Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters – Is it yet Spring?

The other day I heard that David the cuckoo is on his way home. David is one of several cuckoos the British Trust for Ornithology are tracking in the cause of helping with dangerously declining cuckoo numbers. David has been wintering in the middle of Africa. He’s started his long flight back from the Congo about a week earlier than the first of last year’s cuckoos. To the BTO, it’s the first sign of Spring. 

Signs of Spring?

I await any signs of Spring in Storytelling in Education. Like numerous other storytellers I’ve spoken to, I fear the country is stuck in a very long drear Winter as far as storytelling in schools is concerned. Storyteller visits to schools have suffered. So has storytelling training for teachers. OK, there are still the big events. National Storytelling Week has just been taking place and lots of exciting events have happened inside and outside of schools. Next there’ll be World Book Day which this year is on March 7th. On that day I’ll be working in Kensington Palace with a group of parents who want to learn to tell stories to children.

But as previous readers of this blog will know, my concern is that storytelling be not only for special occasions but embedded in children’s lives. In Primary schools and Nursery schools, it is of particular importance because it gives children such improved confidence with language and also the knowledge that they all have an imagination, which is such an essential skill for life as well as for education.

Back-up for these thoughts came last week in a letter from Jean Edmiston, one of Scotland’s leading storytellers and a long-term colleague and friend of mine.  Jean has worked widely and over a long period of years in schools, with community groups and in performance. Her letter gives her thoughts on why storytelling in education is of such value. It includes insightful references to adults and children she’s worked with.

Jean Edmiston writes:

Dear Mary

At the end of last year I visited the local village primary school to tell stories.

As there are only 26 children in the whole school, ages 5-11, I suggested they should all join in with the first story, with the older children lending their voices to the sound effects necessary to rid the villagers in the story of a scary mud monster. The story ends with the people celebrating their victory by making fires that sparkle like all the stars in the sky.

The younger children then chose to stay on for the longer stories – and 45 minutes became over an hour with everyone enjoying the stories. And I so enjoyed telling the stories and being reminded how much delight children take from hearing stories told.

A few days after this I met a parent in the village shop – and the talk was not the usual talk about the weather but about the stars and stories of how they came to be.

The occasion gave me pause for thought. Once upon a time I told stories in schools and nurseries every week. There were many memorable responses.

‘ When I grow up I’m going to tell my children and grandchildren stories. ‘

This statement came from a 9 year old boy in a Bristol primary school after a short residency that I’d done there.

‘I like stories told to me ’cause I can sit still and listen to them.’

That was a six year old boy’s realisation – and he was a boy who usually wandered off around the school during lessons, restless and unable to be still.

Teachers have often told me of the improved behaviour in their classes that has come about because they have included in their practice the telling of stories or using stories to bring science, history, literature to life.

I could go on and on. Residency after residency – all show that storytellers and artists working regularly in schools have a positive effect on attention, learning, problem solving and the ability to express emotions. Self esteem is often improved and the resulting confidence and ability to articulate themselves can demonstrate itself in all areas of students’ school experience.

Working in schools as an artist/storyteller/writer is not an easy option nor is all about entertainment. It is so much more – but it seems to me that all that proof, all that creativity and dedication, is being ignored and overlooked, forgotten.

Once upon a time there was a storyteller and a story…..

What next?

Thanks, Jean, for your letter. What next? I hope other people with thoughts on storytelling in education will write to me as Jean has done.

Like the British Trust for Ornithology in regard to cuckoos, I’ve begun a campaign to collect the anecdotal evidence on the value of storytelling with children that can come from storytellers, teachers, parents and children. I think it will be just as valuable as any set of statistics.

My photos this week:

Jean Edmiston and I both believe in the wonderful ways in which storytelling can go along with artistic work in schools. With this in mind, the photos I’ve used this week all come from follow-up work in response to stories I’ve told in Pembrokeshire schools in the past.  In the first picture, I love the concentrated, heads-down approach. The second matches a theme in Jean’s letter: it’s children holding up stars that they’ve made. The third photo shows a detail from a huge collage figure of a giant rescuing stranded sea creatures by carrying them back to the sea.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters – Is it yet Spring?”

  1. Liz Richards Says:

    Hi Mary.
    Love todays blog as always. I have been busy this week babysitting for my grandchildren whos ages range from 5 to 10.
    I told them many stories which I
    made up on the spur of the moment and had them mesmorised.
    The little ones eyes grew wider by the minute.
    They really love me telling them stories and I only hope
    parents spend time doing this .
    Although TV is fun you cannot beat storytelling.
    Liz x

  2. Amanda Edmiston Says:

    Well thats just made me cry a wee bit Mary, what you and Jean (my mum) say is very poignant, as you know I’ve only been storytelling professionally for a couple of years but between the trials of trying to persuade schools and nurseries to book me and to explain that what I do goes beyond light entertainment and watching my intelligent articulate 6 year old become increasingly bored by mainstream education, I feel like attitudes to quality artists (from all disciplines but particularly storytelling) working with schools is in retrograde. I have quite a few children I see at regular sessions ( not in schools or museums etc unfortunately, but at commercial venues where I’m pretty much busking with permission and am really only doing because parents really want to bring their children along), who have been told by teachers,( and in the case of one 3 year old have had a professional assessment) that they have problems with concentrating, its very rare that I don’t have to call the session to an end 15/20 minutes after it should have ended as they are all sat enthralled and wanting more; and I love it when groups of children as young as 2 pick up the rhythm of a story and join in: they relax, smile, laugh, want more and need to find out about your props and what else you know. Storytelling is magical, it can excite and enthral, it can gift ideas and knowledge in ways that can engage the most unlikely person. I’m sure this period of time were all too often we are misunderstood and devalued is only temporary, lets hope its only a short dark age! Your blog is as always inspiring thanks Mary. Warm wishes Mandy

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