Wings to fly with: little Big stories on learning

My only talent as an educator is that I can remember my own childhood very well. As a child, I feel and understand the children I educate, and as a child and an adult, I recognise the errors of a science that has forgotten its origins - Celestin Freinet

little Big stories are stories about learning experiences. Whether from our childhood, from later learning experiences or from encounters with children, many of us know these special moments: An observation makes us pause and reflect what has just happened. These key moments often impact our practices as parents or educators and shape our attitude towards learning more than any theoretic concept. Sometimes, these experiences can be distilled into key moments - in this sense little Big stories are a collection of moments that matter.


Workshop little Big stories

In our workshop on little Big stories we asked the participants two sets of questions:


Do you remember how you have learned a skill which you still enjoy today? How do you feel when you remember it?


Do you remember how you have witnessed a learning experience of a child? Why do you remember this specific moment?


We asked them to discuss both questions in pairs and to share the stories behind them with the whole group afterwards.






My grandfather taught me how to swim. I remember holding him on his bathing suit and swimming along with him. Even though he is not here anymore, I very often still think of him when I am swimming.


The Vegetable Garden


We had a children’s assembly in order to decide how we were going to prepare the garden, which vegetables we were going to choose for our garden and what would be the procedure of that. So we set a schedule of digging the garden, planting, etc..


We spent these days digging and creating these lines where we would plant the vegetables. The whole procedure took about two weeks. There was a boy digging with big tools under the heat, it was September and it was quite hot. At one point he stopped, he looked around (there was a group of five or six children with him) and said: ”Indeed, creating food is not an easy procedure”. It was a moment for him like “I couldn't imagine that planting carrots would be that difficult, I´m used to going and buying carrots at the supermarket.” He added: “I really admire people that grow food for the people”.


That was a really nice moment. For me as well, because we take some things for granted and we don't have time to give some time and think that some things are very important and basic, even everyday things.


Actually I felt like I had a realisation as well from him when he had the big realization but it was very strong for me that he brought this realization back to me as well. And I was very lucky that he shared his thoughts with me.




The little girl learned how to bike when she was around four years old. Her father held her bike in the back at first while running along. Soon she was enjoying her ride. She felt safe as she believed that her father was still behind her. She was stunned when she realized that he had fallen behind. She was biking all on her own.





My daughter was eleven months old old and we were staying at a hotel in Ljubljana in Slovenia. We were just about to leave for dinner when she got hold of a hotel notepad and pencil. She was fascinated to discover how the pencil left traces on the paper. We did not want to interrupt her in her exploration, so we watched her drawing lines for about an hour. When she was finally exhausted by the shear wonder of it, we went out for a delayed dinner.


Random Letters


At the school of my daughters, once a week parents hold workshops where they share and explore with the children what they love to do. Lilian once offered a workshop on how to write stories for the school's website. One boy kept typing random letters into the computer. He claimed that he was no good at writing stories. She asked him what it was that he wanted to write about and offered to write it down for him. He told her a story and she wrote it down. „Look“, she said, „You just told me a beautiful story. I did not change it, I just wrote it down for you. Next time you do it yourself. Just write the story down the way you would tell it to somebody else.“ And he did.


The Paper Ship


When she was little, Angeliki’s grandfather taught her how to choose and fold rectangular paper and make little paper ships. Back then, little Angeliki felt proud of her new magic (transformational) skills; till now she uses this technique for instant-made gifts to express her love or joy; it feels great whenever she has the opportunity to help her daughter with her own paper ship making.


Short Stories


Around the age of 10, Angeliki’s daughter started showing a growing interest in learning English, which got obvious through her performance that was monitored by her teacher. Her aptitude developed into a love for the English language so she started reading whole books, mainly fiction for youngsters at first and then for grown ups. She then attempted to express herself in writing and started creating very short stories. Angeliki was happy to discover her 13 years old daughter’s creative skills through her English classes. She’s still a bit reluctant to admit, though, that her daughter might already be far more fluent in English than her!



Special Days


Growing up in a poor household, I loved and practiced crafting, building and constructing with everyday materials, natural materials and waste and became more and more skilled at it.


One of my grandfathers worked as a carpenter in a coal mine. He was responsible for securing the tunnels underground, the walls and ceilings of which were supported by wooden beams. These "pillars" sometimes had to be replaced and he was allowed to process the old and unusable wood into kindling for our coal stoves. He used it to supply the whole family and half the neighborhood. It was a special day when he came home with a new load and I visited my grandparents. The pieces of wood were all about 20 cm long, but totally irregular and some still had bark on them. I would build man-sized towers and entire villages or towns out of them in my grandmother's kitchen. I could lose myself in that work and completely lose track of time - until my grandmother demanded her kitchen back.


These skills were not in demand at school. Only once, when we were asked to build a model of the moated castle in our home town in elementary school.  In fact, that is my only memory of elementary school.  


There's a lot going on here!


We were students and worked with the children from a ghetto for homeless families twice a week in small groups or individually to do their homework and train for school. The children still went to the special school for the learning disabled and those who needed help the most didn't come at all. In winter, they would walk around in the cold, completely underdressed, hungry and covered in rust, because the miserable apartments were overcrowded.


We decided to open our rooms all afternoon every day of the week for the children and offer them tea and at least cookies.

And they came. And they stayed.


The cookies were eaten in no time at all, the tea drunk, the (still far too few) materials tried out and soon there was complete chaos. Helpless and completely overwhelmed, we students sat down on a bench. Suddenly Thomas, 7 years old, who had previously only ever said "yes" and "no" and "I can't do that" when he said anything at all, appeared upside down from under the door beam and said: "There´s a lot going on here, isn't it?". I don't know how he did it, but we laughed out loud, sat back and watched the children. Thomas was right. So much was happening all at once and we could start to see it from now on. And we started to listen to the children. Thomas had turned the world upside down for us - or vice versa from his perspective. I remember this as the moment that changed our work for the coming years.

You got inspired and want to send us your own little Big story on learning? Please send an email including your story to - you may also attach a recording. 


Are you not sure how to get going or want to share your stories with a group of other people? Write to us that you are interested to join an online workshop.