Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Early years’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 2

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

My current series of postings is about how to get children actively participating in stories. As the basis of today’s tip, I’m focussing on a well-known nursery rhyme. It’s come back to mind because of what’s been going on recently in the outside world. The pot-holes in my road have been overflowing with it. People at London bus-stops have been moaning about it. Friends have asked glumly if it’s ever going to stop. And of course the ‘it’ has been the rain. Here’s the nursery rhyme:

     Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
     In a shower of rain
     He fell in a puddle
     Right up to his middle
     And he never went there again.

Because of the incessant rain – and today’s clear skies in London serve as a reminder of how bad it’s been – this rhyme could be a good one to include in Story-time soon. It may even be an advantage if the rhyme is already familiar to the children. Handled in a different way from usual, it can help you build up your techniques for getting participation from them. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/1

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

‘In the middle…’ That’s what was often said to me by a therapist I used to visit in one difficult phase of my life. ‘I don’t know where to begin,’ I’d say. And that’s how she always replied: ‘How about in the middle?’

The theme of the series:

So in the middle is where I’m starting this new series. The theme is how to get children actively involved in a story, not only listening but joining in. My emphasis will be on Early Years children. But the same idea works with all ages. And there’s an awful lot to say.

1. Let your listeners do the expanding …

For example, take the topic of jewellery. Maybe your is story about highway robbers (I used to tell one of these once.) So there you are, in the middle, describing how the fiendish robbers hold up a carriage at night and order everyone inside to hand out their jewels.

Here’s your opportunity. ‘So that’s what the people started to do,’ you’re saying. ‘They were frightened. They started to take off their jewellery …’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking Ahead

Saturday, January 18th, 2014


A strategy I’ve found useful in my storyteller’s life is to look ahead over any upcoming batch of engagements and then start planning the last one first. This helps avoid panic (it also works well for ordinary life events). What’s more important, it helps generate thoughts. What stories will I do? What approach will I take?

Equally vital for me is the fact that my strategy helps make me alert to what’s going on at any one time. What experiences have I recently had that may be worth remembering to help contextualise a story in the future? What themes that are topical today or tomorrow could still be of interest then?

Looking at the diary

So looking at my diary at the start of this year, I’m already looking ahead to a session I’ll be doing in Luton quite a lot later this term. It’ll be a two-part engagement. During the day, sessions with Early Years children, their teachers present and observing. After school, a big session with the staff from the school plus Early Years staff from other centres in the area. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In the Deep of the Night

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Why is it that the stars in the sky especially draw our attention in winter? In the deep darkness of this part of the year, they seem to shine all the brighter.

As well as playing a prominent part in the story of the birth of Jesus, stars are present in so many of our Christmas traditions – at the top of the Christmas tree, in street decorations, on Christmas cards. For me, they are a vital theme in stories for this time of the year.

Stars are about the magic of looking up into the sky and feeling an immensity that’s beyond our imagining. Yet our imaginations lengthen and widen in the very act of looking.

Loawnu Mends the Sky: a Chinese story

One star story I love telling to children is about how the stars first got into the sky. I came to know it in a beautifully written version which was sent to me by Vivienne Corringham for possible inclusion in my collection of stories, Time For Telling.

Time For Telling came out in 1991. It proved very popular and  ‘Loawnu Mends The Sky’  deserved its place there.  It’s very well worth looking up. If you can’t find Time For Telling, (it’s out of print but is still held by many libraries), you might be able to track down the two paperback volumes into which it was later divided. Loawnu Mends The Sky’ is included in the volume entitled, The Big-Wide-Mouthed Toad-Frog. What follows is my summary of it – but it’s really not difficult to imagine how to fill it out for a full telling. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Necklace of pearls

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

On Thursday four wonderful stories were told by participants on my Kensington Palace storytelling course for parents. I’ve mentioned some of the stories before. For me, the making of them was one marvellous element of the course. Other elements included my imparting some of the techniques of storytelling with Early Years children, such storytelling essentials as visualization and, of course, aspects of the history and life of Kensington Palace including the 18th century mural by William  Kent and other objects and paintings in the palace which in turn gave rise to our storymaking.

