Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Risky Business

Taking risks is not easy. You push yourself out of your normal groove. Then you see where you’ve got to. Sometimes you like it, sometimes you don’t. But whichever the outcome, hopefully there can be a morsel of learning.

A step on the road

For instance, I’ve never much liked photographing people, certainly not strangers in the street or the park. I feel a bit superstitious about it, like the Masai tribespeople I once encountered on a remote journey in Kenya. They didn’t want their pictures taken: they felt it was robbing them of their spirit. I feel a bit the same, as if taking something from people unawares. Last Sunday, however, I discovered I’d found a way to try it out.

We were sitting in Battersea Park by the river. A constant stream of people went walking by and I became fascinated. I liked the variety of clothes and ways of moving. I liked the rhythms of walking and the regularity of the steps. Suddenly I found myself with my camera raised, pointing at trees the other side of the path. Then I clicked whenever people crossed my camera screen. I liked the fact that it felt anonymous and that, on the whole, I was photographing people from the back. I include a few of the results today: evidence of me taking a risk.

Going with the flow

Storytelling is risky too. You have group after group of children. Sometimes they’re very little. You don’t know them. You can’t be sure what will seize their interest or how long you can hold their attention. You have to try things out, go with the flow, work to draw them in, observing what succeeds both individually and as a group. Sometimes members of staff can seem uninvolved, perhaps not happy with what you are doing. You can’t really tell and there’s no real chance to ask. You just try to do a decent job.

I was reminded of the issues while spending a day this week in a Nursery School in the Luton area. Each session was longer than those the children normally have. On the whole, this seemed to work well. Of course a visitor has the advantage of novelty: this can be used to involve and stretch the children. Yet lack of familiarity is a disadvantage too. Some children are very shy, not used to speaking or joining in. Also, alas, you’re not present to hear what they say afterwards. You can’t develop the results. You just hope the staff take the chance to discuss what you’ve done, picking out what they think was valuable, what was not.

Stretching the children, stretching yourself

Going home from that Nursery School, I was much reminded of work I did over a period of years in the Luton and Bedford area as part of the National Oracy Project in the late 1980s. There was a wonderful Oracy Project co-ordinator, Diana Cinamon, who deeply believed in stretching children. She had confidence they could respond far more than you could guess: you just had to use appropriate  strategies. She stretched me too in consequence. Together we developed some amazing ways of conducting storytelling sessions and projects. As a result, for instance, I saw small children happily talking to each other in pairs, re-telling stories or coming up with new ones. I saw a girl who was an elective mute, who’d never before spoken aloud in school, telling a story to her whole class. I saw parents coming in to school to participate. Diane taught me to take risks. Now I have to remind myself that the need to do that never stops.

P.S. By next week, I hope I’ll finally have organised that plug-in so you can become a regular subscriber to my Blog.

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