photo by Richard Clark via Unsplash
You’ve stocked up on essentials: hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and you’ve got a cupboard with non-perishable food including enough pasta to feed your neighborhood. But your neighbors won’t be visiting anytime soon.
If you have children, here’s one more thing to add to your list of essentials in this era of solitude: stories, including those that you create yourself to help your kids cope with unexpected changes in their daily lives.
The Secret Prince is an ongoing story meant to support the inner journey of children in this time of solitude. You will find the first chapter below. My goal is to add a new chapter each Tuesday and Thursday. I hope your child(ren) aged four through twelve, find The Secret Prince helps to normalize staying home for many days.
The story shows a child whose independent spirit helps him deal with being stuck inside for weeks. This story has no mention of disease; it’s about a boy who has to stay inside due to flooding. It’s not an explanation for why we are practicing social distancing. By now your child already knows why their daily routines are different. The question now for most children is not so much why as how to re-imagine their daily lives.
Over the last two decades, children have become increasingly programmed. And now, suddenly, they have no school, no after school activities, no trips to their favorite stores or restaurants. This is a great opportunity for children to discover that they are inventive and resilient. I’m hoping this story (and the ones you make up yourself) will help to scaffold children’s self-motivation and creativity during a time when they lack their normal routines.
Storytelling is effective because it relies on showing rather than telling. Showing a child in a story taking up jumping rope of sewing is more likely to inspire your child than a direct suggestion such as, “just go jump rope.”
The Secret Prince story grows by one chapter each Tuesday and Thursday. The other five days of the week offer you an opportunity join in the story telling by making up your own part of the story about a family that lives in in the village.
The story elements you develop can show aspects of your family life that are not reflected in the main story. You might want to show a single parent, or a family with multiple children or a family member with disabilities. If a parent in your family is an essential worker (and, if so, thank you for your contribution!!) then you could show a worker who helps others in in the community. Consider changing the name of the story to include the child character that you create, for instance, “Jasmine and The Secret Prince.”
Let’s work together to make this story meaningful to children as they navigate this unusual time. You are invited to join the conversation on the Facebook page The Secret Prince Storytelling Community. Here we can talk about how we are working with the story, share ideas about village families and their adventures, share children’s artwork about the story and discuss the role of storytelling in supporting children through challenges. This page also provides access to The Secret Prince in translation (so far in Spanish and Vietnamese.) https://www.facebook.com/groups/640925113394726/
This blog post shows how and why to develop your own healing stories: https://childrengrowing.com/2016/10/27/is-this-part-of-your-emotional-first-aid-kit/
Note: follow Growing Children on WordPress or on Facebook to be alerted to the next installments of The Secret Prince. If you sign up to receive emails from this blog, you will get each new chapter emailed to you when it is published.
The Secret Prince
Chapter One The Magic Shirt
Nobody at school knew that Ronduin was the young prince who lived in the great, golden castle that was so tall that its towers could be seen from the village. He had drawers full of peasant clothes which he wore on school days. And he insisted that the royal knight, Sir Andrew, who brought him to the village school also wear peasant clothing and hitch the horses to a plain old wooden wagon. Even then Ronduin was concerned that Andrew and the sleek royal horses might be recognized, so every morning he stepped out of the cart and onto a path through the forest that led into the village.
Each morning Ronduin ran down this forest path as fast as his legs could carry him. He ran along the lake, then along the river and then into the village where the bakers and the potters and the tinsmiths waved to him. He called out “Good Day!” to each of them. All this running had made him strong and fast. When the school bell rang at the end of the day, he ran back to Sir Andrew who had returned with the cart.
One day each year, when winter had melted away, all the schools in all the villages joined together to hold a great festival. Each school paraded to the fair grounds. They carried banners and streamers and pushed carts loaded with food. Each school’s fastest runners led their parade and were first to reach the great field where they joyously ran laps together celebrate the coming of birds and blossoms, of warm breezes and green grass. Ronduin looked forward to this Spring Festival all year long. He enjoyed the day of singing and dancing and eating and making new friends. But, above all, he looked forward to the running. Ronduin loved to run.