 All the stories we heard on Thursday were made up by the parents working in groups, all revolved around an object real or imagined and what follows is one of the four. It’s a Cinderella-type story and I hope I can do it justice. Its makers said they were willing for me to retell it but the retelling is in my own words.

The necklace of pearls

Once there was a king and a queen who had a son. When the son grew up, his royal parents decided it would be good if he got married. So they announced a great ball to be held at the palace. At the ball, they were thinking, he might meet a suitable bride.

After the ball was announced, there was a great deal of preparing. Extra people were brought to the palace to help – cooks, cleaners, hat-makers, musicians.

One person who was sent to help at the palace was a quiet, shy and good-hearted young girl. The job she was given was to assist with the cleaning. On the morning of the ball, she was sent to clean a particular room in which was a beautiful painting. The painting was of a lovely-looking woman with a little girl beside her who looked as if she was her daughter. Both the woman and the girl in the painting were wearing necklaces made of pearls.

But the painting was very dusty. The cleaning maid took out her duster and carefully started to dust it down. She began at the top – dusting, dusting, dusting – and it was when she came to the face that she experienced a very big surprise. As she dusted the face of the woman, the woman in the painting began to smile. Then as the cleaning maid continued, the woman’s necklace began to glow and slowly, gradually, it came out of the painting and clasped itself round the cleaning girl’s neck.

Just then, a strange creaking noise came from the wardrobe that was the only other thing in the room and when the maid turned round, she saw that the wardrobe’s doors had opened and inside was a most beautiful ball-gown. Then she heard a woman’s voice speaking. It was the woman in the painting. ‘You must put on this dress,’ the woman said, ‘and wear it with the necklace to the ball tonight.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Recycling

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Recycling has to happen quite often when you’re a storyteller. Stories have to be re-made, themes and ideas adapted to the present need. This is partly because motifs in stories are, by nature, constantly recycling themselves, reappearing in some other similar form, maybe in a new story you’re making. Partly, too, it’s because you’d never have enough time or energy or imagination to make everything completely new every time.

So in Session 2 of my parents’ storytelling course at Kensington Palace this week, some recycling had to go on.

Item 1: name game

First there was another name game. We’d had one last week but this week a few new parents had joined. It was important to re-establish the friendly, inclusive atmosphere we’d created in Session 1. This week’s name game was one I’ve used many dozens of times before. (more…)

Storytelling Starters~ Family Bonds

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Storytelling has its public side and with World Book Day 2013 coming up on March 7th, it’s interesting to note how – it always happens in my experience – the number of storytelling invitations from schools goes up. I wish schools were as keen to have storytelling regularly all the year round. Yet it’s great to see the association between books and storytelling being made.

The private side

But storytelling has its private side too. I mentioned family bonds last week. On Thursday this week, I got a fresh experience of how magically these can start to arise.

Thursday was Valentine’s Day. At about 3 p.m. I went round to the home of the former wife of one of my former long-term foster-sons. If that seems a bit complicated, it doesn’t matter. She and her family are still very much part of my world and I’d promised her 6-year-old granddaughter I’d be round to read her a story. The little girl loves books and stories and is an attentive listener. She loves talking about the stories and joining in. It’s great.

This time, as well as some books the little girl probably hadn’t seen before – including Sunshine by Jan Ormerod who sadly recently passed away – I took the wherewithal for making some Valentine hearts like the one I wrote about last week.

What happened? Not at all what I’d expected. Two more grandchildren also arrived to visit, neither of whom I’d seen for some time. One is a little girl aged just three. The other is her brother aged five who, last time I saw him, was a bit of a handful. Yet even then I’d noticed how engaged he’d become when I told them Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle. Now I was in for a bigger surprise. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Spider

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

I don’t mind spiders. Some people can’t abide them. One summer in my childhood, I remember my father crushing a Daddy-Long-Legs against the window of the caravan where we were staying. My father used the bread knife. I was upset for the spider and rather appalled by my father. Spiders don’t do any harm – at least not the sort that I know.

But some people are really frightened even when the spiders are small and harmless. You know that North American Indian story – The Man Who Was Afraid Of Nothing?

