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