golden method of teaching

“Where can I find suitable stories to tell?” is a frequent question
asked by lovers of children who take seriously their cry of
soul-hunger, “Tell me a story!” Oral story-telling within recent years
has had a remarkable revival, and a response to both the child’s and
the parent’s plea has been made in a number of charming collections
of children’s stories and manuals on the art of story-telling. But it
is well known that books of stories with material in a form readily
adapted for telling are very few. Fewer still have attempted to gather
into one volume those old favorites which should be the heritage of
each succeeding generation of children. True, there are collections
in many volumes, such as “The Children’s Hour,” in ten volumes;
the “Junior Classics,” in ten volumes; and the series, “What Every
Child Should Know,” in twenty volumes; but these, admirable in many
respects, are bulky, expensive, and forbidden to all except the favored
children of the rich. Mothers frequently ask for something condensed,
comprehensive, and simple. It is to meet such a need, often expressed
to him, that the author has gathered, during a number of years of
experience in moral and religious education, these World Stories for
telling to modern boys and girls.

Almost all of the many stories in this book he has himself told at
various times before differing audiences of children, young people,
and adults–audiences varying from one or two open-eyed listeners in
the home, or the little group in the country Sunday-school or wayside
schoolhouse, to the large classes and assemblies in high schools,
colleges, city libraries, Sunday-schools, churches, and conventions.
In many cases children and young people have retold these stories in
almost the exact language here given.

The principle on which these stories have been adapted and rewritten
is largely that of condensation. There is undoubtedly a certain
cultural atmosphere created in the very language and spirit of these
fine old tales, but the descriptive adornments often lead to a length
that is unattractive to the busy mother or teacher, as well as trying
to the strength of mind and memory of the child. Given the real
facts, illustrating the moral principle desired to be imparted, the
story-teller may elaborate as much as imagination, interest, and time
permit. After such an early introduction in childhood to these stories
that for unnumbered generations have furnished food to mind, memory,
heart, and will, the boy and girl will experience a keener joy in after
years when the fuller versions are read in the original or in larger

In the preparation of these pages, the author has been favored with
the generous counsel, aid, and encouragement of specialists in child
psychology, pedagogy, and story-telling, among whom mention must be
made especially of Dr. Richard Morse Hodge, of Columbia University,
one of whose articles printed in “Religious Education” suggested
this work; Dr. Henry F. Cope, Secretary of the Religious Education
Association; John L. Alexander, Secondary Division Superintendent of
the International Sunday School Association; and my friend, Dr. Irving
E. Miller, of Rochester University, and author of “The Psychology of
Thinking.” To these, as well as to a host of teachers and principals of
public schools, pastors and superintendents in churches, and mothers
and fathers in homes, who so graciously permitted experimentation with
these stories, gratitude is sincerely expressed.

Stories are the language of childhood. They are mirrors of nature in
which the child beholds his natural face “as in a glass.” They appeal
to every instinct of child nature. They feed every interest of the
soul. They strike a responsive chord in every awakening faculty of the
unfolding life. Boys and girls love stories as they love no other form
of address. Stories afford amusement and entertainment as play does,
for they are the mind’s play, as well as its natural soul-food.

Story-telling is as old as human speech. It was enjoyed by the
primitive children of all races and lands, as it is enjoyed by the
boys and girls of to-day. There is no better way to convey our ideas,
to widen knowledge, experience, and sympathy, or to impress moral
truth. Stories with plenty of life and action in them leave nothing to
explain. Conduct pictured in them needs no application or obtrusive
moral. Good stories, well adapted and well told, not only furnish
amusement and hold attention as no other form of speech does, but
possess positive value in many other directions. They feed, exercise,
and cultivate the imagination; appeal to the emotions; arouse the
will; strengthen the power of concentration; develop the sense of
beauty; stimulate the idealizing instinct; help to shape thought and
language; widen the child’s sympathies and fellowships; broaden his
world interests; prepare for future understanding of literary classics,
especially poetry; implant ideas of right and wrong; and, in short,
make the most lasting impressions of an ethical, esthetic, educational,
and cultural nature.