The Man Who Was Afraid Of Nothing

The man who was afraid of nothing was a terrific hero among his people. One night four ghosts who were sitting together happened to mention this man: ‘He’s not afraid of us, so they say,’ said one.

‘I bet I could scare him,’ said another. A third said, ‘Let’s make a wager. Whichever of us scares him most is the one who wins the wager.’

So the four ghosts set about the challenge. The next moonlit night, the first ghost suddenly materialized in front of the young man and challenged him to a game. ‘If you lose,’ said the ghost, ‘I’ll make you into a skeleton like me.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 4

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Red is for Father Christmas’s costume. Red is for berries and for robin redbreast. And red is for my photos this week. Red stands out against grey skies and fresh snow. And red is for Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos, the international storytelling network which this week posted me a fascinating blog all about Mo Yan, the Chinese storyteller who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature 2012. Why it engaged me so much is that MoYan thinks of himself first and foremost as a storyteller.

‘I am a storyteller’

‘I am a storyteller. It is telling stories that earned me the prize,’ Mo Yan said in his speech to the Stockholm Academy when he was awarded the prize. He described in detail how his storytelling began. One day, as a child, he sneaked off to listen to a storyteller who came to his local marketplace. His mother was unhappy with him for forgetting his chores. ‘But that night, while she was stitching padded clothes for us under the weak light of a kerosene lamp, I couldn’t keep from retelling stories I’d heard that day. She listened impatiently at first, since in her eyes professional storytellers were smooth-talking men in a dubious profession. Nothing good ever came out of their mouths. But slowly she was dragged into my retold stories, and from that day on, she never gave me chores on market day …’

As repayment for his mother’s kindness and a way to demonstrate his memory, Mo Yan would retell the storyteller’s stories for her in vivid detail. And it wasn’t long before he began to embellish them and introduce other people’s stories too. And that was that: he never stopped. It makes a wonderful irony of his name which, translated, means ‘Don’t Speak.’

You can read Mo Yan’s full speech on the official website of the Nobel Prize:  When you get to the site, click on Literature Prize, Mo Yan and go to Nobel Lecture. It gives a real insight into the mind and life of a storyteller and, for me personally, makes me think yet again of the Chinese myth of the First Storyteller. This has been absolutely central to my own storytelling because it is about the way storytellers finds inspiration in the people and the world around them.

A journey for the imagination

Back to Father Christmas – that’s a journey for the imagination. This week, I’m repeating from last year my Going To See Father Christmas chant. This is an excellent way of taking children on an imaginary journey and finding what they’re looking for, then bringing them back home with the ability to think about that journey again and again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 2

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

A chance encounter

Wow! Coincidence and Storytelling in Education – two of my favourite themes in one chance encounter. There I was, on the train back from Cardiff last Saturday after watching New Zealand beating Wales at rugby (alas!) when, falling deep into conversation with the woman sitting next to me, I soon learned that she was American, a school librarian currently working in Germany and also – amazing! – a committed storyteller.

So all the way back through flooded Southern England, we exchanged experiences and ideas. Back in the 8Os she’d fallen in love with storytelling when she was sent to the big Jonesborough Festival that happens each year in Tennessee. Since then, as everything she said attested, she has developed a deep awareness of its power with children. More than that, she too believes that storytelling is especially important at this time when, spending so many hours on their Gameboys and watching TV, children have so much less of the vital experience of engaging with other people.

Reason for action

We know it to be true, all those of us who’ve told stories with children. It is such a powerful thing to do. It creates engagement, develops imagination and encourages language. But it’s in dire danger of falling by the wayside at this time when social media and the internet are getting overwhelming attention. Not that Twitter and Facebook and Google are not also marvellous for the sharing of stories and communication. What they do not have, however, is the face-to-face, ear-to-ear immediacy that storytelling gives.

So please spread the word.

It’s time for everyone who is committed to storytelling in education to speak to their friends about it and to think about what they can do to bring it back to public attention. Otherwise I fear the experience of a whole generation of storytellers who have gained a huge amount of know-how in the schools and libraries of our country is about to be lost.

This week’s seasonal tale

This little tale – The Little Fir Tree – went into my Blog at about this time last year. I’m repeating it now for two reasons – first, because I like it, second because it is about finding value in what can so easily be overlooked. (more…)