The Story-Formed Child (A Review)

Dear Reader,

I had the privilege recently of attending the first ever (I believe) Story-Formed Child conference.  The main speaker was a woman named Sarah Clarkson who was homeschooled herself and has studied children’s literature. Her main thesis is that we are all living our own stories and that we need to play the parts of heroes in them. For those of us raising or teaching children, or even with children in our lives, we should be filling their lives with stories, great stories, so that they too can see themselves in this way and can learn to be heroes.

The day was very enjoyable, gave me a lot to think about, and was all very Charlotte Mason-friendly. It was not primarily about education and homeschooling but more about parenting or dealing with children in general. So while Charlotte was mentioned a number of times, this was not really an educational theory that I can conveniently compare to hers 😉 But I do think she would have agreed to almost everything which was said.

The conference also made me think many times of the book Children of a Greater God by Glaspey which I have reviewed here. Glaspey gives a number of suggestions of how to raise moral children but reading good books is the major one.

Here, then, based on my notes, are the main points:

  • Great stories help children understand themselves to be heroes. Children need to see that life is a story and how to live it out.
  • Stories like Anne of Green Gables can change how we see the world.
  • Our culture has lost its stories and doesn’t know what to do with heroes. We have lost our overarching or meta-narrative.  It occurred to me as I heard this that we have lost our stories because we have lost our Storyteller. With no Supreme Being or belief in anything larger than ourselves, we are left with no purpose and therefore no story.
  • Narrative gives us the “why” to what we do. And again I would say we can have no “why” if we are all there is and are mere products of evolution.
  • If we aren’t deliberate in giving our kids stories, they will get them (or the lack of them) from the culture.
  • The two big ways we give our kids stories are through the Bible and literature. We are all part of the story of Scripture.  And here is a quote I love (paraphrase really as its hard to write the exact words in time): Literature is our human conversation through the ages about what it means to live well. I think Charlotte would smile at this.
  • God is the first Storyteller and we echo Him when we tell stories. From another later talk also came the idea that God much have imagined His creation before He began to create and that when we imagine and tell stories we are showing one way we are made in His image.  I have commented before that I find it striking that God chooses to communicate with us through words. We can also say He communicates through stories since that is a lot of what the Bible is and is also how Jesus taught.
  • Atmosphere matters. Beauty matters and we should surround our kid with it in nature, art, music and especially stories. Again, very CM.
  • Children need time to be alone, even to be bored. This is what Charlotte calls masterly inactivity.
  • Happy endings are good. Children need to see that they are going towards something beautiful.

There was one point I disagreed with. I don’t want to make too big a deal of it. I did e-mail the organizer and got assurance that we are not really on different pages theologically. Still, I think there are some larger implications so I think it is worth mentioning. It was said a few times that parents write their kids’ stories, that they are the first storytellers in their lives. I do obviously think parents have a lot of influence in their children’s lives. But I would not say this. I would say, rather, that God is the Storyteller in all our lives. Just as we cannot give our children saving faith so we cannot force them to learn, and so also we do not write their stories, not even the beginnings. In fact I think it is important for parents to realize that their kids are whole, complete people and that God is working in their lives and shaping them as much as He is in our own. And sometimes, as hard as it is, we need to step back and let Him do that. The woman I communicated with acknowledged that of course God is sovereign in our kids’ lives. And honestly, it is not so much the purely theological part that concerns me because I think most Christians can see that. But I see parents who either come between their children and God, usually with quite good intentions, or even more commonly who do not recognize that it is God who teaches them (Charlotte Mason again, the Holy Spirit is the great educator). Now, don’t get me wrong, they did not touch on these issues. I just see ways in which the comment that we write our kids’ stories could be taken too far and so I want to caution against it. But in everything else, I was really pleased with what I heard.

I don’t want you to think I’ve old you everything Sarah Clarkson has to say. I have barely touched on the second and third talks she gave, and at any rate it is worthwhile to hear her yourself if you get the chance. She also has a book out and I believe they aim to build up the website. I am very excited that they will be publishing out of print books and also offering book reviews.


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] the book Landscape with Dragons by  Michael O’Brien. Most recently it was recommended at the Story-Formed Conference. My expectation going into this book, based on who I had heard about it from, was that it would be […]


  2. […] Coulter by Wendell Berry — This is one I read. It was recommended at the Story-Formed Conference I attended recently. I loved this book and I can’t wait to read more of Berry’s works. […]


  3. […] am indebted for this language to the Storyformed Conference I attend last year; read about that here). The fact is that there is an Author (notice the big “A”) who is Himself part of the […]


  4. […] I had the wonderful opportunity once to go to a conference entitled the Story-Formed Child. The main speaker, Sarah Clarkson, made the point that we are living in a story, God’s story. It is the meta-narrative of human existence. When we ourselves tell stories, we are echoing our Creator and also contributing to the overarching story, or at least our human understanding of it. This is a paraphrase but it’s what I got from Clarkson at the time: Literature is our human conversation through the ages about what it means to live well. Another author who contributes to this thought is Terry W. Glaspey in his Children of a Greater God. He argues  that we need to create a moral vision for children, something that is more than a list of do’s and don’ts. Stories allow us to do this. […]


  5. […] about the book Landscape with Dragons by  Michael O’Brien. Most recently it was recommended at the Story-Formed Conference. My expectation going into this book, based on who I had heard about it from, was that it would be […]


  6. […] about the book Landscape with Dragons by  Michael O’Brien. Most recently it was recommended at the Story-Formed Conference. My expectation going into this book, based on who I had heard about it from, was that it would be […]


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