The story method is the golden method of instruction. No method of
teaching is so popular or powerful. The story-teller was the first
teacher of primitive children in Egypt, Assyria, India, China, and
Japan. The stories of the wandering bards, like Homer, in ancient
Greece, were the first education of the Greeks. Stories of national
heroes, such as we find in Plutarch’s Lives, delighted the Roman
boy just as the stories of Joseph and Samuel and David and Daniel
charmed and thrilled to patriotism the Jewish boy. During the Middle
Ages the monks, troubadours, skalds, jongleurs, wandering bards,
and minstrels never lacked an audience when they told or sang their
tales of mystery, heroism, or love. Story-telling has been a valuable
instrument for philosophers, poets, prophets, statesmen, and great
leaders of men in all ages. It was the method of Jesus, the greatest
of all teachers. “Without a parable spake he not unto them.” Plato
regarded stories for children as so important that he would have none
told that had not been approved by the public censor. Froebel, the
father of the kindergarten, said: “Story-telling refreshes the mind as
a bath refreshes the body; it gives exercise to the intellect and its
powers, and tests the judgment and the feelings.” Charles Lamb, Sir
Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Coleridge, Longfellow, Dickens, Emerson,
Lowell, Milton, Hawthorne, Stanley, Hugh Miller, Ruskin, and Wagner
tell of the influence of stories, and especially fairy stories, upon
them before the age of sixteen, and many before they were twelve. When
Henry Ward Beecher arose in Manchester, England, to make an address,
during the Civil War, pleading the cause of the Union before a bitterly
hostile assembly, he looked out upon a howling mob. He smiled, he waved
his hand, he waited in vain. At last he shouted, “Let me tell you a
story!” and at once the tumult ceased. He told them a short, pithy
story in half a dozen sentences, won their attention, and proceeded
with his great plea for human rights. It has been said that Beecher, by
this speech, stemmed the tide of popular feeling against the Union and
so prevented recognition of the Confederacy by the British Government.

All the world loves a good story. But give the story a place in the
heart and mind of childhood early enough, and you have laid the
foundation-stone for an enduring character. And beyond all this, as Dr.
G. Stanley Hall says, “To hear stories from the great story-books of
the world is one of the inalienable rights of childhood.”


Elementary teachers, junior librarians, and competent Sunday-school
teachers are now fully expected to meet the story-hunger of childhood
by good stories. But educated mothers also are coming to realize
that these workers for their children cannot be expected to do all
the story-telling. Parents, and especially mothers, should talk with
their children about the stories they have heard, and supplement these
with the cultural classics, such world stories as are found in this
collection, or with those from other sources.

“The mother’s heart is the child’s best schoolroom.” The home is the
first and holiest school. The home is the institution which is more
important and fundamental than all others. Teachers, ministers, and
other educators can cooperate with, but can never be substitutes for,
educated, cultured parents, who, by the great law of family life,
necessarily exert the most direct influence upon the life of the child,
and especially during its formative and most impressionable years. An
educator of wide reputation says: “If, at the end of the sixth year,
the child has not acquired self-control and a fair ability to be an
agreeable member of society, it is the fault of the home. A failure
to arrive at such a happy state of affairs may be due to economic or
social conditions back of the home, but normally this responsibility
for the care and training of children lies with the parents.”

