Library Workers as Educators and Mentors for Parents and Carers

Part 2.

I am not here to give you instructions on how to do your job. You have been presenting Storytimes and Rhyme times for many years now. You have established your routines, your protocols for listening and interacting, you’ve built up a rapport with the parents and carers and the little ones know how it all works, even if they don’t know all the stories, songs and rhymes you will be presenting. What then is my role in giving a workshop to you?

There are only two things I want to impart: introducing you to material that you can choose to incorporate into your sessions, thereby expanding your repertoire of oral literature and secondly, helping you discover your storytelling philosophy and your particular way of sharing it.

The first I do by providing participants with CDs and/or booklets with material that they can go through in detail, at their leisure. During the allotted three hours for a workshop there is time for briefly going through it and demonstrating it. If there are specific gestures or Makaton keyword signing to accompany particular rhymes then I will demonstrate them, however I have no expectations that participants will have immediate competency with learning words in another language. It takes time and practice and you need to feel confident. If, however, someone points out you ‘got it wrong’ then this is an opportunity for their participation and may open up the possibility of having a signer at storytime. The same may apply when you use words other than English.   The Auslan Signbank is an excellent website for learning Auslan words.

auslan.org.au

Exploring storytelling philosophy is more challenging because that entails asking participants to think beyond what they are already presenting, to look not only at why they do what they do, but what more of themselves they want to give.

An exciting discovery at a recent workshop with Moree libraries was that half the participants were musicians and yet they had not brought their instruments to storytime or baby bounce. Their musicianship was part of their lives outside their work and they hadn’t thought of including it in their sessions. This is going to change now.

It brings me to my contention that library workers are mentors and educators for parents and carers. Not only do they expose them to oral literature in a format that can be easily replicated in the home i.e. the content is repeated and built on each week, they also share information in a friendly and accessible way, on the importance of reading, rhyming and singing with children and the mutual joy it brings. In addition they also act as another adult who can furnish a child with a positive listening experience.

What if the library worker brings their cello or their keyboard or their guitar to storytime and plays calming music, to prepare the children for story listening or a lullaby at the end of Baby Bounce?  What if a jolly song is played as a goodbye song, or music is used to create a mood when a story is being read? All of these things are possible when music is included. My role is to remind library workers that they are the most important resource the library has to offer the general public. Not only do they source, navigate, translate and advocate for all library users, they also bring their own stories and skills to inform and entertain their listeners.

There’s a library of information on the importance of oral literature in assisting the growth and development of babies and young children, and in my workshops I assume that most storytime presenters are familiar with it. Knowing what you are doing is important but knowing why you, specifically, are doing it, is even more so.

The primary reason I present storytimes to young children and their parents and carers is because I want to impart a positive listening experience… and because it’s fun.

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Rural & Remote Community Storytimes

PART 1.

Some of these women have driven two hours on dirt roads to come to the library. The branch may be small compared to city libraries but its offerings are huge; not just the collection, but a child friendly place to connect with other families in the district.

Like other libraries servicing young families with storytimes and rhyme time sessions, you can never be sure how many will turn up because of sickness. However, for rural and remote communities the weather and season also play a key element for attendance. In the wet season cyclones may reek havoc and roads may be closed for weeks due to flooding. And then there’s the spectre of breaking down and having to change a tyre on the four-wheel drive when it’s 45 degrees and you’ve got couple of toddlers on board.

Children are often home-schooled so they come to the library with their baby brothers and sisters. Together with the few young families who live in the township these are my people for Rhyme Time. I am told it’s a big turnout. Everyone is excited. The branch librarian and her assistant feed them home made cakes and most of them will stay for storytime as well.

In big libraries storytime caters for the 2-5 year olds but I am told the whole school is coming to my session, 18 kids between 5 and 12, plus the toddlers from the first session.  I change my programme to suit and am reassured that so few things happen in the town, the school didn’t want to miss out. And no they don’t. I am a storyteller and I work to whoever is in the room, so they get stories appropriate for older kids.

Everyone has a good time. Roman and I leave a CD and Peep-bo baby booklet for the library and now it is time to move on to the next branch, further down the road.

We have managed to not run over any wildlife, get a flat tyre, break a windscreen or sink in the bulldust and we have shared stories, sung songs, played music with kids and their carers and taught new rhymes to mums and bubs. All in all a successful storytelling tour. Part 2 looks at the role of library workers as educators and mentors for children and parents.

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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Nanna Kissed Baby Show

Many years ago someone asked my father what I did for work. His reply was ‘I dunno. Playschool or somethin’.’

