Introduction to Storytelling Course, March 2020
There was a lovely variety of styles in the room. One person shared a dramatic myth he knows from his childhood; one person put a short story by a famous American writer into her own words (beautifully, subtly); another person made us laugh out loud with a classically mischievous folk tale passed on by a line of well-known Scottish storytellers; another person took us somewhere else entirely with a surreally fun, absurdist domestic drama they have written. The group had an open sense of what the word “storytelling” can mean. I felt safe in the hands of each teller, and as a listener I was enabled to trip from style to style, genre to genre, easily. Not everyone chose to share a story, but everyone listened with respect and curiosity. ‘Twas a GOOD round of stories. It felt just right.
That was back on a dark evening in early spring. We did not know that ‘lockdown’ was coming! I am looking forward to more evenings gathering together with new acquaintances, colleagues, friends and family; Zoom will have to do for now, but with all my heart I look forward to a scene I’m concocting in my imagination: a crackling campfire, bums squeezed onto bumpy logs, face alternately too hot or too cold as the wind blows the smoke about, a sticky marshmallow on a stick, a storyteller’s voice that you can’t always hear but sometimes do – messy technicalities of being physically present with other humans. I toast my toasted marshmallow to the future.
An Experimental Plan (Feat. Pirates and Underpants)
At around 3:40pm, one 8 year old boy said, “I can’t read”, and asked me to read his book to him. By 3:55pm he had read a quarter of the book out loud to me, and he was asking if we could put a marker in the book so that next week he could pick up where he left off. (It was a book about pirates and underpants. Maybe you know it?)
This happened at Story Club, a programme of weekly sessions run by St. Vincent’s Primary School and the Village Storytelling Centre. Every week, myself and storyteller Sònia Gardés meet with 10 children after their school day, to tell stories, listen to stories, play games, be silly, and enjoy language – and books.
At the Village Storytelling Centre, our focus is on the oral storytelling tradition because spoken storytelling can make literature more accessible to more people; children and adults can create and enjoy literature even if they struggle with reading or writing. But we do sometimes use books in our work, because books – obviously* – are brilliant. (*Other blog posts could be written about why books are brilliant, but I’ve gone for “obviously” and I hope you’ll fill in the gap with your own knowledge!)
Why we’re building some reading time into our sessions:
When planning Story Club with St. Vincent’s, principal teacher Ms. McCabe told us that for many children at the school English is their second language. At that meeting, I had just arrived from telling stories to very small children at a library, where I’d noticed that those children – most of whom were too young to read – loved handling the books and searching for them and poring over them, as if they were precious objects. I was inspired by seeing them use books as a sensory treasure – a touch-able, see-able, smell-able anchor for moments of mindful, happy engagement. So with St. Vincent’s I hatched an experimental plan to build 15 minutes of book time into Story Club – to complement the english language work that these children are already doing at school, to pass on my love of books (since adult role models are key for teaching children about reading for pleasure), and also to help the children learn how to make their own grounded, sensorially engaged moments.
How it’s going:
We’ve had 4 sessions so far, and only in the 4th session did we have time for reading! (There were stories to be told, costumes to run around in, puffins to talk about…we’re very busy.) The reading time was a success. Sònia and I acted as guides; we went from person to person, helping where needed. Some kids got stuck in straight away and emerged from their story after 15 minutes with glowing faces. Two children decided to read in partnership with each other. Several children requested help from us adults, and we enjoyed spending the 1-to-1 time with those children. As for the little boy who I worked with the most – my friend who read to me about pirates and underpants – I got to know him better in those 15 minutes than I’ve been able to in all our other sessions combined. And he discovered that he can read, and that he’s very good at it!
-Naomi O Kelly, Storyteller
Guest Blog: Kirsty Cassels
This Autumn, I’m very much looking forward to working with Shona Cowie from The Village Storytelling Centre, to run a series of architectural model making workshops for Women’s Aid surrounding the topic of SHELTER.
We’ll be working with a select group of around 10 women from a local Women’s Aid collective which
provides information, support and refuge, if needed, for women, children & young people who are
experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse.
We’ll be exploring themes of Scale & Massing; Light & Shadow; Spatial Awareness; and Sound to discover the stories of SHELTER resulting in a series of architectural models that deliver a range of alternative spaces from which we can incorporate the powerful stories of our participants and promote awareness of the Domestic Abuse within the local community.
Kirsty Cassels, Architectural Designer and Director of the Scottish Ecological Design Association
What Happens When You Share Stories With A Young Child?
Something clicked for me when I heard it explained like this;
We used to think that the brain developed to a certain place at which point we could start to use
language. Now we understand that is through language that the brain develops.
Each time a very young child is engaged with through word or gesture, signals are fired and neural
pathways are created and strengthened which over time literally constructs the physical brain. This
isn’t metaphor, stories build young brains!
And we know now that this language development starts as soon as hearing starts, at about 22
weeks inside the womb. It’s never too early to start sharing stories, cool eh?
So that’s the science and what about all the other good stuff? Like the role that stories play in
opening up new worlds and landscapes as well as offering different perspectives on familiar ones.
Stories offer us safe places to rehearse life and try out multiple ways of navigating our complex
society. When we share stories with children it builds their ability to empathise, as BBC’s Alex
Winter says, children who regularly hear stories…
“…find it easier to understand other people – they show more empathy and have better
developed theory of mind (the ability to understand that other people have different
thoughts and feelings to us, which is essential for understanding and predicting other
people’s thoughts and behaviour).”
And they don’t have to be fairy tales or charmingly goofy toothed monster rambles, they don’t even
have to be good. Sharing your mornings commute is sharing a part of you. The stories of our
heritage and culture, our friends and family yarns, these are the golden nuggets we can pass on and
all work to build a strong and colourful imagination. As we say at The Village, everyone has stories to
tell and we are all worthy of being heard.
Most importantly when I ask the parents of young children that I work with what they hope to get
out of story sessions they say, “quality time with my child.” Stories bring us together.