Because so few mothers feel competent to cooperate in this creative art
of story-telling, such a course should manifestly become an integral
part of the education of every young woman of culture. This is, in
part, being provided, and soon must universally find a place in the
curricula of high schools, normal colleges, State universities, and
denominational institutions of learning. Many who are now mothers have
had no such training. All the greater reason, therefore, that the
mother who would be competent should avail herself of such books as
“Stories and Story-Telling,” by E. P. St. John; “How to Tell Stories
to Children,” by Sara Cone Bryant; “Stories and Story-Telling,” by
Angela M. Keyes; “The Children’s Reading,” by Frances J. Olcott;
“Some Great Stories and How to Tell Them,” by Richard T. Wyche; or
“The Moral Instruction of Children,” by Felix Adler. Any one of these
books, or the present volume alone, will assist any mother to improve
her opportunity of telling stories to her own children or to develop
her own natural gift into a conscious art, so that ability may fit
opportunity more perfectly.

It is well for the mother to have a definite plan for children’s
story-telling. Some mothers I know have set aside half an hour in the
morning after breakfast, when the husband has gone to the office and
her older children have gone to school, as the best time for what they
call “the morning stories of the Bible” (early chapters of Genesis)
for those who are in the early morn of life. Less fortunate mothers
have set aside Sunday afternoons. Others set aside a half-hour after
supper on two or three evenings each week, or even one evening, if that
is all that can be spared. Still others devote, faithfully, one-half
hour to their children’s story-telling before the children go to bed,
or even after they are in bed, and the children love that half-hour as
“the best of all the day.”


The instinct of story-telling is, undoubtedly, more natural with the
mother, the children more necessarily turning to her with their cry for
soul-food, “Tell me a story!” But many a father would greatly enrich
his own life and his boy’s childhood memory by less absorption in the
evening paper, the monthly magazine, or the club in order to attend
to this soul-hunger of his boy’s mind. Longfellow, the great lover of
children, had the father as the story-teller in mind, when he pictured
“The Children’s Hour”:

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupation,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.

* * * * *

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I hold you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Not all fathers are so occupied with business cares that they may
not, if they would, attract their children and strengthen and ennoble
their life by stories. Not a few fathers I have known have left this
priceless heritage and memory to grateful children.

When should parents begin to tell stories to their children? As early
as possible. When should they cease? At no point. Walter T. Field,
in “Finger Posts for Children’s Reading,” tells of a father who read
a course in history with his sons when they were grown into young
manhood. Not the least reason for the father, as well as the mother,
being the story-teller to their own children, is the comradeship of
it. A well-loved writer once said that in his long experience he had
never seen any family of boys go wrong where their father was their
“chum,” if the father was himself the man he ought to be. The father’s
comradeship with his boy or girl begins very early in the child-life,
and the earlier it begins, the deeper and stronger will the roots go
down into the soul. Story-telling during the golden years of childhood
in the home, or as the father walks abroad into the country with his
boy, will weld bonds of friendship between father and son that no after
years can sunder.

Many homes cannot afford a large library of many books, but no home
is so poor that parents in joyous partnership may not gather the
children together on a winter’s evening or summer’s day, and tell them
some of the great stories of the world. To do so is to reenter in
joyous comradeship into the child’s enjoyment, which is the highest
prerogative of a parent. It is in this sense “to become again as a
little child.” And besides all, it is to be rewarded by discovering,
as nearly as can be on this side of heaven, the fount of perennial


Only recently has the value of teaching by stories been taken seriously
in the Sunday-school. It is likely Robert Raikes, the founder of the
modern Sunday-school movement, never thought of telling stories to “the
terrible bad boys,” the waifs from the alleys of Gloucester, whom in
1780 he gathered into his first Sunday-school in that city. Nor did the
four teachers whom he hired at one shilling each week seem to dream
of the children’s thirst for stories. They were perfectly content to
teach these “young savages” to repeat simple prayers, the Church of
England catechism, Bible questions and answers, and to sing Doctor
Watts’ hymns; and occasionally Robert Raikes gave them a crack on the
head with his walking-stick in order to impress some knotty point of
instruction. But the recent study of child-nature, and the influence
of modern psychology and pedagogy on the church, have clearly marked
out a better way. In the religious training of children, no less than
in their general education, story-telling is seen to be the easiest,
simplest, and most effective means of impressing upon a new generation
the lessons that have been learned by those who have gone before.

