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.




Cause They Are Wild

The Early Years Conference in Cairns offered me my first experience of being in Far North Queensland. For a number of years I have been interested in Australian flora and fauna, so I was very excited to be visiting Crocodile, Cassowary and Tree Kangaroo country. I wanted to see some of the wildlife without going to Crocodile farms or ‘zoos.’ I did however go to the Cairns Botanic Gardens, which I highly recommend.

On my walks I encountered a scorpion, an eel, butterflies, turtles and birds, both familiar and new, but no tree kangaroos, cassowaries or crocodiles. I consoled myself with the knowledge that just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see me (These comforting thoughts do not apply to crocodiles!)

However I did hear stories about them, especially the destruction of cassowary habitat. Not only does their displacement causes them to be on the roads and subsequently run over, but they have more contact with humans, (benefitting neither humans or cassowaries.)  Their population is seriously under threat! Meanwhile the crocodile population is increasing and there are numerous warning signs alerting the public to their presence.

When I went back down south I read about a recent wombat attack of a woman walking two dogs, in Canberra. It didn’t surprise me because the wombat would have been frightened by her dogs and responded as any wild animal under threat does. I’ve known of many kangaroo attacks, especially when they have been fed by humans and therefore expect all humans to feed them, becoming aggressive when they’re not. It got me thinking about why some people believe Australian animals all want to kill you! (They don’t. They are simply wild animals.) So I wrote a song called Cause They Are Wild.

Understanding that Australian native animals are wild is important. Children need to be taught about safe distances to approach wild animals, how to identify animals who feel threatened and how human behaviour can effect an animal’s behaviour. Hopefully this song will help embed some useful safety knowledge into listener’s brains.



Early Years Conference Cairns 2016

There is nothing like having your work scientifically validated! At the Early Years Conference in Cairns, Australia, I attended the keynote address by Dr Lane Strathearn, a neuroscientist and Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Iowa, and experienced this. He spoke on his research into mother-infant attachment, brain function and neuroendocrine systems and how they relate.

‘Infancy is a time of rapid neural development, in which repetitive, attuned social experiences – most often involving facial expressions- are transformed into neural connections, and pathways that become the foundation for social behaviour… Our research has demonstrated that mothers with secure patterns of attachment show greater brain reward response when viewing their own infant’s faces, and increased release of the hormone oxytocin during mother infant interaction. This is accompanied by more attuned maternal behaviour, including verbalization regarding the infant’s internal state, and mother-to-infant gaze during infant distress.’

Neuroscience supports Baby Bounce/RhymeTime/0-5 groups because they strengthen baby’s brain development as well as mother/carer bonding with their baby. Further neuroscience research into the impact of depression, addiction and unresolved trauma on mother-baby attachment shows that there may also be effective treatments.

For many years I have maintained, as I am sure many other early childhood educators also believe, that the more we put into resourcing and supporting mothers and babies, early childhood education and arts and health programmes for young children and their families, the better the outcomes will be not only for the participants i.e. children and families, but all levels of our society. Specific early literacy/live language programmes for babies and their carers have been offered by numerous public libraries in Australia over the last decade. But we need more. In previous blogs I have spoken about the myriad of outcomes gleaned from them.

My workshop at the conference, Humble Offerings: The application of oral literature in family support and early childhood education settings gave an overview of 3 projects which I have referred to in previous blogs. Each had oral literature; storytelling, rhymes and songs as their foundation. They were conducted to provide positive literacy experiences to parents, carers and teachers, and the children themselves. Additionally the first project also had a specific health objective.

The Tales for Terrific Talkers project was a year long project in collaboration with Port Macquarie Speech Therapists, to trial storytelling as a speech therapy technique for the treatment of speech and language delays in children aged 2-8.

Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness was a two year programme conceived by Kempsey Library to provide outreach storytimes to families with young children in need of supported literacy programmes, such as young mothers groups, supported playgroups and Aboriginal Preschools.

Everyone has a place: Positioning Aboriginal kids in the World Through Storytelling was a 6 week storytime programme to follow on from the Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness Programme based at two Aboriginal preschools in Kempsey.

In each programme the presentations had a twofold purpose; to create a positive shared storytelling experience and to mentor the adults to recreate this experience in the home or early childhood setting. The beauty of oral literature is its accessibility and myriad of applications. In each of these programmes the following outcomes were observed: family bonding strengthened, cultural identity affirmed, listening protocols learnt as well as hearing problems identified.
Thanks to The Early Years Conference Committee for providing a forum where scientists, social workers and educators could meet and discuss how their work intersects and supports each other.

