The four A’s of intuitive storytelling and the volcano seed.

David Sewell writes about the four A’s of intuitive storytelling and I am beginning more and more to understand what he is talking about. He refers to Attention, Affection, Approach and Allow. At the recent workshop on empathy and toddlers, we finished with a story… and I produced a basket of random props .

Together we selected some characters which we were drawn to… mostly ones that I was drawn to but the other women also contributed, and they also helped name the characters. I threw my scarf over my knees and announced that it was a mountain with a volcano at the top and the bottom was the river, on the banks of which lived our main protagonists.


There was a girl who was named (Leonie?) and she had a pet chicken and they liked to row on the river in their boat and talk about the important things of life. The mother stood on one of the banks with an empty cooking pot.

Having chosen the characters, one now has to invest them with significance and detail, such as names, strengths, challenges and favourite activities. One can also find oneself drawn to explain the key idea of the story and respond with affection and acceptance to whatever arises most prominently in one’s vision or in one’s imagination ( or which a child offers as an idea).

There were two more characters or items that drew our affectionate attention and which we accepted with confidence and conviction. There was a lion who lived at the top of the volcano and who guarded a chest with something within.

The plot of the story was that the volcano kept erupting and destroying the crops of the people who lived below. I told the listeners that the contents of the chest were reputed to have great magical powers and asked if they knew what it could do? Someone suggested that it meant you could live for ever ( and I apologise for not accepting or attending to it appropriately!). Instead I said ‘How ghastly’, and they immediately changed it to ‘You would always have enough to eat’, which was a great offer since we had already established that currently they did not. (Also stories seem to work best when you stay as much within the realm of the reasonable….. castles made of jelly, although fun, usually end you up in a great deal of bother and tricky detail which, although clever, tends to lose the children, or overexcite them).

So now the scene is set, the characters are named, the dilemma is articulated: hunger… and the goal has been identified: to try and get to the chest.

So we have worked with the first three A’s that David Sewell mentions. We had attended to various options, been affectionate and accepting of them ( apart from living forever!) and we have approached… we are now right in the thick of the story, in a boat on the river, poised for the plot to unfold. This is what he calls allowing. He also says that Aboriginal people believe that stories are like sorts of ghosts who want to be ‘told’ and if you don’t tell it, they have to wander off until they can find someone willing to ‘tell ‘ them.

So, it transpired that Leonie, the girl, and Cluck, the chicken, decided to explore the volcano and have an adventure. As they approached the peak of the mountain, they talked about trying to get into the chest. They got scared, they reassured each other, and empathised with each other’s nervousness. It turned out that Chuck had a plan which she explained to Leonie ( and to me, because until that second I did not know either!). It would have been truer to the archetypal story if they had met a fifth character who  needed some sort of help that Leonie and Chuck could provide and then that character might have endowed Chuck with the brilliant idea… you know the principle of the wise helper who ‘tests’  your  humanity and offers an unexpected gift in exchange? )


She would fly over the lion and lay an egg mid air… (this is the story now telling itself… I simply opened my mouth as Cluck, and that is what she said! I was all admiration! She pointed out, with my help, that laying an egg in midair is very hard because you can’t push against the ground with your feet while you push the egg out).

She flew off to distract the lion with this scheme and achieved great aim and once again, I was surprised by the story because the lion immediately transformed into a big wuss and lay on his side, and whined for his mother, “Mum, mum, there’s egg in my hair , oh yukky yukky’.

This was handy as it gave Leonie time to rush in and extract the treasure. It was a round red felted ball.. They ran off down the mountain, and I have no idea what will happen next… the story is telling itself and it did again.

Leonie (me) failed to have a good grip with her little china hands and dropped the ball which rolled over my knee and fell into the river.

Suddenly I could see where the story wanted to go… the red ball hit the water with a resounding ‘hissss’ as its fiery heat was extinguished.  And do you know what this meant? Yes, the women listeners did… it was the seed heart of the volcano which had been extinguished and it would never erupt again, and the crops were never ruined again and they always had enough to eat! I mean how tidy is that for an ending!!? Brilliant in my view… and it was absolutely to do with allowing.,.. if I had tried too hard, I would probably have gotten myself into a knot and a stuck place…. but instead it fell into place.. ..literally. And of course, they made friends with the lion who came and lived with them and told wonderful scary bedtime stories to Leonie and Chuck, about the volcano that was no more. (You can see my hand trying to get the ( now deceased ) ball out of sight!!)

