It's hard to argue with success, and this story gets rapt attention, and productive attention, from children in the five year-old range.
One of the deepest and most important lessons that can be imparted to children is the belief and excitement of seeing that they are capable of more than they've realized. That belief is much more than just an understanding of words and concepts, it's a foundation-level feeling… a deep, enduring and exciting feeling.
I love this story because I saw it light up my child's eyes in precisely that way.
I've noted before that I'm not terribly fond of portraying animals as human, but as I've seen more and more practical benefits from its use, I'm changing my opinions to match. I can throw in a few caveats from time to time (and I shall), but if this type of story delivers significant benefits, I'll use it.
Tell this story in an animated way, but reserve the highest notes for Kitten's realizations at the end.
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There was once a kitten, whose owner called her either Kitten or Kittener. The kitten thought of her owner only as Girl.
Girl was about nine years old and lived with her mom and dad in a house close to what they called "the big woods." In reality the woods weren't terribly large, but Kittener and Girl thought they were.
Kitten and Girl had many adventures in the big woods, but on this day, Kittener woke up to find the house empty. Girl's mom and dad were often gone during the day, but Girl was usually home in the morning. And so Kitten awoke, looked around the house, and since no one was there, decided to snuggle into the the coziest spot in the house (the corner of the couch) and have a quiet, relaxed day.
For some time, Kitten was happy in her cozy spot, and very relaxed. But then the back door swung open and Girl called for her: "Kitten, Kittener, come outside!"
Kitten didn't want to go outside. She liked being in her cozy corner. But Girl kept calling, and started looking for her. Soon, Girl found her. "Come on Kittener! You have to come outside!"
Kitten tried to pretend she didn't hear; she didn't want to go outside and play.
Girl, however, walked straight to Kitten and picked her up. "Come on," she said, "you have to come out and see something!"
Kitten wasn't happy about going outside, but she was being carried there anyway. As they stepped out of the door and into Girl's back yard, Kitten was surprised to smell something. She sniffed and looked over one side of the back yard. Then she sniffed again and looked over the other. And then… she sniffed more and was very surprised to see a big cat, sitting right across from her!
The cat looked right at her, then started walking toward her. Kitten hid behind Girl's legs and didn't know what to do. But the big cat kept coming closer and closer. And then it was right there, and started sniffing her.
Kitten couldn't remember being around a cat before and didn't know what to do, and so she decided to do the same thing and sniffed the cat.
Then the cat walked over to the fence at the side of the yard, stopped, and looked directly at Kitten. "Meow!" The cat said, an motioned for Kittener to come over.
"Meow," Kitten said quietly, looking down and shaking her head, as if to say "No."
"Meow!!" the big cat said strongly, and waved its paw, demanding that she should come.
Kittener against didn't really know what to do, but she walked over to the cat and stopped.
The cat picked up its paw, and showed Kitten its claws, then it dug – bam, bam, bam, bam. bam – and made a deep hole in the ground.
Then the cat motioned to Kitten that she should do the same. Kitten hesitated, but Cat said "Meow!!" and so she pushed out the claws on her front paws and bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, she made a hole in the ground too. It wasn't as big as Cat's, but it was a good hole, and she hadn't known that she could do that.
Then the cat ran across the yard to a tree. Again Cat said "Meow!" and demanded that Kittener should follow. Again Kitten was unsure, but she walked over anyway.
The cat pull out its claws again… and to Kitten's surprise, climbed up the side of the tree, at least as high as Girl's parents.
Cat told Kitten to follow, but Kitten was afraid. Cat looked at her in a strong way, telling her to climb. And so Kitten put out her claws and climbed the tree! She didn't go as high as Cat, but she really climbed the side of the tree. She had never done that before!
But before she could think very much about that, Cat climbed down, ran up the stairs of the back yard deck Girl's house had, then jumped right up on the railing of the deck. Cat was higher from the ground than the top of Girl's father's head.
And then, Cat meowed at Kitten to get her attention, and wanted her to come up to the rail too. Kitten walked up the stairs to the deck. She didn't think she could jump all the way up to the railing, but there was a chair there, and so she jumped up to the chair, and from there to the rail. She would have been afraid to stand on the railing, but she used her claws to hold on tight and felt all right about it.
And then… Cat looked hard at her, and jumped right off the railing! It was a long way down, and Kitten was sure the cat would be hurt. But instead, Cat landed softly, on all four feet. It didn't bother Cat at all.
Now Cat looked up at Kittener and said "Meow!" Cat wanted her to do the same thing.
"Mee-owww," said Kittener, shaking her head from side to side and telling Cat that she couldn't.
"Meeow!!" said Cat, even harder.
"Mee-owww," Kitten replied shaking her head again.
Cat looked right at her, and in a very serious voice said, "Meee! OWW!!"
Kitten closed her eyes, opened them again, and jumped. And then, she wasn't sure how, she landed just like Cat had landed, on all four paws and without any problem. She was very surprised.
Then a sound came from the other side of the yard. It was another girl. She had walked to Cat and was picking it up. She looked at Girl and said, "Thanks from having us over. We'd like to do it again!"
"Yes," Girl answered, "and I'll see you at our lesson tomorrow. Bye!"
Then Girl picked up Kittener, carried her back into the house, and laid her back on the couch.
I had no idea, Kitten said to herself… I didn't at all know I could do those things!
Girl walked off to her room to do something – Kitten had no idea what – and Kitten sat there for a long time, remember each of the things she did, and thinking, over and over again, I just didn't know… I didn't know I could do such things!