One cloudy day, as Ronduin ran through the forest toward the old wooden cart, his legs told him they wanted to keep running. So, when he reached Sir Andrew, he said, “Please may I keep running?”
“Can you meet me at the great oak tree at the end of this road?” Sir Andrew, said, “Feels like rain is coming but if you don’t mind getting a little wet, that’s fine with me.”
Ronduin ran fast and free down the dirt road. He didn’t mind when soft rain began to fall. Dark clouds covered the sky as Ronduin climbed into the cart, and as, they rode through the gate into the castle courtyard, the sky opened up with a huge downpour.
It rained all evening and, when Ronduin sat in the great dining hall with his parents, the King and the Queen, water began seeping in under the door to the courtyard. Ronduin laughed at the invading puddle, but soon, as servants entered the dining hall with mops and many buckets, he realized this was no laughing matter. Then, suddenly, before they had finished their meal, all manner of advisors lined up to tell the queen and the king about flooding in the courtyard and the roads, about leaks in many areas of the castle and about wind knocking down trees, blocking travel into the village.
Ronduin awoke to the sound of rain the next morning. He looked out the window at a courtyard full of water. Sir Andrew appeared at his door and told him that he would not be going to school that day for the roads were flooded and blocked by fallen trees. He told him that breakfast would be served in the sitting room of the family living quarters because the great dining hall at the ground level had become a pond.
That morning as they ate day old bread in the family quarters for the cooks were busy bailing water from the kitchen. Neither the king nor the queen knew that they would all be stuck in the castle for three more weeks. They could not yet know that the rain would continue for three more days, that it would take weeks to clear the roads using axes and handsaws and that the lake and river would spill over their banks for weeks to come.
But ,that morning as he ate cheese and bread with butter and marmalade, and drank a glass of cider, Ronduin had only one question for his parents: “Where can I run inside the castle?”
“Not the halls,” said the king. “They are wet and slippery.”
“Not the stairs,” said the queen.”The main stairway is like waterfall and the smaller stairways and the halls are full of servants carrying buckets.”
“Not the courtyard,” said the queen. “It’s an even deeper pond.”
“Best you should spend the day here in this room where you won’t be underfoot. You will be able to run another day,” said the king.
“There’s plenty of cider and bread and cheese. Eat when you are hungry,” said his mother, the queen. ” I am glad I can trust you to stay here today. Your father and I will be busy supervising the staff. We must move the kitchen and clean up lots of water.”
“And figure out how to repair the roof,” said the king who took his last sip of tea and hurriedly left the room with the queen.
Now Ronduin sat alone in a beautiful room with golden curtains and blue velvet chairs. Great paintings of kings and queens of old looked down at him and the maroon carpet and the silver candle holders holding brightly lit candles that did little to bring cheer to the dreary day.
Ronduin stood then slowly walked around the room attempting to find a running course. The second time he made the loop around the room, he walked faster, and the third time he broke into a very slow run. He speeded up and his foot caught the edge of a carpet, throwing him forward toward a lit candle. Ronduin reached his arm out and grabbed the candlestick as he fell toward it. Luckily the fast motion flicked out the flame. He landed hard on the floor with the candle in his hand, dripping wax on his shirt.
Ronduin re-lit the candle by touching its wick to a burning candle and set it on the table. He rubbed his knee which was sore from the fall. Then he limped to the tall window and sat on the floor staring forlornly at the pouring rain. The sound of the rain slapping the window filled his ears, but, in the distance, he also heard the sounds of the castle. Servants, sometimes shouting to each other about the new leaks and growing flooding, pounded up and down the hallways carrying buckets and mops. Sometimes he heard the voice of the king or the queen giving orders to their busy helpers.
After some time, Ronduin looked about the room for something to do. He was a child who always played outside. When he wasn’t running, he was usually throwing a ball or swinging on the swing in the courtyard. Sometimes he helped the gardeners push heavy wheelbarrows or plant rose bushes. And, of course, most days he went to school. But today, alone in a big room full of furniture where there was absolutely nothing to do and nobody to play with, Roduin, was bored and he was lonely.
