Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Warwick University’

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!


Storytelling Starters ~ To inspire

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

The essential point of any storytelling workshop or course is to inspire and impart – not to disempower. Participants can be enthused in different ways and with diverse outcomes. They may become tellers of stories in their family lives. They may start telling, making and hearing stories with people they work with. They may even conceive the ambition to develop themselves as professional or semi-professional storytellers.

Palpable excitement

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I felt particularly conscious of this multi-faceted effect. On Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing one of my annual sessions with students on Hilary Minns’ storytelling module for people working with children. Thursday was the final session of my Kensington Palace course for parents. Both times, I felt the palpable excitement of people who have already started to experience the effects of their storytelling on children. And not only children. One Kensington Palace mother read us a story she’d written during the week. Beautifully written it was too. During the course, she told us, she felt she’d discovered a new facility for writing. She reported how affected her husband had been by this.

New skills, new confidence, new powers of invention: the KensingtonPalace crowd will, I feel sure, go on to great things. Already they are well into planning storytelling clubs for the children in the schools their children attend. I have offered my help in getting these going.

As for the Warwick University students, they’ll soon be planning and writing their end-of-course dissertations. In doing this, they will be using and recording their own new awareness of the effects of stories on children.

Leading workshops – a particular skill

But it’s an important point to make: leading workshops in such a way as to produce these effects is a particular skill of its own. I know I’m good at it (I should be by now!) and of course I know it’s not the only way of working as a storyteller. (I love the other ways, too.) But it does require a particular set of qualities – knowing how to put participants at their ease; activities that can involve all in the group, including the shyest; a storytelling style that does not show itself off but encourages people to feel they can do it too; a way of working that recognises and develops people’s individual interests, skills and styles. And last but not least, a love of employing and sharing the ‘secrets’ of the storytelling art.

The need today

It’s a tall order. And it represents one of my current concerns about what’s happening with storytelling in education today. Right now, we badly need more storytellers who want to foster this way of working so there can be more parents, more teachers and more childcare workers spreading the joys and wisdoms of storytelling. Is enough happening to fund this kind of development? Are enough people aware of the need? What happens if and when this kind of workshop-running dies out? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Where are we?

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

At the end of this week, an old Afrikaans saying came back to my mind. The exact wording eludes me but it goes something like this: We may think we know where we are but all the time we are being carried like great clouds across the sky.

The saying was a favourite of my wise friend, Lynne, poet and publisher and mother of two of my god-children, who died very much too young. Why I remembered it now was the work I’ve had to do on behalf of my Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nomination. The nomination is being made by the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling. To help, I’ve needed to provide lists of my work over the 30 years of my storytelling. Performances, workshops, courses, special projects, residencies, work in schools, talks, articles, publications – making the lists has been momentous for me, a real walk down memory lane. Yet how else is it possible to demonstrate the work across time of an oral storyteller, especially when, for most of that time, we didn’t have video recordings?

How to measure storytelling

In a very significant sense, the work of the oral storyteller mostly goes into the air (and, hopefully, the hearts and minds of those who listen). How can its results be measured? Its comparative invisibility creates many problems, especially in regard to what happens in education. Especially after the lovely long comment that arrived this week from Hilary Minns of Warwick University, I’ve been thinking about the problems all over again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Storytelling in Education

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

This week in Wales, the big feature of my morning walks has been the flocks of birds whirling round the sky, wings whirring as they go over my head. Right now, a whole lot of them are perched in the tree behind the house. They chatter ceaselessly in some kind of group talk. ‘It’s getting colder,’ I think they’re saying. ‘Soon it will be time to go. Remember the age-old way.’

The excitement is palpable. So too is the purpose. I wish I could send them right now to all those places where school curriculum is decided. The message would be: ‘Please pause awhile in your deliberations and consider the place of story in children’s lives. In particular, take a look at the potential of the told story and require teachers to give room for it in schools and also learn how to do it themselves if they don’t already know.’

Comment from Hilary Minns:

Hilary Minns teaches storytelling at Warwick University. As a guest storyteller, I’ve visited the courses she runs over a number of years and on each occasion it has been abundantly evident how all her students love her and how keen they have become to follow her example. She is an inspiring storyteller and an inspirational teacher. The Comment she sent in to my Blog on Principles and Practice is an important contribution to the evidence I’m starting to gather on Storytelling in Education. 

Hilary’s comments matter. She began working life as an infant teacher, later moved on to teach 7 and 8 year olds, then became headmistress of an Infant School in Coventry. She is also the author of the influential book: Read It To Me which followed the reading lives of five young Coventry children. One part of her Comment relates how she herself began telling stories. It was while she was on teaching practice. She ‘wanted to share some Hans Andersen stories with my class of 6 year olds, but the stories were too difficult and too long to read aloud, so I adapted them and told them orally with the help of pictures I drew on the blackboard.’

Flexibility … imagination … belief in the power of story … the determination to share the sources of your own inspiration: I think these are all vital qualities for teachers to have and I read them all in what Hilary says. How many times have teachers said to me after a storytelling session when they’ve seen how children have sat up and listened and participated: ‘This is why I came into teaching. Why did I stop doing this kind of thing?’

One child’s response

Hilary’s comments include a short description of one child’s response to a John Burningham story. ‘ “Mr Gumpy shouldn’t have let them all in the boat,” says four-year-old Anthony as he looks at Mr Gumpy’s Outing and sees everyone falling into the river. That bit about “shouldn’t let them all in” isn’t in the story. John Burningham would never pass judgement on his characters. But Anthony has engaged with the story and responded in his own way.’

Anthony’s is the kind of freely-offered insight teachers love to hear. It’s a frequent experience when time and importance are given to stories. So isn’t it terrible to hear what Hilary also says in her Comment: ‘The students who take my module Stories and Storytelling at Warwick University often tell me that stories are given a low priority in their schools; in particular, those who work with KS2 children sometimes report that there is no longer any time for personal storytelling, the telling of traditional stories or even stories taken from beautiful picture books.’

No time for stories

More Primary School teachers than I could count have said the same thing to me: ‘There’s no time for stories in our school.’ To me, this is as lamentable as failing to give children decent food. It’s like feeding them only on turkey twizzlers, leaving out the healthy stuff. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Aaargh!

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Funny, isn’t it? Storytelling can give such great satisfaction yet is often so full of terrors. 


This last Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing a workshop with a lovely group of people taking a module in Storytelling for their Foundation Degree.  (Hello to anyone who was there. It was so good to meet you. I thought you said some amazing things.) One topic that came up in discussion was the fears we can all feel about our storytelling. It made me think that, in this week’s blog, I’d take a look at some of these and try and lay a few ghosts. I thought Edward Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, would make a suitable accompaniment.

The fears:

1. Other adults 

Especially when you’re working with children and those other adults are somewhere on the sidelines, they can feel most alarming. What are they thinking of you? Are they laughing behind your back, whispering that you’re rubbish and they could do much better? Are they thinking you’re childish or boring or silly or, god forbid, that your nose is too big? (more…)