In Australia it’s the dream of every early childhood educator to get a gig on Playschool- Australia’s longest running and I believe, still the best TV show for young children. But alas and alack I am on the other side of the screen … still. I am no longer waiting for the ABC to include me in their stable of early childhood presenters, I’ve got my own youtube show for little kids and their carers: The Nanna Kissed Baby Show.

A weekly broadcast of songs, rhymes and stories featuring Alby (needed a real baby not a teddy for this gig) thanks to Atlanta and Aaron who kindly provided me with said Grandchild.

This is a family show, and Roman, aka Opi, is camera operator, wardrobe mister, director and production manager. The aim of this project is to share some rhymes and songs that I have written over the years I have been storytelling and playing music with children.

Please note: If you’re looking for a slick, sponsored, capitalist production, this aint it! But if you want to learn some new rhymes and songs in an Australian context, please watch.

 

 

 

Drumming up Stories

As artists Roman and I have opportunities to work with creative people, many of whom are of short stature i.e. kids. Our latest school holiday programme Drumming Up Stories, a one hour concert of musical folktales followed by the Recycled Orchestra workshop, encouraged kids to actively participate in storytelling, instrument invention and music-making.

All the gang were there; Roman’s kangaroo harp, George the Djembe, Milly Molly Mandolin, and boxes of workshop materials: empty cans, bottles, plastic containers, balloons, bamboo, lentils, rubber bands and packing tape.

What ensued was three hours of jolly good fun. Here are some photos of the workshops. Educators interested in this programme are encouraged to contact us story@schatzblackrose.com

Photos by Roman W. Schatz

Deadly Dogs

How effective is storytelling as a health promotion and education tool? We were about to find out through our work on the Healthy Dogs, Healthy People Project at Lockhart River, a remote Aboriginal Community in Cape York, Australia.

Roman and I have used music, oral literature and visual art in education, health promotion and community strengthening projects, in Australia and overseas. However this project differed to previous ones because the health and welfare of animals was at the heart of it.

The project’s implementation was informed by the evidence-based work of the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC), a not-for-profit organisation that uses a One Health approach to coordinate veterinary and education programs in Indigenous communities in Australia. The Healthy Dogs, Healthy People Project  aimed to improve human health by improving care and management, and combat diseases relating to animal (particularly dog) health and welfare in Lockhart River.

The work by AMRRIC in the Northern Territory has shown that improving the health and welfare of the dogs in a community directly impacts on the human population. To this end the Lockhart River Council allows the free registration of four dogs per person. With registration, free veterinary care, including desexing and an Ivomec treatment programme for the elimination of ticks, fleas and parasites is available.

We worked with the Animal Management Team, a veterinarian and ‘Dog Champions’ to inform the community of the benefits of registration, desexing and the Ivomec treatment while simultaneously dispelling myths around the care of dogs. We did this in our usual mediums of songs, stories, art and talking. What emerged from our engagement with the community and animal advocates was the creation of a dog mural, the naming of the Kuu’aka Healing Centre and the production of a calendar for 2017 showing happy, healthy dogs and their owners.

We are looking at the next phase of the project, Pups and Bubs, that will take place later in 2017. Here is a selection of photographs of the project.

 

Beyond Storytime

There is no substitute for live storytelling! Please give your children that experience. If you don’t tell stories yourself, or people in your family don’t, then take them to listen to professional storytellers! Where can you do that?  Depends on where you are in the world. Libraries, Schools and Festivals are a good start. The Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival in Wales is one of the World’s best storytelling festivals with a large contingent of Welsh storytellers and guest storytellers from every continent.

The festival will be celebrating its 25th anniversary July 7th – 9th in 2018, so treat yourself to over 100 performances of musicians and from storytellers from different cultures.  However, if you can’t make it to a live event then don’t despair, they have created an online storytelling site where your children can listen to stories in the comfort of their own homes for a yearly subscription of £11.95. You can subscribe for yourself or if you want to, give a subscription as a gift. Throughout the year, more storytellers will be adding their tales to the site, so your purchase will be an ever expanding one… neverending stories!

When I listened to the stories on Beyond Storytime I was transported back in time to  putting my youngest child to bed. After the requisite story I read to her most nights, she would listen to stories on CD’s. She had definite favourites that she played over and over again. They brought her comfort and helped her settle at night. I trusted those stories in the same way I trust the stories on Beyond Storytime.

Most of them are traditional tales or adaptations thereof, and the voices of the tellers are authentic and lyrical. Complete with talking animals, fairies and dragons, plus a generous helping of Welsh folklore, the collection is unique and diverse.

