We have always been good friends with our librarians. We frequent two libraries, but I have a soft spot for the smaller library. It's very tiny, but the librarians have always been friendly with my children and they have always been helpful when it comes to finding resources for our homeschooling. We used to attend their preschool storytime until Marina was far past the age of preschool. She was, I believe, seven at the time. Her reading skills were very advanced. This got me thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). I asked the librarian, Theresa, if it would be possible to let Marina read at storytime. She gave Marina pointers on choosing appropriate books, how to keep the attention of the toddlers, etc. Marina would come and help Theresa almost every week. One of my proudest moments while watching her read was when one four year old burst out, "I love Marina!" in the middle of her story!
I started wondering if any other homeschoolers would be interested in storytelling. At that time, Marina's best friends were Joe's oldest daughter Lucy and another girl, Maria. I didn't see myself running a big program, but I figured I could manage a couple of close friends. We would meet a couple of times per month and I would give pointers on projecting, picking books that were good for toddlers, etc. Once we had practiced for a while, I went to Theresa to propose a storytelling time so that my group could practice in front of an audience. Theresa was happy to put it on the schedule. I advertised it to the homeschooling community. Now we had a goal.
Interesting side note: We ended up naming the group the Homespun Storytellers. I thought this did well combining the fact that we were homeschoolers with the idea of "spinning" tales. I later used the same name for my comic strip.
I don't remember how much of an audience we had that first time. I do remember Chase, who was four (or five?) at the time, begging me to let him read. I asked the girls what they thought and they were happy to let him.
They started reading. Very softly. They were all a bit nervous. Then Chase moved center stage with his book, Dinosaur ROAR! by Paul Stickland. When Chase roared, he really roared! He was loud and clear and his energy was contagious. When Marina and her friends read their second books, they were more relaxed and their voices were much louder.
From there, it grew. We noticed the local preschoolers weren't coming, so I gave the children more freedom about their picks. We eventually had so many requests from parents asking if their children could read too, that we included a guest storyteller section. This made it more popular with homeschoolers, since they were always looking for public speaking opportunities. I started encouraging my core group to put down the books and simply tell their stories and even make up their own. Eventually I began storytelling workshops twice a year to give refreshers to my group and draw out children who were still nervous about getting up and reading.
If you want to start your own storytelling group, I have some tips from my 7+ years of experience:
- Make friends with your librarian!: This means take a few moments to talk with them, don't just check out your books and go. If they know you, they are more likely to trust you with running a program.
- Form a core group: It's always better to have a few families committed to the idea. Let them practice with each other before you put them in front of a crowd. If they will be reading to preschoolers, stress the importance of short books (read aloud in under a minute) and consider adding songs.
- Practice--Out loud: This is so important. They need to practice out loud because it is a different skill from reading to yourself. That book your child read to himself in two minutes might take ten minutes when read aloud. If they are telling a story without a book, they will want to make sure they know the story well.
- Advertise: This is tricky. I usually put a notice in the monthly homeschooling bulletin, but I also send out a reminder about a week before the event. I do this through our homeschooling loop, but you can also keep an email list from anyone interested and send out group reminders. If I forget and do it the day before or put the notice out too early, I end up with lower turnout.
- Don't be discouraged!: Some months we have more children than chairs. Other months we've read to each other. Homeschoolers have other commitments, but if you keep the date of your program consistent, they will come. We hardly had any families our first year, but then we had crowds. Attendance fluctuates month to month and year to year based on who is homeschooling, what other programs are being offered at the same time, and how well I remember to get those reminders out.
- Encourage participation, don't force it: Some children take longer to feel comfortable reading and storytelling in front of our group. Our kids are very friendly and respectful, but let's face it, an audience is an audience, and all those eyes facing you can be intimidating. I've had children come for a year without saying a word and then suddenly blossom into some of our best storytellers. Give them the opportunity, but if they aren't ready, let them be. It will happen.
Update: You can continue reading part 2 HERE.