Archive for March, 2012

I recently co-led a training workshop for BAECE (the British Association of Early Childhood Educators) York chapter on storytelling in early years settings.  Around twenty very keen and thoughtful practitioners from nurseries, schools and Steiner kindergartens gave up their Saturday mornings to participate.  Jane Woolgar of Early Bird Arts and I shared the morning, working always on the same story, The Famine and the Fruit Tree from Malawi. 

After I had told the whole group the story (with around half my usual voice, owing to a cold, adding a certain hush and atmosphere to proceedings!) we worked on storytelling techniques and approaches (me) and the use of drama and music to explore the story (Jane).

In my workshop, I concentrated on beginnings and endings, developing ‘rituals’ to mark out a special space and time for storytelling in early years settings, confidence in using rhythm, ‘runs’, repetition of the story, and the value of simple puppets and props with this age group.  However, I think I learnt just as much as the participants.  Some things that really emerged for me:

* In most mainstream settings, it is very difficult to create a ‘storytelling atmosphere’ – often because other groups of children are doing noisy things at the same time, because neither the physical space nor the daily routine provide room for it, or worst of all, because other adults present do not recognise the need for it.  Children need to see adults model respect for, and enjoyment of, a story.  Their ability to ‘sit still’ is enhanced greatly by this, as well as by songs, rhymes, bells or other rituals to signal ‘story time’.

* There is a conflict for some early years teachers between ‘reading’ and ‘telling’.  Reading is emphasised as more important, and most teachers feel more comfortable with it – understandable, in our culture.  However, the teachers present felt that oral storytelling was equally important for children – perhaps a vital precursor to being read to. 

* The Steiner kindergarten teachers present found it difficult to engage with the activities offered because their starting point, their framework, for storytelling is so utterly different.  Routine, atmosphere, the value of storytelling are no problem at all for them: an oral story is the celebrated focal point of every morning, it is repeated until the children have completely internalised it and they explore it in their play.  However, their belief that young children should not be explicitly led in exploring a story, e.g. through movement or artwork, gives them as teachers a very different set of tasks and things to think about.  Likewise, the very minimal animation and variation they permit in the story, so the children can imagine it all for themselves.  This led to some lively discussion of the different approaches! 

I will return to this theme in another post – it’s given me plenty to think about.



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