If you are looking for the perfect gift that expresses love and keeps our oral traditions alive, then subscribe today.

Beyond Storytime

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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Making a Difference… or Not

There comes  a time, and it comes with increasing frequency, to reflect on the purpose of my work. According to Will Durant’s definition, We are what we repeatedly do. (Will Durant 1885-1981) I’m  a storyteller, a writer and a musician and if called for, I can elaborate on the genre, medium and style of my practice. However, the diversity and context  of my work has changed over the years and I find myself opting for a more general and inclusive term to describe my work – artist.

I am an artist. I am no more special than any other human being, and my work is no more important than anyone else’s, or less for that matter. Obviously if your house is burning down you want to have a firefighter on hand, not a storyteller, and if you have a brain tumour you want a neurosurgeon not a ukulele player.

Generally speaking, artists don’t ‘save’ lives, so we don’t fall into the ‘heroic’ category of workers. However many of us in the arts education and health and well-being field believe our work can improve the lives of others, and this is at the heart of what we do. We want to make a difference.

One of the first things many artists are told when working with marginalised people or undertaking community development or health education projects that address ‘big’ issues in communities or sections of them, is ‘don’t think you can make a difference,’ or words to that effect. We are reminded that we are ‘not the first to try and make changes here,’ and that we ‘shouldn’t expect too much.’ Health workers and educators may also be greeted with similar sentiments. Rest assured I have spent many hours reflecting on the impact of my work and whether I and other community artists make a difference.

Evaluating the work of artists in communities is problematic because evidence-based programmes and projects often expect the artist to also be the researcher. The fashion of having everyone do everything does not lead to excellence. It’s not the democratisation of skills (unless people want to learn them).  That, a reliance on quantitative rather than qualitative methodology, (numbers versus stories)  and a lack of sustainable funding has meant that many arts programmes are not ongoing or connected to each other.

So why do I continue to be an artist and not a (substitute what you like)? I have listed a few examples of why I believe my work makes a difference. It may not make a difference to a lot of people but to make a difference in one person’s life is enough for me.

The two year Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness Programme had many outcomes, from picking up on children’s hearing problems to strengthening their relationships with their carers. However one outcome stood out for me.  A young mother told me she read a book. Seeing the joy her children experienced from being read to and told stories in the storytimes, we brought to the young mothers group, inspired her to want that for herself. She hadn’t read a book since being at school, and then she only read the prescribed texts because she had to. Now she chose to read a book for her own pleasure. Modelling storytelling and story reading is empowering and now she was modelling to her children.

Over my three decades of storytelling I have twice considered the impact of storytelling on people who found it difficult to communicate their responses. In the first instance I would visit a group of people with Alzheimer’s disease and conduct reminiscence sessions, telling stories set in Australia during the 1930’s and 40’s. A worker told me not to worry because half my group went to sleep. She reassured me that  the stories relaxed them and made them content. One woman was often in an anxious state and picking at her clothes, when the sessions began but by the end was showing much calmer behaviour. Another of the ‘awake’ participants told the worker that at the end of a session she felt very happy. She didn’t know why she was happy, she just was. I learnt from this, the power of being in the moment and that the emotions experienced listening to stories are more important than the stories themselves.

At the Support Unit at my local primary school I spent a number of years playing music and storytelling with children who had disabilities, some with severe and life threatening illnesses. While some children were active participants, others, because of their illnesses could listen but it was difficult for me to gauge their responses. Working closely with the teachers and aides helped me to interpret individual responses and interact accordingly.  A child who I mistakenly thought was happy because she was was smiling was in fact, fitting. As I got to know the children over the years and in consultation with the aids, I became familiar enough with their verbalisations and movements to be able to understand when they were engaged in the storytelling. They taught me about being in the present, spontaneity and communication, and I will be forever grateful for their teaching.

As an artist I have learnt the following and much more:

I am not an engineer who can build a bridge across treacherous terrain that will shorten the distance and make it safer for children to walk to school, but I can build a bridge of desire for knowledge, where a child can learn from and care for others.

I am not a surgeon who can restore a limb, remove a cancer or heal a broken body, but I can facilitate the telling of a story to demand justice, heal pain and ease sufffering.

I am not a farmer who grows food to nourish family, friends and community, but I can plant seeds into the minds of young people so that they will grow and mature into productive, resilient and beneficial human beings.

Artists Can Make a Difference

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Photo by Roman W Schatz

The Story of Philosophy: the Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers by Will Durant,(1924) New York: Simon & Schuster