.

How to become parents/educators who make praise.   

I'm keen! And, as mentioned, I know a handful of good souls also up for this sort of blessed mayhem. In the words of Joseph Chilton Pearce,

"I want to be a bard--one who makes praises,
so that my kids may be ones who make praises."

Can I get a hoo-hoo? Hoo-hoo!

Life-giving or Life-preserving 

Before their decline in the 17thcentury, Bards were those whom one of our favorite poets, Robert Bly, would refer to as people who are LIFE-GIVING rather than simply LIFE-PRESERVING. 

Are you life-giving or life-preserving?

In essence, this question asks each of us to consider to what extent we maintain life/culture/the planet/etc….as it was passed on to us, or are we of the small remnant of bardic people who are committed to a life that regenerates life/culture/the planet even further. 

The essential skills, abilities and wisdom of a Bard. 

  1. Bards are storytellers. 
  2. Bards are musicians. 
  1. Bards are poets.
  1. Bards are Magicians. 
  1. Be the family Genealogist.
  1. Bards are Lovers of Lore.
  1. Bards are Arbitrators. 
  1. Bards understood a deep need for Community. 
No doubt a tall order but absolutely plausible if one has the right community within whom and whom within to grow. 

One of our favorite mystic authors is Thomas Merton. Here is a quote from his book, NO MAN IS AN ISLAND,

It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be 'as gods'. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”

Do you want Bardic kids? Find a community that wants it as bad or worse than you do. 

Culture can not be experienced, preserved or celebrated without community. Much less can it be regenerated. Every bard knew this. As you consider the life of the bard, know that your social circles will change. Like the old adage goes: Iron sharpens iron. So it is with becoming a bardic parent: BARDS FOSTER BARDS. Together we must bring our gifts to the offering table. 

Be off now. Like a flying arrow. 

Additional Links and Resources:

On Eisteddfod:
PIE Language Tree:
Parable of Talents:
Essential Chinese poetry:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holistic Parents Workshop #1: STORYTELLING (lecture notes)


Storytelling is not the same as story reading. This ancient art form involves telling a story from memory without the aid of a script. Some storytellers use a verbatim approach while others are more flexible in their tellings. 

a) Why should we tell stories?

1. To help develop critical thinking skills  
2. Stories help build a pre-literacy foundation 
3. Stories boost a child's imagination and cultural literacy 
4. Storytelling fosters emotional literacy 

1. To help develop critical thinking skills 
Critical thinking happens when children draw on their existing knowledge and experience, as well as on their problem-solving skills, to do things like:
  • Explain WHY 
  • Evaluate ideas 
  • Form opinions 
  • Empathy 
  • Predict 
  • Creative Solutions 
There are many wonderful ways to foster critical thinking in children. One easy one is just allowing them to tinker around with new objects and come up with their own uses for them. The key is to give space for them to come to their own conclusions.

So, hold back from telling! Allow a space and time for discovery.

Stories are a great way to foster critical thinking. How so?

In order to truly understand the meaning of a story, children must do more than recognize the words. They must learn to “read between the lines” by figuring things out that are not actually stated in the story.  To do this, they must use critical thinking skills like problem-solving, predicting and explaining. Encouraging this kind of thinking early in a child’s life prepares her for understanding the books she’ll read on her own later on.

Language and critical thinking grow together and nurture each other’s development. As children engage in critical thinking, their language skills expand. They’re encouraged to develop and use more complex language with words like “because”, phrases with “if” and “then” and different verb tenses. Conversely, as children’s language development progresses, their ability to think critically grows as well.

2. Stories help build a pre-literacy foundation.
The journey from oracy to literacy is one of the most significant challenges your children will undergo over the next 15 years. Storytelling, if done adequately, requires a sophistication that goes beyond the level of conversation. Children that grow up around sophisticated language form effective building blocks required to become literate adults.

All written language is far more complex than spoken language. Consider the following statistics for the English language:

“…a list of 10,000 words essentially exhausts the vocabulary anyone – even a highly educated adult – uses in speaking. For reading and writing, on the other hand, educated English speakers might know as many as 100,000 words.”

Storytelling provides children with the rich foundation of vocabulary required for a confident leap into literacy. 

By building a strong pre-literacy foundation, storytelling prepares children for threat of Aliteracy: One of the greatest problems of modern education. Children around the world are successfully learning how to read while then choosing NOT to read out of disinterest. Though there are many reasons for aliteracy one root cause is an impoverished sense of story. Children with an early exposure to storytelling, recognize the art form of story while fostering skills from the experience. Storytelling foments vigorous listening skills and focus. Sequencing, prediction and memorization skills are also enhanced. 

These skills are foundational for children growing up into an enjoyable experience of reading.

3. Stories boost a child's imagination and cultural literacy

Sir Joseph Chilton Pearce in his influential essay on "Imagination and Play" says the following,

"Let's look at storytelling. The child responds to storytelling very early, even before they can talk. The word comes in as a vibration: sensory input. And that challenges the whole brain, not just to create an image in keeping with each word, but to create moving imagery, fluid imagery that follows the flow of the words. It sets up an inner-world scenario, a whole inner-world scene in which the scene is constantly shifting according to the shifting of the words themselves. This has been found to be a major challenge of the brain. The job is so enormous that the child goes into total entrainment. That is, all of the energy moves into this visual process of the inner world. The child goes catatonic: body movement ceases, the jaw drops, eyes get great big and wide. They are literally not in this world. Their eyes are wide open, but they are not looking at anything outwardly. They are looking at the marvelous world forming within them."

