Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Proof of power

What makes children sit up and listen?

What makes children remember what they’re told?

What makes children respond and comment without being obliged to do so?

Well, storytelling does. The trouble is, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know the truth of that. It’s how to spread the awareness that is the problem.

All day this last Wednesday came evidence of how children can listen and be gripped. The supply of questions and comments was fulsome and never chaotic (evidence of a good school, I’d say). But the most extraordinary thing was how, all day, children were remembering stories I’d told them before. From Reception to Year 6, there was enormous keenness not just to identify what stories they’d heard but exactly what happened in them.  They also remembered my props. And it wasn’t just one or two children that were doing this, just about all of the children were bursting to say what they remembered.  Only the Nursery children didn’t – but then, they were new to the school.

The school was St Stephen’s in Shepherd’s Bush. I’d been there three times before. In the course of this week’s visit, one girl in one session put her hand up looking troubled. ‘I can’t remember these stories,’ she said. It obviously really bothered her that she didn’t, as if she was feeling really hurt that she’d missed out on something everyone else had experienced. We thought perhaps she’d been off school when I’d come before and she seemed content with that thought. But seeing her face, I realised the power of a communal event in which everybody can share and experience enjoyment.

Maybe my best session was with Year 4. I told them the Richard Hughes story of The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for 29 November last year.) The story is about war and peace. It’s strange and sinister and magical too. I’ve rarely seen such a deep attentiveness on the part of an audience or felt more personally moved while in the course of the telling.

P1030235Years 5 and 6 received the story I’d been preparing – the one from the Arabian Nights about the quest for the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree and the Golden Water (see my February blogs for how I prepared it). Wednesday was my first telling of it and one important thing the telling taught me was how big a story it is. It really does need time. The time-span of the story is long. Its scenes are fulsome. Its emotions are complex. And by the time I got started after my audience had insisted on telling me about previous stories I’d told them, I didn’t really have time to do this new story full justice. I think I told it well. What was lost was proper time to consider it after it ended.

Oh, and I made one big mistake. In my need to bring the narrative to a quick conclusion (in schools, you really need to keep to time), I completely forgot to say what happened to the two jealous sisters. Their active part had occurred only at the beginning. Imagine how cross I felt with myself when I realised my omission. For as my audience was leaving, one boy came up to me and asked: ‘What happened to the two jealous sisters?’ I kicked myself for not having dealt with that issue – for of course, the sisters had got their just desserts in the end. At the same time, I felt a pang of pleasure. The question would not have come up if the boy had not been paying attention.

The entire day was a joy – evidence  if ever there was any of what power stories can have and what the telling of them can do for those that hear them.

See you next week – and do sign up for my blog if you haven’t done so already. I love knowing I’m writing for actual people. And you can always unsubscribe if you get fed up with it later!

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Proof of power”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    Hats off to St Stephen’s for the courage to explore creativity in this way, and hats off to you, Mary, for sharing a day of enchantment and imagination with the staff and children. Bob Barton writes about the joy of ‘communal wondering’ and you surely provided this in spadefuls.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    ‘Communal wondering’ is an excellent phrase to describe it. Telling my husband about the day, I almost wanted to use the word ‘reverence’ – it’s that quality of profound listening that gets me. When there’s any speaking afterwards, you know from what is said how deeply the children have listened. I only wish more people could have the experience.

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