Pictured are  Balaclava Children’s Centre Workers after a Storytime workshop. 


Confessions of a Storytime Presenter

These aren’t actually confessions, the word is simply a ploy to garner interest in those people who have always wondered what storytime presenters, aka children’s librarians, do. The stories in this piece are gleaned from the ‘real life’ experiences of participants in my storytime workshops.
Now that I have set the tone of a 1960’s American crime show, let me continue with this pastiche of anecdotes and reflections.

Q: Where would you have a professional presenter prepared to entertain, educate and enlighten 160 adults and babies in Auslan and English for thirty minutes twice a week every week, at no cost to those attending, for the princely sum of $29 an hour?
A: The local library.

Q: Where would you have a trained primary school teacher with a Master’s degree present a storytime that promotes family literacy four times a week, at no cost to those attending, and speak to individual parents about their child’s school readiness and speech and language development after each session?
A: The local library.

Q: Where would you have a bilingual presenter offering a weekly storytime session for fifteen newly arrived migrant and refugee families plus advocacy for health and social services and in her pare time follow-up on the welfare of the people she presents to?
A: The local library.

These are three examples of the work of storytime presenters in public libraries in the metropolitan region of Melbourne. Each year additional services for families and young children are offered by public libraries throughout Australia.

There are special storytimes celebrating particular cultural days, such as Lunar New Year, Diwali and Christmas, Dad’d storytimes, Grandparent’s storytimes and Bedtime storytimes. There’s learning English through storytime, internet technology groups, bilingual storytimes, quiet storytimes as well as baby, toddler and preschool groups.

As well as the in-library services, there are also outreach groups to preschools, playgroups and family services. I am constantly amazed not only at the diversity of services offered but the commitment of the storytime presenters to their work.

There are those people who mistakenly believe that conducting storytime is a breeze, i.e. anyone who has kids themselves or has any experience with young children will be able to effectively deliver this service. That is perhaps one of the reasons that some local councils have chosen to employ customer service workers as storytime presenters rather than librarians, in keeping of course with their cost-cutting strategies to Public libraries. (Librarians are professional workers and therefore their pay rate is higher than that of customer service workers).

However, this means that regular professional development is essential if these new workers are to continue the long standing tradition of children’s librarians delivering high quality services to their communities. The expectations of parents and carers are high. To them all storytime presenters are librarians, even if they are not qualified as such.

Children’s librarians occupy a position of trust in Australia. They are not only models and mentors for parents, but non-aligned, advisors on any matter that children and adults seek assistance with.

My storytelling and oral literature training workshops are designed to resource storytimers with content that they can integrate into their programmes and also challenge them to rediscover and reflect on their purpose and choices in their presentations. Of equal importance is creating the space for discussion and exchange between participants, in effect, fostering a storytelling culture within and across libraries.

I am honoured to be working with children’s librarians in Australian Public Libraries. They are at the forefront of a global movement to promote children’s literacy. Supporting campaigns for the sustainable funding of public libraries is essential if we truly want to promote a humane, educated and civil society. Public libraries are much more than bricks and books, they are spaces for people to learn and grow.

Picture: Children’s Librarians at Goldfields Library Corporation, Victoria, Australia

Why I’m a Storyteller

I grew up in a household devoid of books, but not of stories. My parents had little time for reading, with the exception of the weekly newspapers. In a time when organized recycling was unheard of, these venerated providers of information and entertainment, ended their lives as either fire lighting material or conveniently torn strips of paper, threaded on to a length of wire in the outhouse. But some newspapers refused to die.

I remember helping my mother replace the newspapers that lined the cupboards and drawers. It would take ages to finish the job because we would reread the old papers. At the kitchen table we retold the stories we’d read.

Storytelling was how we communicated with each other. It was how we shared our day-to-day activities and how we learnt about the lives of our parents and our grandparents. It was how we remembered people and events and how we forged new friendships. Our stories became our identity.

 My father was the chief storyteller and regaled everyone with his tales of the bush. Whether it was in the shearing shed at smoko with the men, or around the kitchen table, his stories were invariably loud, entertaining and humorous.

On the other hand my mother was the keeper of the family stories; the oral equivalent of births, deaths and marriages, but with additional details. She was the one who knew the ‘real’ story. But these stories were definitely not for children to listen too; they were women’s stories. ‘Little pigs have big ears,’ was a phrase that she invoked whenever she believed her curious children were listening in to the women’s stories.  A rite of passage for a girl was being party to the telling of these stories. 