Post script: in many ways, I suppose this is called improvisation, and/but it is a very mysterious process. I took part in a storytelling improv weekly class last year and it is similar. It has to do with playfulness, trust and a willingness to take risks… but as David Sewell illuminates, ultimately the biggest challenge ( or the most important part) is possibly ‘allowing’. We want to maintain control, we are self-conscious and so we lose the juice of the whole affair. Do you also see how this style of story telling is so very similar to what children do when they play with their toys ? And how, if they have loose parts to play with, they happily improvise and include them in the plot, and use all the wonderful language, ideas, concepts, knowledge, working theories, and cultural capital that they have in their hearts, minds and imaginations as they are going along, never worrying about how it will all turn out…!! in the same  way that they play in the sandpit or do a painting… which is why their  paintings are often so brilliant!!

One of the key maxims of the improv class was that ‘gold was discovered,  not invented’, meaning you don’t have to bust your gut making up stuff…it just allow it to unravel and let it be discovered. If the Aboriginal people are right, it is dead keen to be discovered!

Here is the link on which you can find long articles on the first two A’s and the third two are also there if you dig around!  I got a bit tired just putting up this article! boy, it’s a mission. First you have to compress your photos and then you find they are too small and fuzzy but it is too late, cos your photographer has gone home!! and you can’t take more!   and this link takes you to two longer articles about the two A’s…

Temperaments, princesses and seasons.

After reading A Storyteller’s Way,I decided to challenge my habitual, default ways of  ‘assembling’  stories. About six months ago, I used this wonderful image from Olga Levichko as a provocation for how to embellish and bring a story to life, but in such a way that it could appeal to all four temperaments. The temperaments are something Rudolf Steiner used as a lens with which to appreciate ways to approach different children, and to meet their needs. The concept of the four temperaments originated in ancient Greece and can be read about here on Wikipedia. They  include choleric ( stroppy feisty leaders), sanguine (funloving, easygoing, butterfly nature, easily delighted and change focus frequently) melancholic,( inward, sensitive, prone to perfectionism, and a bit moody) and phlegmatic ( self- sufficient, peaceful, observers who prefer stability and are kind).

Obviously no child fits one  temperament exclusively. Most children have a great deal of sanguinity and as we mature, it is  hoped that we will eventually have an even balance of all four temperaments. I was delighted this evening to take a simple online test and discover that they ‘diagnosed’ me as the one temperament which I usually fail to have even a whisker of (phlegmatic! getting older must help!)

The personality types can also be summarised as  the desire to undertake a task in a ‘fun way’ (sanguine) or in ‘my way’ (choleric),  or the ‘right way’ (melancholic) or ‘ the easy way’ ( phlegmatic). Equally, I realised, one could compare them to the seasons, or rather, the effect seasons have on us. Spring brings  all that good  humour and friendliness out in us, and then summer sees us getting things done and making impulsive strong gestures  and plans, and autumn brings with it a certain melancholic awareness of loss and the imminence of winter blues, whereas once we arrive in winter, it is a great opportunity to sit back,  hibernate, take it easy, eat a bit more and take a break from the busyness of the year.

So, Ashley Ramsden and Sue Hollingsworth brought their anthroposophical understandings to the business of storytelling. Each group of children will have a mixture of all the temperaments and it is possible, and a good idea, to choose and tell stories which will appeal to all four temperaments. And  within one story, one can be sure to include a bit of the sort of thing which lights each particular fire.

So, here are my four attempts to begin a story, related to the picture above, in ways that would inspire the four different temperaments. Check them out. What do you think?

So temperament one , choleric, might like a story which starts like this: ‘It was a cold, snowy night but the animals still needed to be fed. Olga grabbed her coat and her big blanket and her boots and stomped out into the deep drifts of snow. ‘Dog’ she bellowed heartily into the swirling mists, ‘Get over here at once, you rascal!’

