Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Showing objects’

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 3

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

It’s obvious: most children like toys. They also like objects that aren’t obviously toys – things that make funny sounds, things that sparkle, things that look new or peculiar, things you can do something with.

So my thoughts for this week are about using objects. Over the last two weeks, I’ve focused on words – how to get children to speak them and how to use your own voice in a way that prompts them to speak. This week is about a technique that enables you to say almost nothing at all – at least not until you’re ready to start your story.

How to use objects:

Here’s how you might proceed: First make sure your audience is gathered together. Then lean forward to open the bag in which you’ve hidden your magic object. (A bag or box is always a good idea.) Now bring out the object (and I’m pre-supposing you’ve chosen it to suit the story you’re going to tell.) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Hail Mighty Sea

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

What objects can be used to introduce and accompany storytelling? The question arrived in my Inbox this week in an email from a woman from Brazil who has newly come across storytelling and fallen in love with it. She already uses her guitar. But what else might she  employ? She’d found my website on the net and wanted to know of any books that could help.

The Magic of Objects was the theme of a series in this Blog on each Saturday of October 2011. Look them up, it’s a theme that’s close to my heart. My sea-tray … fans … colour cloths … magic music … such objects have given me enormous use in such wide-ranging circumstances. They have also observeably brought enormous pleasure to audiences of adults and children. In this week of wind and storms I have thought in particular about my sea-tray.

Hail Mighty Sea

I was first reminded of my sea-tray at the start of the week. Down on the sea-wall at Abereiddi beach, one of our Pembrokeshire favourites, words written out in pebbles declaimed the stirring message: Hail Mighty Sea.

On Abermawr beach the following day, a young boy on the pebbles was looking out to sea, arm raised in a great gesture of greeting as the incoming waves swirled over his Wellington boots. When I passed him soon after as he left the beach with his sister who’d done the same after him, they and their father looked completely delighted. The children were sopping wet but they’d had a unique experience(quite safely I might add). They’d hailed the sea in all its grandeur.

Both incidents in turn put me in mind of the Birmingham children who came on an exchange visit to the Cardiganshire coast in the art and storytelling project, On The Train, that was organised a few years ago now by artist Catrin Webster. The visiting children had whooped with delight when they caught their first sight of the sea (most of them had never seen it before) and had run pell-mell towards it and, in the case of some of them, right into it.

The sea is a fundamental experience. We should all be able to have that experience if we possibly can. If only! In the Guardian recently, George Monbiot, whose book Feral came out earlier this year, strongly urged the point that a week in the country is worth three months in the classroom. In his Guardian article he recommended that every class in every urban school should regularly be taken to spend time in the country. If only! The idea, alas, feels as unachievable in our present world as my profound wish that every class should hear (and be able to talk about) a told story once a week at the very least in every week of their school year.

Impossible? At least through stories we could give all children, older and younger, an experience of discovery and a sense of magic and awe.

The sea-tray

That’s where my sea-tray comes in. It produces the best sea-sound I’ve ever heard away from the sea itself. It can either introduce a storytelling session or a particular story. Or it can be employed in the course of a story. Use it and you take people on a real journey of the senses and the imagination.

Practical reminder:

My own sea-tray comes from a junk shop in New Zealand. It possibly originated in the South Sea Islands as a device for carrying fruit. I know similar trays are found across Asia and Africa where they are generally used for sifting rice or lentils.

To provide yourself with your own sea-tray, seek out a smooth or rough round wooden tray or perhaps a bodhran which is a type of wide Irish drum. Empty onto it a bagful of very small stones you’ve specially collected for the purpose or alternatively a bagful of beans. Swish these round in a rhythmic way, imitating the rhythms and pauses in the sound of the waves and – hey presto! – you could at once feel you were standing on the shore. Just like that delighted boy this week! (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Transformation Game

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Is it just me? When I’m going on walks, I’m always childishly delighted when I spot a face or an animal shape in a rock or a tree. It’s like playing The Transformation Game, only in the landscape.

The Transformation Game

This storytelling game arose from my fondness for objects – plus the fact that, on a visit to Bruges, I’d acquired a double-lidded basket in a Sunday market. It became enormous fun to ply this basket with unusual objects, then play The Transformation Game with different suitable groups.

The Basic Plan:

As the facilitator, you first point out that you’ve got a double-lidded basket and that, inside, there are some interesting items.

Then you ask for a volunteer to come forward and choose which lid of the basket to open. Of course, both lids open onto the same inside but it’s a bit of fun to pretend that the choice is real.

Now you ask your volunteer to feel around in the basket and, not looking at what’s inside, to pull out an object of his or her choice. And of course, if it’s children you’re working with, they’re going to enjoy tittering about the possible things they might feel – a living snake or a real eye. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ An Easter Gift

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

My Easter gift is an engaging Russian story-rhyme that I’m calling The Easter Egg. I hope you’ll like it and, between now and Easter, maybe share it with someone else. For me, it brings back some favourite memories.