She was also the rhymer. From birth she sang songs, told riddles and performed finger and action rhymes with her children. She did this because her mother had done it. That was what mother’s did to amuse their children. Today, scientific and educational studies have shown that these simple early literacy activities are essential in preparing children to read and write. They are more than entertainment; they stimulate children’s brains and motivation to read.

Where I grew up there was no preschool. If children were to receive any literacy experiences it was in the home. We now know that from birth, children can benefit from their parents and carers reading, rhyming and singing with them. As children don’t start preschool until 4 or 5 years of age then they need to have literacy experiences beforehand, not only so they can be school ready but to enjoy the excitement and wonder of learning.

Twenty five years ago I left my job at a Melbourne library, to become a storyteller. I knew the power of storytelling to create a spark in children’s eyes and inspire their imaginations. I also believed that oral storytelling was a medium to educate, entertain and improve the lives of people of all ages.

To this end I have worked with a number of health, education, environment and community groups on the multiple applications of storytelling. Because I adhere to Virginia Woolfe’s philosophy, ‘As a woman I have no country; my country is the whole world,’ I work anywhere and everywhere; wherever people are receptive to oral literature.

Teaching young parents the rhymes my mother taught me, so they can share them with their children, is as important as presenting an academic paper to an International conference. Seeing a previously reticent child confidently participate in storytelling and oral language sessions affirms the power of the humble rhyme and the importance of generating a storytelling continuum from birth to death.
When I present papers on why we need tellers of traditional tales in our contemporary cultures, they are derived from my first hand experience of seeing their relevance as a teaching tool, cultural medium and community builder. I believe that everyone is a storyteller, however, many people are disconnected from their family and cultural stories. As repositories of traditional tales, storytellers can build resilience in communities through introducing each new generation to the old stories. After all, these tales are the global cultural inheritance of all children.
With this philosophy in mind I look forward to sharing raps, rhymes songs and stories with future generations, in communities both local and global. Here is a tale to finish with. Told by my mother-in-law to my husband as a child, who then told it to our children and may it continue on …

There was once a man who had a hole in his tooth and in that hole there was a note, and on that note was written the words; there was once a man who had a hole in his tooth and in that hole there was a note and on the note was written the words; there was once a man who had a hole in his tooth and in that hole there was a note and on the note was written the words …

Photo by Roman W. Schatz


Learning Outcomes for a Song that Doesn’t Rhyme

For the past two days Roman and I have been presenting storytimes to our groups in the Storytelling for Literacy and Connection Project in the Kempsey region of NSW; Australia. We have included my new song, The Colour Song and I want to share the learning outcomes I have observed.

It is a song that has a traditional tune.  Not only does this overcome copyright issues, it is also familiar to some listeners who immediately sing along. My primary purpose in writing the song was to assist children identify colours, although as I will outline, there are many other learning outcomes it addresses. There is no particular sequence or even requirement to sing about every colour. The content of the song is entirely up to the singer to include or exclude at will. (You don’t even have to sing it, you can chant it.)

However, it is important to have a collection of items that are representative colours, such as balls, crayons or paper, so that children can associate the name of the colour with its appearance.
Because I am working with Roman, we present the song together, although it can be performed by one person quite easily. I play the music and sing the song and he displays the colours. They are in the form of ribbons which he has draped around his neck. He holds up a particular colour and that forms a verse of the song. If he holds up the red ribbon then I sing the following verse:
I like red, red, red,
Red for apples.
I like red, red, red, 
Red for * Jamie’s shorts.
(* allows for children to call out the things that are the appropriate colour.)
We then move on to the next colour. ‘I like yellow, yellow, yellow, etc.’
This song does not rhyme (so you don’t have to suffer the impossible: trying to find what rhymes with purple or orange). It can be as long or short as you want. I haven’t been tempted to sing ‘I like beige, beige, beige’ and I don’t refer to shades of colours e.g. light green, because the most important thing I discovered was not the colours themselves but the children’s relationship with them.
Aside from promoting visual literacy, this song promotes joy, inclusion, affirmation, language extension, the opportunity for interaction with other listeners, stimulation of memory and curiosity. How can one simple song do all these things?
In our observations we saw children thrilled by being able to contribute their suggestions and then having them acknowledged in the song. We saw them actively seeking visual identification of the colours, pointing them out and having them affirmed. They observed themselves and others, naming the colour associations. e.g. my dress is purple and so is my sister’s. They also looked beyond their physical environment as we assisted them with hints like ‘what else is green and grows outside?’ to use their imagination and memories to offer suggestions. Children who didn’t verbalise contributed through pointing. In this way it was a song that everyone happily participated in.




