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.

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.



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

Photos by Roman W. Schatz

The Koala Went Cooee

I teach through story and song. Not only are these effective mediums for passing on information and inspiring an interest in the pursuit of knowledge, they are in and of themselves fun, even joyous experiences. That is reason enough for my vocation as a storyteller and musician. And why I have decided to focus on performing The Koala Went Cooee concerts to preschools, playgroups and storytimes in 2016.

In collaboration with Roman (my companion in arts education, philosophising and food gathering) we will be presenting 30-45 minute music and storytelling concerts featuring songs from our CD of the same name. 

I began writing the songs a decade ago during my artist residency at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre in Port Macquarie, NSW. I was engaged to collect the stories of the people, flora and fauna in this national park. Songs like Goanna about the relationship between the brush turkeys and the lace monitor lizards were the result of studying the reptiles and birds indigenous to that area. However I included songs about other Australian fauna, not native to the region, such as wombats, emus and crocodiles and produced the CD with 24 songs and a downloadable booklet of activities.

The most important component of storytelling and music is listening. This can be undertaken in private or within a group. Every child has their listening preferences. I am a firm believer in the notion that familiarity breeds confidence,  in regard to listening. That’s why children often ask to be read the same story over and over again. They love repetition because their anticipation is successfully rewarded. “I know that!” They will often retell a story they are being read or join in reciting a rhyme if they have heard it enough times. Their expressive language skills are developed as a result of their developing listening confidence.

I love being able to work ‘live’ with children, but also have the resources available for them to deepen and build on their listening experience. I see arguing what is a better children’s literature experience;  reading out loud to them or storytelling, in the same light as comparing the merits of live music listening experiences to  recorded ones. In each case they are complementary and individuals may have personal preferences. I am happy to be able to offer a range of choices through both performances and cds.

Photo taken by Roman Schatz at a concert at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre, Port Macquarie, Australia