Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Family – Whose story is it anyway by Norah Colvin

This is the second post from the archives of  educator and storyteller Norah Colvin and this week Norah shares her own experiences of telling real stories about family to young children, not just their immediate family but passing on living history about those relatives we have met but the younger generation may not have.

Whose story is it anyway by Norah Colvin

Nor and Bec reading
Children love stories. They love being read stories and beg for them to be read, over and over again.

Equally as much, if not more, they love being told stories, especially stories of their own lives. They beg for them to be told over and over, listening attentively and with wonder as their own stories (her story and his story) are being revealed. They commit these tales to memory so that eventually it is difficult to distinguish the genuine experiential memory from the telling. Even as adults they seem to not tire of hearing tales of the cute things they did when they were little, or of shared experiences.

They also love being told stories of their parents’ lives. These are the stories that help define them and their existence: how they came to be. The stories tell of times gone by, and of how things used to be. They marvel that their parents were once children and try to imagine how that might have been.

My daughter would often ask for stories about herself, her brother, myself or other family members. One day when she was about six, she asked again, ‘Tell me a story about when you were a little girl.’ Before I could respond she jumped in with, ‘What were the dinosaurs like?’ She was teasing, of course, and her comedic timing was perfect. A story was created, one that has been shared many times.

History is a story, though at school I never saw it as such. Had it been a story of lives, as its name implies, I may have been interested. But history at school was a list of wars and dates, and kings and queens to be memorised and regurgitated for a test at the end of the term. There was no story, no human emotion, no semblance to any narrative that may have lured me in.

I hope that today’s students of history are not required to commit sterile lists of facts to memory without the stories that would give them meaning and significance, some human element to help the information stick.

History, as a subject, had always been relegated to high school. It was not a discrete part of the primary school curriculum, though aspects were explored in other subject areas such as ‘Social Studies’ when I was at school, or more recently ‘Studies of Society and Environment’. With the introduction of the new Australian Curriculum,  History is now a stand-alone subject.

As an early childhood teacher I was a bit terrified that young children would be required to memorise lists of seemingly random facts and dates. I’m pleased to say that, for the early years anyway, this is not so. Children in the early years start by exploring their own history and the history of their family, considering similarities and differences between their lives, the lives of their parents, and of their friends.

I applaud this as an excellent starting point. I believe, when working with children, connections must always be made with their lives and what they know. What better starting point than investigating the traditions of their own family and culture.

In Australia, as I am sure it is in many other places, a great diversity of cultures is represented in each classroom. Encouraging children to share similarities and differences of traditions with their classmates helps to develop understanding of each other’s traditions and beliefs, which in turn fosters respect and empathy. For this purpose, I developed some materials to make it easy for children to share their traditions. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.



Mem Fox has written a beautiful picture book Whoever you are that I love to share with children when discussing their cultures and traditions. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes, eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.

I also like to sing I am Freedom’s Child by Bill Martin Jr.; and in Australia we have a great song that tells about our different beginnings, I am, you are, we are Australian by Bruce Woodley.

What got me thinking about history in particular for this post is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far.

This is my contribution

washing 1949

Washing day

Her freckled, calloused hands were red and chaffed as they gripped the wooden stick and stirred Monday’s sheets in the large copper pot heating over burning blocks of wood.

The children played in the dirt nearby, scratching like chickens, hopeful of an interesting find.

The dirt embedded under her torn and splitting fingernails began to ease away in the warm sudsy water as she heaved the sodden sheets and plopped them onto the wooden mangles.

The children fought to turn the handle, smearing dirty handprints on the sheets.

She sighed, and hung them over the line. One chore done.
©Norah Colvin

About Norah Colvin

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create.

I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning.

I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website

Connect to Norah via her websites


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My thanks to Norah for reminding us how important it is to pass on this living history from generation to generation. I know she would be delighted to hear your experiences about learning family history and comments. Thanks Sally.

51 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Family – Whose story is it anyway by Norah Colvin

  1. The experts say that fewer children are reading books these days due to the electronic age. But, all five of my grandchildren LOVE books and stories and that makes me happy. Thanks for sharing, Sally and Norah!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Norah, this was just wonderful! Telling stories and family history is so important. You wrote this beautifully, so every reader could both enjoy your story and also understand how important a family story is. Thank you for sharing this, Sally!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a lovely post, Norah. Reading and telling stories to our kids and students are so important. When I went to visit Autumn two weeks ago, I told my daughter Mercy a story about my dad, she loved it. So not just little children, big children love to hear the legacy of their parents and grandparents.

    Thank you for featuring Norah, Sally. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well worth reviving this post, Norah and Sally. I’ve been thinking about the importance of mirroring – both literally and metaphorically – in the development of identity, and telling a child stories about herself and her family seems to be another form of that. So much of schooling seems back to front, starting from the wrong place – what I love about your posts is your capacity to put the child’s experience as central, despite so much educational policy that seems to get in the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a good step. I especially like that it starts with the children and their families and builds out from there to their local communities and beyond – in line with how their interests grow. There was never much relevant to me and my life when I did history at school.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a lovely post, Norah. The photograph is the same as your previous post so I initially thought it was the same post. History at school has changed a great deal and it is fascinating now. It is much more outcomes based and the kids are taught to analyse facts and come up with an answer. It isn’t the dry regurgitation of facts we had for tests at all. I always like history despite the horrible examinations and Greg has selected history as one of his high school subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pleased you enjoyed the post, Robbie. Thank you for sharing your experiences also. I guess the photos were the same as the topic was similar. They were taken back in the pre-digital age so there are not so many variations on a theme. 🙂 That’s a historical difference between our lives – most of mine occurred in the pre-digital age, which I guess is about as close to living with dinosaurs as one can get. 🙂 It is good that history is being done differently now and I’m pleased you didn’t lose your interest in it and have even passed it on to Greg.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I enjoyed your interesting post. I remember those history lessons in school. But, I did like history in my teens. I’m so glad that young kids start by exploring their own history and the history of their family. I don’t know if that is the norm in the US, as my kids are grown. I hope so. Today there are so many historical fiction novels that can be used alongside lesson plans that bring history to life.

    Enjoyed your flash fiction. I remember my grandmother having a clothing wringer that she turned to get the excess water out. But, my parents had a washing machine in the 50s — and a clothes line.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Patricia. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. It is a great way of doing history, isn’t it? Starting with the child.
      Mum washed as I described until the late 50s. She didn’t get her first washing machine until we moved from the farm to the suburbs in 1958. I’m not sure how soon after she got a machine though. She used a machine with a wringer all through my childhood. I think she got a twin tub after I left home. I don’t know if she ever had an automatic. But always a clothesline. What a chore! In fact, I don’t have a dryer and always use a clothesline too. But we have no need for dryers in our warm climate. How lucky we are!

      Liked by 1 person

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