What Pearce is clearly stating is that storytelling creates the possibility for our children to explore their inner world through imaginations.

Stories not only enable a lively internal world, their culturally relevance, has survived the changing times by being passed on through generations. Storytelling is a gateway of knowledge of different ways of living throughout the ages.

Stories do not just develop children’s literacy and imagination; they convey values, beliefs, attitudes and social norms which, in turn, shape children’s perceptions of reality.”

Storytelling helps children learn to understand each other's differences. Children can listen to stories about other people and learn to empathize with those who live in different environments.

4. Storytelling Fosters Emotional Literacy
What is emotional literacy?

Emotional literacy - refers to the ability to express one's emotionalstate and communicate one's feelings. A person with well-developedemotional literacy is therefore able to recognize and respond to the emotionalstates of others.

Some aspects of emotional literacy which storytelling contributes towards are the following:

Self Awareness
To tell a story is a conscious act of self expression through which a child can experience themselves. Telling stories, a child can develop non-verbal skills of gesture, posture and tone of voice. Learning to tell stories can help develop self confidence, self esteem and a deeper sense of their own being – their thoughts, feelings, body and spirit.

Managing Feelings
Storytelling is a way of talking about our feelings and thoughts without intruding on personal issues. Telling, listening to, and discussing stories helps children learn and build their emotional vocabulary, by asking questions like, “What is the heroine feeling?” “What makes her feel this?” “How do her feelings change during the story?”

Many storytellers who work with children comment how children with emotional and behavioral difficulties respond enthusiastically to storytelling.

The use of storytelling in interactive, cooperative work can support children to paint pictures in their mind’s eye of what the future might be for them. There are many stories about heroes and heroines – often the youngest or least fortunate in the family – and how they face and overcome obstacles through wit, fortune, the kindness of strangers or the wisdom of the natural world.

Telling stories and listening to others telling stories helps develop the capacity to recognise and understand another person’s feelings. Empathy is the counterpart of self awareness. Watching and listening to another person telling a story, a child can learn to relate to the other person’s way of expressing emotion and to their gesture, posture and tone of voice.

Social Skills
Storytelling helps foster social understanding and competence. Stories impart wisdom about how to live; for example, the well known story of The Emperor’s New Clothes is partly about how the fear of being thought stupid leads to stupid behavior. Telling and talking about stories helps children think about moral issues and develop a sense of values. Cooperative storytelling games can help develop such social skills as initiating and allowing eye contact, taking turns and understanding rules, increasing assertiveness and dealing with conflict.

A few basic rules of thumb:

  • Choose stories that are so old that you don't know who wrote them. 
  • The richer the language the better. (Consider the Chinese classics) 
  • Let the story and your child be the teachers. Don't worry about what they will learn. 
Difference between Fairytales, Folktales and Myths
Myths are commonly misunderstood to be untrue stories. A long time ago, myths meant mystery. They were the big stories that told the truths that were too big to else wise explain. As adults, we are not comfortable living in a world we don't understand. But our children are fully immersed in a world they do not understand. When children learn to carry myths within they are strong to cope with the mysterious and, often treacherous, world outside.

Myths shape our cosmologies. They are often of a spiritual nature. Myths usually deal with creation, Gods, mortality and afterlife. They often give explanation to natural phenomenon, such as the seasons and the movement of the stars. Myths hold the beliefs of a culture within the safe confines of a story.

Examples of Chinese Myths:
  • Pang-hu盘古
  • Jade Rabbit 玉兔
Folktales are just as they sound: tales of the folks; the common people. These are stories that people sat around and told each other for entertainment, but more importantly, for instruction. They carry the collective wisdom passed down for generations. They teach values and are often cautionary: don't talk to strangers; honesty in the best policy; honor your elders.

Examples of Chinese folktales and Classics
  • In Pursuit of the Sun 夸父追日 
  • Yu Gong moves the mountain 愚公移山 
  • King Yu combating the flood 大禹治水 
  • David and Jonathan 管鲍之交 
  • High Mountains and Running Water 高山流水 
  • Chinese Folklore tales by Andrew Lang (available only in English) 

Fairytales are similar in theme, but tend to either be grander hero journeys (think princesses and kings) or have some magical element. The supernatural element would come from a fairy, witch or other magical being, but not a deity.

Examples are:
  • The Chinese Fairy Book by Zheng Yuanjie 中国童话大王郑渊洁 
  • The Chinese Fairy Book by Dr. Wilheim (available only in English) 
  • The Chinese Wonder Book by Norman Pittman (available only in English) 

  • Become your child's favorite storyteller. (You already are!) 
  • Don't be afraid to take risks. 
  • Use voices. 
  • Use words you normally wouldn't use even among your peers. 
Foster Ritual and Ceremony 

Think of time, place and repeatable actions. 

R&C is a way of comforting our child into a participation with the larger universe. The world is big to us, now just imagine your children. By creating ritual and ceremony with our kids, we are welcoming them into a collective participation in that which is bigger than us.

R&C, no matter how simple you make it with your kids, is a bonding act between you, your child and the stories.

R&C, instills in our children an experience and sense of reverence. These stories, come from a long, long time ago. They have stood the test of time. Help your child manifest awe and gratitude towards those who have helped pass along the stories. Let them know of the cycle of life they are in, in which one day, they will be the storytellers responsible to keep the stories alive

Welcome others into Storytelling.
The more the merrier! Hopefully your children can have many storytellers in their life. Be especially encouraging to their grandparents and welcome them into the honorable place they have as the primary storytellers in the family.