Ronduin had never been bored or lonely. Now he began to walk back and forth in the room, slowly this time so he wouldn’t knock over any candles.
Next to his mother’s chair he noticed the big wooden box where she kept her sewing. Ronduin took off the cover and carefully removed layer after layer of unfinished projects which he laid on the carpet in a great circle. Soon he was surrounded by lovely embroidered flowers , a partially finished dark green velvet vest, stacks of bright cloth, piles of bright spools of thread, and bunches of ribbons. At the very bottom of the deep box he found his old linen shirt with a ripped hem. A long thread with needle still attached hung from place where the repair had begun.
Ronduin had never even held a needle. But he had the idea that he could finish this repair job. He had watched his mother push the needle in and out. Now he did what he had seen her do. He even remembered watching her tie off the end of the thread so it wouldn’t unravel. He found some scissors and snipped the thread and then it was done.
Ronduin removed his wax-stained shirt, put on the repaired one and walked to a tall mirror with a golden frame. And there he was, wearing a shirt he had mended himself. He had done it out of boredom, just as a way to stay busy. But, suddenly, unexpectedly, Ronduin felt an unexpected surge of energy and happiness.
“I guess it’s now my magic shirt,” thought Ronduin.
Wearing his magic shirt, he walked back to the window. The rain continued to pelt the glass panes. But it wasn’t the rain that grabbed Ronduin’s attention. It was the curtains. They were held back by thick cords. Ronduin removed cords from a few curtains and tied them together to make a long rope. He stepped on the center of the rope and held up both ends at the level of his shoulders. Now all he needed was an area of the floor with no furniture.
He realized that the contents of the sewing box covered the area of the floor that he would need, so he carefully placed all the items back in the box. Then he puzzled for a few moments about how to rearrange furniture in a way that made sense and also left an empty area. A few minutes of pushing and shoving heavy chairs and end tables created exactly what he wanted.
Ronduin wasted no time. He hopped into the center of the new empty area. He grasped the rope at just the right spots, swung it over his head and down to his feet and jumped. Ronduin had never jumped rope, but he had seen older children at school doing this. It had looked easy, but now he discovered it was hard. He tripped again and again, but he didn’t give up. At first he could jump two times without tripping, then three times, then four times. Ronduin practiced and practiced without stopping until he could jump 100 times without tripping. Stopping to take a rest after jumping to 100 three times, Ronduin realized he was sweating and breathing hard.
“Jumping rope is a lot like running,” he thought.
Now Ronduin was hungry. He took the cloth off the block of cheese and sliced himself a big chunk. He ripped off a large piece of bread which he covered with butter and marmalade. He was so hungry that he was not concerned at all that his lunch was the same as his breakfast.
When he was done eating he realized something was different. At first he didn’t know what it was. He listened. The sounds coming from the hallway were the same. But sound of rain had stopped.
The curtains were closed because Ronduin had used the cords that held them back to make his jump rope. Ronduin waked over to the windows and pulled back one of the curtains. Thick grey clouds filled the sky, but the rain had stopped falling. He looked down and his eyes grew wide. The castle was entirely surrounded by water. It was as if the castle sat in the middle of a wide lake.
Ronduin stood at the window for a long time looking at what felt like a new world. He was accustomed to seeing busy people and horses and carts when he looked out this window, but today he saw only ducks bobbing on the water.
“A leak in the south turret?” It was his father’s voice just outside the door to the sitting room.
Ronduin walked toward the door, but when he opened it, he saw his father far down the hallway waking quickly with the castle engineer.
Now he looked back toward the curtains and realized that his parents would not be pleased to find that the curtains were missing their cords.
For more about healing stories click: https://childrengrowing.com/2017/06/23/ten-tips-for-parents-and-teachers-about-healing-stories-that-help-kids-cope-2/
Kim Allsup taught in Waldorf schools for 25 years. She is the author of a teaching memoir, A Gift of Wonder, A True Story Showing School as it Should Be. She is currently working on a middle grade novel set in the year 2054.