Dr. H. E. Tralle, in “Teacher-Training Essentials,” says: “All in
all, the story method is probably the most valuable of all methods of
teaching in the Sunday-school.”

“Of all the things that a teacher should know how to do,” says
President G. Stanley Hall, “the most important, without exception, is
to be able to tell a good story.”

Every Sunday-school teacher who would be successful in teaching
modern boys and girls must give attention to this golden method of
instruction, and should, as early as possible, learn this “the easiest
of all the creative arts,” the delightful art of story-telling.

But oral story-telling has value in the Sunday-school outside the
class instruction. The story form is the best expression of children’s
worship, and should be employed in what is called “the opening and
closing exercises.” A short story is soon told, but its influence
abides long after “the address” is forgotten. Let the story-tellers and
their stories be selected with care, and many a dull opening or closing
exercise will be enlivened and enriched. Bible stories, Christmas and
Thanksgiving stories, missionary stories, altruistic stories, stories
of hymns, stories of noble acts of children recorded in our daily
papers, all are serviceable. Many of the stories in this volume have
been told again and again in the opening and closing exercises of
Sunday-schools with good results.

Dr. Richard Morse Hodge well says: “If you do not tell stories at
the services of a Sunday-school, please reflect that some one else
may be telling stories to the same children at some other time and
place; may be doing more to promote their worship of God than what you
may be doing for them by a less intelligent method of conducting the
Sunday-school services.”


“Stories are better than sermonettes. A five-minute story, well told,
from the pulpit often outweighs an hour’s discourse. Children under
twelve rarely learn through abstract terms. Such explanations bore
them, since they are first incomprehensible, and after a story are
superfluous. Stories are better than object-lessons, since stories
appeal both to the intellect and the emotions. Suppose a minister
holds in his hands a watch and observes that if it goes wrong it has
to be remedied from the inside, so also if a child goes wrong he has
to be altered in the heart. This is clear so far as it goes, but it
does not instruct a child how to adjust his heart any more than it
teaches him how to be a watch-repairer. But suppose the minister
tells a story of how ‘once upon a time’ a boy failed to be obedient
until he fell in love with his mother. He then deals with the problem
practically, directly, and naturally. The boy is full of interest, and
the minister is religiously educating and inspiring. Story illustration
is essentially the art of explaining the unknown by the familiar,
an untried experience by an experience already gained, as Jesus
used agricultural parables for peasants and fishing experiences to
unenlightened fishermen.”

A number of ministers I know are telling five-minute stories from their
pulpits each Sunday morning to the delight of both young and old; at
the same time enriching their service of worship and solving, as far
as it can be solved under present conditions, the vexed problem of
how to get children to remain to the preaching service of the church.
Others are successful in weaving into their shortened discourses choice
stories which hold attention and illume and enforce the truth presented.


Froebel is the father of the kindergarten and the great modern inspirer
of short story-telling for the young. His method was to create an
atmosphere in which the child-nature could best bud and blossom in its
unfolding life. For this reason he believed to have the children sit
in a circle is far more conducive to good results in story-telling
than the plan of the school with its bench and book. As disciples of
Froebel kindergarteners have been pioneers in story-telling, leaders
and inspirers of others and, until recently, as a class did more
story-telling than any other educators. The kindergarten age is from
three to six years normally, but with immature children may continue a
year or two longer. In this period the child is in a transition from
nursery rhymes and Mother Goose jingles to fairy tales, folk-lore, and
nature stories. If the mother is the teacher in the kindergarten of
her own home, as must be the case most generally, let her be sure to
give her children, in addition to Mother Goose jingles, the Fairy and
Folk Tales in Chapters I and III, such as “The Runaway Pancake,” “Red
Ridinghood,” and many of the Fables in Chapter II. In the kindergarten
proper let the teacher add to these world stories for this period such
others as these may suggest. And if she has a creative imagination let
her invent new stories from familiar objects, and let the children have
an opportunity to vote which stories they like best–the “made-up” ones
or these old classics.


