Maria Eugenia Coeymans

Maria Eugenia Coeymans


Maria Eugenia Coeymans



I believe in the strong power of stories. I love and enjoy them a lot. Through stories I learnt about human values, and they taught me of my own value as a person and of the greatness of God’s love.

The unconscious identification with the characters produced by the tales within the person, and the internalization of the values embodied in them, appeals strongly to me.

As I valued the inner strength of stories so much, I decided to tell them to my children and through that constant story-telling I became a writer.

My stories are a reflection of what I believe and they include universal values, and the values and meanings of my culture, even though they were written without a set purpose but for the joy of sharing them with others.

I will tell you now, an experience held in Chile that relates story-te lling with ethics through the teaching of values.


A. Background Information

Some years ago, I worked as a sociologist at the Chilean National Children’s Service, SENAME– a state sponsored institution responsible for the policies and actions towards children at social risk.

One day at work, by chance, I went to a meeting with the authorities of the institution who were then very concerned with the teaching of values to the care-givers –educators- in order to improve the care they gave.

They gathered axiology and ethics specialists but they could not find a successful way of doing it.

Moral can be learnt in a cognitive way, but a better way of doing it is an experiential one, and it is even better if you teach it to someone else.

From my experience as a teacher of Sociology at the University in Chile I realized that what I teach has a deep effect on me, my behavior and my values.

So I proposed to SENAME´s authorities a new way of teaching values to the care-givers and, at the same time, to the children.

The idea was to ask them to teach values to the children through a program of story-telling in the different centers where the children lived or attended on a daily basis, using my stories.

In someway or another, they provide the characteristic traits of an integral and well developed human being: a person with a network of organic links and healthy relationships with him or herself, other human beings, God and the Creation.

Each story appeals to the child in a language of acceptance and respect for oneself and for others, and promotes the use of inner resources, cooperation, and solidarity, to face difficulties and to solve problems.

In the stories we find characters like a ladybird, a homeless snail or a traveling firefly to be imitated, and the child, by doing this, internalizes the value content of the story.

The idea was accepted by SENAME and I was asked to go ahead with the program.

B. Procedures and Implementation

We began by selecting 30 stories, one for each day of the month, to be read to the children in each of the 500 centers of SENAME´s net: a potential universe of 48.000 children and young people.

Then, a content analysis of each story and a set of questions regarding cognitive, affective, and moral aspects were developed, so as to initiate the teaching-learning process with the children.

After that, the conditions essential to the success of the program were defined:

• First. It must be a free activity. All children are to be invited but none should be forced to listen to the story. To do so is to kill it soul.


• Second. It must be a pleasant activity where all children, their ideas and feelings, are equally accepted and respected, and any judgment, correction, order, or calling of attention should be avoided.

• Third. An atmosphere must be created whereby everyone feels appreciated and loved because somebody is kindly offering his or her time for free.

• Finally. A form of interpersonal communication was suggested that includes listening to the children and youngsters with a genuine attitude of empathy toward them.

Two books authored by me were published. One, Sharing Stories contained the 30 stories, and the other, A Guide for the Educator, was a short handbook that tells the educator how to make the best of the program by suggesting activities and the conditions required to implement them.

SENAME scheduled seminars for the regional directors to train them on the basis of the program, hoping that a good transference would take place throughout the country. And it did. Reports came from 340 different centers.

C. Evaluation of the Program

A qualitative evaluation of the program through semi-structured questionnaires showed relevant changes in the behavior of both children and care-givers.

All of the educators considered the experience as worthy or very worthy, for themselves and the children.

Telling a story made them return to their own childhood and to live a magic atmosphere over again.

They appreciated the methodology and validated the story-telling as an educational instrument that helped them to better communicate with the children. They felt that they had a better comprehension of them and a better disposition to listen to the children and to accept them.

It also appears a better job performance, a stronger sense of giving themselves with responsibility and trust and a bigger spiritual growth and a positive attitude towards values.

Let’s listen to their voices: “It is a new sensation that brings forth your spirit and the spirit of the listener…” “The story produces a state of mind that involves your emotions and it is an excellent path for finding values and solutions…”

In relation to the children, the educators reported:

First. The children feel more loved and valued in the eyes of the adult.

They pointed out: “The child realizes which our feelings of love for him or her are and the story invites them to share a moment with the adult in charge”.

” Children seem more affective, less tense and with more joy and enthusiasm for other activities as well.”

Second. "There is less selfishness among the children and they have more respect for themselves and they are more prone to listen to each other”.

Third. There is a greater respect a greater respect from the children toward nature and other people. They affirm: “Kids are more conscious of caring for flora and fauna and also for the weak…” ”

Fourth. Children learned to express their emotions and feelings. “After listening to the stories children expressed their positive and negative feelings freely…” “They feel more confident about themselves and more spontaneous about their experiences.”

Fifth. There is a better knowledge, assimilation, and vital experience of the values inherent to the stories.

In their own words: “Children remember the stories and they recognize the learnt values”…” A majority has had a change in their behavior, especially girls who follow the examples of the stories”…

”They remember that if they are afraid of the dark they will use the eyes of their imagination and that to have a cold heart won’t lead to anything positive”.

Other effects observed were: better attention and concentration capacities, an increased interest in reading, and less aggressiveness.



In conclusion, I may say that adults and children surrendered to the magic of literature; they went through a process of identification with the characters, a weather vane, a cloud, a white box…and they tended to behave like their favorite one, with compassion, generosity, and pacific ways of solving problems.

I crossed the oceans to be here, to invite all of you to strongly relate Children’s Literature with Ethics so as to accomplish Jella Lepman’s desire to promote international understanding and peace, beginning with the inner peace of children.

And I crossed the mountains to share my stories and methodology with you. If anyone is interested in them, I have copies on CD for educational purposes that I will be happy to give out.

I would love to get some feedback so as to know where the wind has carried the seeds…

Finally I invite you to search for stories meaningful for your culture and your people and to be fully aware that to tell a story is an act of love.