The Children’s Librarian: A Necessity not a Luxury


Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

— Emilie Buchwald


I have just returned from presenting three storytelling workshops to Early Childhood Professionals in Melbourne, and am compelled to speak about the important work being undertaken by Children’s Librarians in public libraries throughout Australia. Not because they have suddenly exploded onto the scene, but because they have been quietly and consistently providing families with quality literacy and oracy experiences for decades. The unsung heroes, or more generally sheroes, as the majority are women, deliver weekly (and in some places twice a week) storytimes to families, in the majority of communities throughout Australia.  

Their expertise is called upon to not only be educational entertainers and children’s literature consultants, but also to advise on the social, psychological and physical aspects of an individual child’s development, their readiness for school and even the most suitable school for them.

Maternal and Child Health nurses are experts in children’s development, however, cuts to their services have meant that other more available Early Childhood Professionals are also consulted. Preschool teachers and Childcare workers have always been sought out by parents to discuss developmental issues, however, the knowledge of some childcare workers in children’s development has been called into question, as some private childcare centres employ undertrained staff as part of their profit model. Hence, the children’s librarian is now being consulted about these issues, particularly in view of the inception of storytimes for babies.

In the last five years many public libraries now offer baby storytimes in addition to their storytimes for 2-5 year olds. The accessibility of the children’s librarian is also a factor in the extension of her role. Appointments are not needed. Just come along to storytime sessions and speak to her afterwards. Customer service is paramount in libraries so regardless of what she is doing, she will attend to your questions. 

When I was a mother of small children, attending a library storytime could oscillate between an intimate experience for a small group of parents with their children, to a larger gathering with 20 children and their respective parents and carers. Now, many of the storytimes are an event with upwards of 200 children and adults. The librarian has a microphone, with an inadequate PA system, and is expected to do a storytime akin to a Wiggles concert … for free!

So why aren’t the numbers of storytimes kept at a size that ensures a quality experience for all participants? Quite simply because councils want large numbers to justify expenditure. A qualitative experience is not as important as the number of people who come to it. Even though libraries in most shires are the most used council facility, this does not merit the provision of a structure that allows for the delivery of more storytimes with smaller numbers of participants.

There are two other issues here that require consideration. In undertaking a degree in Librarianship there is no training for being a storytime presenter. All their training is done on the job. The children’s librarian, as identified by the public, as the storytime presenter, is often not. Sometimes her professional qualification is as a library technician, sometimes as a library officer and increasingly a customer service officer. This is not to say that these people do not have other qualifications in Early Childhood, but not all do.The irony here is that while public libraries are responding to a greater demand for more services to families and young children, they are employing fewer qualified children’s librarians. 

Children are our most important natural resource and deserve the highest quality learning and recreational experiences. Public libraries offer this, and they offer it for free. They are the last, if not the only free service available to anyone and everyone. It is not surprising that people drawn to work in public libraries are committed to their ethos of inclusion, accessibility and the facilitation of community information and resources.

However, there seems to be a prevailing attitude among the management bodies of libraries that their value lies soley in their capital equipment. Even the collection itself is expendable. But public libraries are also, more importantly, about people. Statistics do not reflect the contentment of shared reading experiences, the satisfaction of successful social interactions, the excitement of appropriate group responses, the wonder of discovery, the joy of connected learning. These are what public library storytimes provide through the work of the children’s librarian.

I do wonder what would happen if library workers refused to present storytimes unless certain, very reasonable conditions were met, to ensure more qualitative experiences for participants. Would there be outrage in the community? Would management respond quickly by programming more storytimes with number restrictions? Or would those library workers that refused simply be sacked? I don’t foresee this happening because librarian’s/library workers although technically in the profession of ‘information providers’, because they work with children and families also fall into the category of the ‘caring’ and ‘education’ stream. This means that they are reluctant to withdraw any services because of the impact on a vulnerable group in society.

It is up to others to impress upon library management and councils the importance of recognising the work and knowledge of Children’s Librarian’s, and to follow their lead in the effective provision of quality services. With 2012 being the National Year of Reading I hope that they receive the kudos they so rightly deserve.