For several years after it re-opened to the public, I was a kind of storyteller-in-residence at Somerset House on the Strand in London. At holiday-times, I’d do storytelling sessions on all kinds of themes. One theme was Somerset House itself: it abounds in historical tales. Another theme was gold and silver: Somerset House became the home of the Gilbert Collection of gold and silver treasures before this was moved to the V & A. Other themes were provided by the special big art exhibitions that were mounted at Somerset House. One I particularly remember was of Treasures from Russia. It gave me the reason and prompt for researching a repertoire of Russian tales that could relate to some of the marvellous objects that were on show.

Rare and beautiful egg-shaped boxes came up in several of these connections. So I was delighted when I succeeded in finding a Russian egg story to put in my rattle-bag of tales for telling at Somerset House.

Here it is. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly where I originally found it. No doubt in some old volume of Russian traditional tales. Which one exactly I don’t remember. (Note to self: ALWAYS keep a note of where you find a story. Years later, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t because by then you’ll have forgotten.)

The Easter Egg

This is a story about a little Russian girl who lived with her father and mother right next to her grandmother’s farm.

This little girl would often help her granny by feeding the animals or collecting the new-laid eggs.

One day just before Easter, her mother was making bread in the kitchen.

Her father, who was the local priest, was in church preparing his Easter service.

Then something terrible happened. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Magic of Objects

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

…how the idea began


A few weeks ago on an impulse, I dragged my story-bags from under the shelves where I keep them. For the first time since last year (lymphoma!), I opened them up and began taking out the contents. As I looked at each one, arranging them around me on the floor, I felt enormous pain and pleasure. How I’d been missing sharing these things. That’s when this new idea surfaced. Since I’m not yet ready to get back out on the storytelling road in person (recovering!), I began to wonder if a new series of blogs could do the sharing for me.

Storytelling Starters – the plan

Storytelling Starters is meant for anyone who loves stories and storytelling and is keen to develop ways of sharing them with others.  Maybe you work with children in a school or nursery or after-school club. Or with adults in a community group. Or maybe your interest is because you’re a parent. Or perhaps you are just interested. And though the blog is not intended for ‘performers’, maybe if you’re a performer, you can get something out of it too. Since many of oral storytelling’s techniques are also applicable when reading aloud, the blog may also be useful to you if you don’t (yet!)want to put the book aside.

My plan is to put up a weekly piece, starting today on October 1st – just in time for Children’s Book Week. In each piece I shall aim to tackle something that might help you get involved with storytelling and the first series is on The Magic of Objects. It’s about ways of creating a good storytelling atmosphere through drawing on the evocative power of objects and their capacity to attract attention and nourish imagination. After that, if all goes well, the blog will go on to talk about such issues as how you can develop your memory and imagination to help you familiarise yourself with existing stories and maybe make up new ones. Then there’ll be ways to put stories across, including techniques for developing participation. And that’s just for starters. So here goes.

Series 1: The Magic of Objects

The magic of objects is that, through showing and sharing, you can begin to establish a storytelling atmosphere in which you can start learning to listen. From my point of view, that habit of listening is fundamental for anyone who proposes working with either children or adults in a creative or educational way. The members of your group may not actually respond by speaking – or at least, not yet. But you need to nurture their thoughts. You need to inspire their imagination. And you can see it on their faces when it happens.

So once a week in this first series of blogs, I’ll put up a photo of one of the objects I’ve used in my storytelling and say a bit about it – where I got it (if I remember!), what I do with it and the kinds of things people have said in response. Where it’s appropriate, I’ll also say a bit about particular stories with which I connect it, myths or folktales or personal stories. But the initial idea is to draw attention to the sheer fascination of objects and the way in which they can succeed in taking our minds on journeys. It’s to encourage you to think about objects that tantalise you, evoking memories and dreams. It’s also to show in a practical way how such items can be employed to engage the listener.

Objects can create their own sense of story. I hope that, whatever the item I focus on – and this week, it’s the Story-Bag – you’ll get something out of it that might be of use to you. You might track down a similar item. You might make or find something equivalent. You might settle on something altogether different that is entirely to do with you. Whatever the case, I hope you will discover a way to share it in your work, whether that’s with children or adults, or maybe with family or friends. With luck, it will bring you the same sense of communication and pleasure that it has brought to me.

Item 1: The Story-Bag

My story-bags are extremely useful. They are colourful, they focus attention and they draw forth questions. ‘What have you got in that bag, Miss?’ ‘Well, what do you think is in it?’ Children usually guess that it’s going to be books. After all, I’m a storyteller, aren’t I? So the idea that I haven’t brought any books but keep my stories in my head is extremely fascinating to them. And that’s a very good start. For if there’s no books, what’s in the bag?

Well, it somewhat depends on the occasion. For a particular theme in a school – it could be animals, Africa, the seaside or space or any one of the myriad topics that different classes focus on – I’ll have sorted through the stuff I keep at home to select items that could help me introduce or illuminate particular stories I might tell on the day. In the bag too, there’ll be my standard kit, items that assist in creating what I consider to be the right conditions for storytelling whether in schools or with community groups. These include my story cloths, the bag of stones for my sea-tray, my magic music pipe, a fan that isn’t really a fan  – all are objects that help me get the atmosphere going, set the scene, invite my listeners into the world of stories. I’ll be writing about these in subsequent weeks. (more…)