For a sanguine child, who likes details so they can really sink into the story,” The sun had long sunk below the horizon and the moonlight sparkled on the crisp snow like a thousand beautiful tiny diamonds. An owl hooted in the distant dark of the forest and Olga pulled her warm coat closer around her ears and snuggled into its cosy furry collar.

For a melancholic child, maybe ‘ It was so dark outside and her father and mother were not yet back from the village and someone needed to get the sheep into the pen.She wanted to help and she could hear the bleating of the baby lambs and she could just imagine her favourite, Wagtail, and how scared he would be out in the open and of course, there were the wolves.

And the phlegmatic. Actually Olga looks somewhat phlegmatic doesn’t she… she does not look at all melancholic..but of course these elements can be brought in through other ways.. a snarling wolf would satisfy a choleric’s hunger for action and vigour, and the shivering cat trapped in the snow in the dark and in need of rescuer would appeal to the sympathies of a melancholic child ( melancholic had a different definition for ancient Greek doctors from what it means now – another post maybe.

So, finally. phlegmatic. It was warm and cosy in the cabin with the flames of the fire fitfully flickering and Olga felt deliciously drowsy after her meal of borscht and freshly baked bread, She rested on the sofa and stroked the snoozing cat and gazed out the window at the snow which swirled around the house, wrapping it in a coat of wintry white.

(Sorry, Olga, the choleric is about to get their turn again! , but at least there was a bit for phlegmatic Olga – it’s all about balance.

What I realise, when I set myself a little exercise like this, is how I ( and probably everyone else who isn’t consciously trying) will tend to invariably tell (and choose) the same sort of story with the same combination of emotional moods and variations on similar action/stillness ratios). Keeping the four temperaments in mind helps to keep the tone, mood and speed, varied and richer.

Cholerics like action/ verbs…. sanguine like details/ adjectives, melancholics often use more nouns and words that describe emotional states and moods, while phlegmatics like alliteration, repetition and lingering a little longer before moving on (that’s a fairly cursory summary but you get the drift….ha, a pun to end on! )

And four images that sort of  manage to link the season, the temperament, the mood and the energy….. not sure, but some super great photos there from Kirsty Mitchell ( autumn ) and Margarita Kareva (winter).



Geometry concepts evolve into the story of The Squabbling Leaves.

I went for  a walk and was musing on the possibilities of various plants that I could take with me for a one day relieving opportunity. Building houses with  strips of gum bark found yesterday while lying under the trees’ leafy shade, and then huge dried karaka  leaves. Looking at different leaves and possible ways to use them. My focus shifted to the fact that they have ERO visiting and want me to incorporate  maths into my mattimes and impress the inspectors.

Then thinking of the geometrical shapes of houses… teepees, yurts, castles, mansions, caves and so on. And the language for the shapes and started thinking about all the different shapes, and then textures, and then sizes of leaves. Curved,  pointed, round, triangular, square, thin, wide,  large and small, wrinkly, shiny…. so  many wonderful descriptive adjectives. Another inadvertent language outcome.



It became obvious that just talking about shapes would be a whole lot less engaging than if I could weave the geometry and attributes of the different leaves into a story.I picked some and as I walked home a story evolved!   And here it is:  The squabble of the leaves….

I was also thinking about some key qualities that good children’s stories often have… repetition, rhythm, rhyme, including experiences, events, objects that are meaningful to the children/child, giving space for memory and imagination,using voice and gesture.  And through the process of walking and dreaming and considering, I came up with a story. I wondered about the 100 day challenge and whether I should give myself that discipline so that I get better at it!

The mother returns for her baby……
The baby fairy surrounded by the competitive leaves.












So this might be a story for a group of children who are very competitive and lack a sense of community. One could tell it more than once and one could also do the same thing with flowers… some have scent, some have medicinal qualiities and some have longlasting qualities, others have colour for dying fabric, and others become vegetables. Many varied virtues… each different, each valid. A simple message, a powerful message!


Here  is a wonderful imaginative story somebody wrote about the evolutionary adaptation of the pitcher plant, complete with repetitive refrain! 

pitcher plant Rather well