The rabbit twitches and the monkey scratches.
Bad habits are hard to break, so the story goes.
When head had no body, he had to eat whatever was on the ground.
But to his delight he found a pair of arms in the cherry tree, so the story goes.
The boy frog and the boy snake were friends and learned to hop and slide together.
But snakes eat frogs when they grow up and the two parted ways, for now, hop-sliding home, so the story goes.
And that’s how the story went, according to Meg Lippert.
But the stories Lippert told Friday to a group of youngsters at the Kenai Public Library were more than just old-fashioned entertainment. They were lessons about the world and it’s workings packed with cognitive development tools the group of a dozen kids will likely absorb.
“It is important for literacy development, for vocabulary sequencing, cause and effect,” said Lippert. “It is also a wonderful way of teaching content. For example, if you are teaching a math concept, you can create a story where kids needed to have some mathematical skill or knowledge to solve a problem.”
Lippert, a Mercer Island, Wash. resident, said storytelling never gets old to her, even after publishing 22 books and teaching in the classroom for 10 years.
“It is always new,” she said. “For example, I did some things here that I’ve never done before because the kids remind me of stories that I’ve forgotten, that I haven’t told for a long time or they ask questions that are really interesting questions. They participate, they guess.”
The kids weren’t the only students, however.
In fact, Lippert landed on the Kenai Peninsula because she is helping teach a master’s of education program through Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. The current course focuses on integrating arts into education curriculum and nine of the students enrolled in the course are from the Peninsula, she said.
Two were in the audience at the library Friday, learning not necessarily from the story content, but about the craft of storytelling.
“What was fun about today is that she did a bunch of these stories with our class last week, so it was nice to see the stories again and also how she modified them a little bit based on … (an) age appropriate level,” said Michelle Ostrowski, a Soldotna resident and education specialist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
At one point while Lippert was telling stories, Ostrowski was asked if she wanted to share one of her own.
“I got nervous,” she said with a laugh. “But a lot of the kids that were actually here come to a storytime I do at the Refuge, but I read books versus telling stories. But after this class I’m going to be more comfortable doing that because of Meg.”
Anna Widman, a Kenai resident and Nikiski Middle-High School teacher, shared a story at the end of Lippert’s presentation.
Hers was called “storigami,” a mixture of storytelling and origami paper folding. It’s an effective practice she uses with students already.
“There is a little story that goes with each one so they have an association to make with each fold,” she said.
When Widman first started the art integration course she and many of the other teachers wondered how they could incorporate the story into a curriculum tailored to the age and subject they were teaching, she said. But since figuring it out, it’s become an effective teaching tool, she said.
“If you just go in and start telling a story, they want to know what is going to happen next, so it is a good intro to a lesson,” she said. “Kids of all ages like stories and even adults came to this today.”
Ostrowski said the stories she tells are more science-based because of her background with the Refuge.
“I specifically looked for stories that were more Alaskan-based and stories that were more outdoor science-based or animal-based,” she said. “I wanted to pick stories that I would be able to use again in the future and things that would fit naturally into my curriculum.”
Lippert said local influence is something she greatly values in the story process.
“I taught in Fairbanks last year and there were some Yupik students I had and they gave me a story and so I am going to be telling a story they taught me to focus on local traditions and preserve them,” she said. “I think that’s really important. Like if I am teaching in California, I try to find someone who is a Hispanic storyteller.”
Throughout the session Friday, Lippert asked questions of her young audience, sometimes getting answers far and away from the story, those a child’s mind easily summons. But that’s OK, she said. Much like the art of storytelling, it’s about going with the flow, telling the kids she loves their enthusiasm and continuing on with the story.
For beginning storytellers that can be a bit nerve wracking, Ostrowski said.
“When I was telling some stories this week, you’d kind of mix up a part of the story and then you’d be like, ‘I just ruined the entire story,’ or you figure out, oh, I can throw it in now and just kind of adjust it,” she said.
“That’s the beauty of storytelling — you just make it up,” she said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.