THERE IS MAGIC IN SHARING PERSONAL STORIES THAT GOES beyond books or storytelling. Perhaps it's the special way children feel when they know that others are listening to a story about something that was their own unique experience. Yet, how often do we allow time for children to share personal stories?

Sharing personal stories is a wonderful way for children to get to know one another at the beginning of the year. Use group time as a welcoming place for children to describe and explore what is happening in their lives and for you to share some of your own experiences with children as well. Children learn by observation and imitation. When you share a story from your heart, they will feel safe and be eager to share their own heartfelt experiences. Read a letter you received that touched you, or share your feelings about something in the news or a family event. Tell a joke or silly story you heard that really made you laugh. Be honest and have fun.

Try these activities to get your group organized and started.

Pass the Stone: How do you get energetic little individuals to quietly gather as a group? One way is to invite children to silently pass a rock, shell, or other natural item around the circle. This process of passing something of beauty encourages children to slow down, focus, and give the meeting their full attention.

The Talking Stone: When you have finished passing the item, put it in the center of the circle for use as a "talking stone." If children have a story to tell, they can pick up the stone, hold it, and talk. The person holding the stone is the only one speaking. This helps children focus on the speaker and allows them to choose to speak without feeling pressured. You can demonstrate with a story of your own.

Headlines: Sharing personal news can take much more time than young children have the patience to hear. Try inviting children to share the "headlines" instead of the entire story. Make a short personal statement to demonstrate how a headline is a short sentence. You can write their headlines on an experience chart so that children can "flesh out" their stories later in the writing center.

My Story Days: Create special days for children to share. Much like show-and-tell days, these are assigned days when two children at a time can share a story about the new puppy or baby, their favorite thing to do at home, or just how they are feeling that day. Send a note to parents describing the process and inviting them to help their children think about what to share. They might want to collect photos, postcards, or objects that can help their children share their stories.

Stories Around the Room

The birth of a story may occur in your group meeting time, but children can elaborate on their stories in various learning centers around the room.

Art/Writing Center: Children can bring in photos, family trip postcards, and other visual reminders to create drawings for personal story albums or journals. These are ongoing collections of stories that children dictate or write and illustrate throughout the year. Finished pages are placed in personal photo albums to make "The Story of Me" books. Be sure to share these periodically at story time!

Listening/Technology Center: With children's permission, you can audio- or videotape them as they tell their stories at circle. Make these available for replay in your listening/technology center. Children can use tape recorders and microphones to "interview" each other for their stories!

Dramatic-Play Center: Props help children tell their personal stories, and nothing works better than dolls, puppets, and play people! Children can take a story they told or heard at circle and act it out in the dramatic-play area. You might want to invite children to bring some of the props to group time to help tell their next story.

Block Center: Invite children to bring in photos or to draw pictures of their homes. Hang these in the block area for quick reference. Children can build their "homes" and then use play people to act out some of their stories.

Snack Area: What is one of the most popular stories children enjoy sharing? Stories about their birthdays! Why not have a beginning of the year un-birthday party for everyone! Children can help prepare the snack, decorate, sing, and celebrate together. Now that is an exciting story to tell!