No longer are school-teachers content to have kindergarteners hold a
monopoly of story-telling. Richard T. Wyche, in his excellent work,
“Some Great Stories and How to Tell Them,” says: “In the grades the
child is occupied largely with reading and writing, the mastering
of form, the book, and the desk–things that for the moment deaden
rather than inspire, but are means to things of primary interest to
him. So much time is necessarily put on form and learning to read the
story that the pleasure and inspiration of the story itself is given
a secondary place.” While this is recognized, the oral story, well
told, is finding an ever-widening acceptance in the grades as the most
popular and successful method in education. Good story-telling is being
utilized in many subjects of the curriculum, for many purposes and in
many departments, within and without the classes, because its artistic
and educational possibilities are so great.

Richard T. Wyche gives his experience as a teacher in a little school
in the South. The teacher who preceded him “heard lessons”–and the
children “said lessons”–an easy way, he says, “for the questions
were in the book, and the children could memorize and say the answers
without interest or profit. They were bored by this mechanical process
as was the teacher.” One day he told the class the story of “Hiawatha’s
Fishing,” and every child listened with rapt attention, full of
interest. Many of the children wrote out the story for their lessons
the next day. One little fellow who did not write it told it in such a
vivid and realistic way that the class applauded. Two stories a week
followed until the whole story of Hiawatha was told. All the children
were interested, and within two months, grammar, language, composition,
spelling, drawing, had all been taught by the story-telling method.

The story is now seen to be so important a method in education that
we may expect to see this art become a part of the equipment of all
teachers, and the story literature of the world become more and more
accessible and adaptable to the unfolding life of childhood and youth
in our public schools.


It is a poor public library to-day where there is no provision for a
story-teller and a “story-hour,” as a means of introducing boys and
girls to the best books. Books on the shelves are of no value. They are
for reading, but they are not likely to be read unless they are known.
A story, well told, from a book, will often prove the most successful
way of leading the children to desire to read the book. A friend of
mine, a teacher in the high school in a small town in Colorado, has
influenced the whole community for good by introducing a “children’s
story-hour” one afternoon a week into a library which, before her
effort, was scarcely patronized at all, and which now is the center of
interest and “the liveliest place in town.”

Of course the primary use of the story-hour in the library is different
from that in other places. In the public school the purpose of the
story is to teach language, literature, geography, history, and such
subjects; in the Sunday-school, church services, and the home, the
spiritual and ethical aim of the story is necessarily prominent. In the
public library, the story is told for the purpose of bringing the best
books to the attention of the public that they may thereby be benefited.

As each of these agencies in the educative process of the child
life differs in its task, so it follows that there must be in each
institution a different use of the story. But as elsewhere, so in
the library there are many “by-products” of oral story-telling. Miss
Frances J. Olcott, of the Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, Pa., the
prime mover and leader in this popular work, calls attention to the
by-products of the story-hour. She says: “Besides guiding his reading,
a carefully prepared, well-told story enriches a child’s imagination,
stocks his mind with poetic images and literary allusions, develops
his power of concentration, helps the unfolding of his ideas of
right and wrong, and develops his sympathetic feelings, all of which
‘by-products’ have a powerful influence on character. Thus the library
hour becomes, if properly utilized, an educational force as well as a
literary guide.”


Children in settlement districts in our large cities are not different
from other children in their love of stories. The story-teller is the
saint of the settlement. Few settlement workers to-day would venture on
their mission without the necessary equipment of this art.


Stories told to boys around the camp-fire at night leave little to be
desired in a boy’s imagination. They charm him as they did the weary
hunters in the boyhood of the race when the story-tellers beguiled the
silence of the desert or forest with the mirth and wonders of the same
tales that delight to-day. One of the finest collections of stories for
boy camps is “Around the Fire Stories of Beginnings,” by Hanford M.