Character Development Through Storytelling

Once Upon a Caring Classroom: Character Education Through Storytelling

This is a 50-60 minute performance/interactive program with adaptations for grades preK-8.

Elisa's fun and engaging tales invite the audience to step into the shoes of characters that struggle with and use the character traits listed below. Her thoughtful questions between stories help students to make connections to their own lives. These stories help to build a common language to talk about social competencies all year long. Elisa tailors her program to meet your needs or chosen theme.

This program encourages children to develop positive character traits such as:

  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Diversity Appreciation/Inclusion
  • Empathy
  • Friendship skills
  • Generosity
  • Honesty
  • Kindness and Caring
  • Leadership Skills
  • Perseverance
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Self-mastery
  • Trustworthiness


Developing these traits will give your students the tools to succeed in their personal, social and work lives, and will make your school a safer more cooperative learning environment.

Elisa offers follow-up classroom visits in which students explore the story wisdom through fun story making and telling exercises to deepen their personal connections and bring it into their everyday lives.

This program is based on Elisa's newest book, Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying. Lessons from 99 folk tales for grades K-8. (Greensboro: Character Development Group, 2006). Click here for more information on Elisa’s books


"We had very positive feedback from your storytelling performance. The teachers were all impressed with how the children were so rapt by your dramatic and meaningful storytelling. The important messages in the stories led the students into great conversations about important character development topics. Also, your book of collected stories and helpful suggestions for teachers is something that we will turn to again and again. I love the way the book includes an index of stories by theme as well as by title. Thanks again for everything!"
Jeanine Nostrame, Principal, Ridge Ranch Elementary, Paramus, NJ.

"No K- 8 teacher - and no storyteller who performs
for that age group - should be without this book."
Storytelling Magazine, July 2006

“Your storytelling was entertaining as well as educational.
Your stories matched our requests that you
address respect and bullying.”
Teacher, V. Barstow, Grade 5, Framingham, MA

“I thought Ms. Pearmain did a remarkable job. The children picked up on
the lessons in the folk tales and loved the participation.”
Grade 3 Teacher St. Agnes School, Arlington, MA


How do children develop positive character traits?

Most of us learn by example. Children learn to place value on these qualities at home, observing their parents, listening to the stories they tell of how they handle conflict, and learned from their mistakes, from the choices they make, and the way they treat themselves, and those around them. Children learn these qualities at school, and in after-school activities, from their teachers, coaches, and peers. Children learn these qualities through stories; those told orally, in literature, through movies, television and computer games. Children learn these qualities by observing the world around them, and acting in the world.

How can stories and storytelling help?

Storytelling is the oldest educational and therapeutic tool on earth. People have been telling stories to impart values and information, and to make sense of life as long as we have had language. Stories are effective in imparting information because they engage our imaginations, our hearts and our minds simultaneously. There is something in a storytelling experience for every type of learner. Stories give us vicarious experience. This is as close to actual experience as you can get! Because story engages us on so many levels, and because of its logical flow, we easily retain it in memory for use as needed. The narrative form makes sense to human beings. It has all the stuff we care about; people, problems, solutions. A story is really just a bunch of information organized in the form of; a situation with characters we can relate to, settings we can envision, problems we want to know the answer to, and resolutions that give us hope. Stories are food for thought. They help us to discern what is right from wrong, and who we wish to model ourselves after.

Folk tales from around the world were created long ago to address the challenges of being human. Most of those challenges are still with us. The folk tale gives us simple scenarios and solutions that anyone from any culture of the world can relate to. This realization in itself helps to build an essential quality of character, that of tolerance and appreciation of difference and commonality. We share far more in common on this human journey than we have differences. Every culture has folk tales, every child can find stories from their culture of origin. This is important too.

Storytelling was effective in the past before written documents or other forms of media. The storyteller would tell a story to the group and everyone would then share that information. That story, its problem, characters, solution, and wisdom were common knowledge. Therefore a common language sprung up by which people could identify problems and solutions by simply mentioning the story when a similar situation arose. Sharing stories in the home, classroom or even better, school-wide can have a similar effect. Catch phrases develop from stories and serve to defuse situations, and offer unspoken opportunities for solutions that are acceptable to everyone. Stories offer a common language for looking at the challenges we all face. When children read rather than hear stories told, they do not always share that sense of common knowledge.

Another benefit of storytelling in character ed. is that of retention. Studies have shown that when students are told a story rather than read it, they retain more information from the story and are better able to retell it to someone else. They show greater comprehension of vocabulary words within the story as well. Telling stories and then having the kids retell them again in some expressive form further cements the learning, and assures retention. Long ago before print, listeners were required to hear stories told over and over again to assure that they could be retained and passed on.

Why do we need character education in the schools? Shouldn't this be happening at home and in religious institutions?

Character education should be happening at home, and in all aspects of our community life. Children however spend up to nine hours a day at school. Today's home life is often rushed, and unfortunately many children spend upwards of three to six hours in front of the television when they are not at school. Often both parents are working and are tired at the end of the day, and lack the energy to initiate discussions and activities that promote character education. Character education is too important to not be a central part of every school's curriculum and goals. Character education teaches young people how to succeed in the world, to be productive and responsible citizens, to learn good habits which will promote learning, creative problem solving capabilities and eventually positive contributions to the world. Character education promotes traits that allow us to work with others, an essential but often neglected skill. Studies in the workplace have shown that positive character traits in employees are more valued than skills by employers.

Character education is not about inculcating values into a child, nor teaching them how to think. It is about giving them the tools to be self-aware so that they can make informed choices in their lives, and be healthy, responsible citizens in the world.

Character education need not be yet another subject foisted upon already overworked teachers and an over-full curriculum. Character education when language- based dovetails with the curriculum standards, and curriculum already in place. But it does take time. It is time well spent however, as when classroom and schools take the time to cultivate character they are simultaneously creating an environment that is more conducive to learning. Classrooms become safer which allows for greater risk taking, an essential component of learning. Stress is reduced, freeing teachers and students to focus on learning. Self-esteem is boosted which also enhances a student's ability to access their learning strengths.

Please call or email Elisa to discuss how her storytelling performances, resources and workshops can enhance your schools character education goals.