Recently I was asked to give a rationale for conducting an oral literature workshop for Children’s Librarians. The workshop I will be presenting is based on my latest storytelling handbook, Rhyme-a-saurus: treasured rhymes for storytimes, fifty-five fabulous rhymes, raps, songs and dances to liven up library storytimes and pre-school language programmes. Following is an excerpt from my address and further thoughts on what constitutes a positive literacy experience?
‘Children need to experience different forms of storytelling to become fully literate human beings in the twenty first century. Offering library storytimes that include multiple storytelling methods, not only showcases the myriad of ways that stories can be presented, it assists children in finding their own ways of expressing themselves, understanding the world and developing self esteem. Through participating in storytimes children learn that they too can share their stories, verbally, pictorially or dramatically. These mediums of expression are accessible to them before their ability to read and write, but continue beyond the acquisition of text literacy.
Library storytimes offer children and their carers the opportunity to engage in storytelling activities at their own level of comfort. Sharing stories bilingually and with accompanying Auslan shows that humans can speak both with their hands and their mouths. Children learn that there are many different languages that we can share with each other. Songs and rhymes incorporating words and phrases from languages other than English are not only fun for children to learn and say, but welcoming to children who speak languages other than English.
The most effective way of ensuring that children have positive literacy experiences is to provide them with high quality, multi-literacy activities, presented by professional literacy advocates. Library storytimes not only empower children but are also models for carers on the importance of reading and telling stories to children.’
‘The outcomes of the workshop are many and varied. Not only will participants extend their oral literature repertoire for Storytimes and Baby Bounce sessions by learning new rhymes, dances and songs, instructions on incorporating some Australian sign language, use of percussion and simple props will also be given. In addition some material shows how to include languages other than English in the content. There is an emphasis on creating inclusive storytimes that incorporate kinesthetic, visual and auditory learning styles, ensuring the provision of a quality literacy experience for young children and their carers.’
But what is a quality literacy experience? In a very broad sense it is an act that inculcates a sense of joy, achievement, competency, well-being or interest in a person who is receiving or expressing language. But I hear you say that could simply be talking. Yes it could. Verbal communication is our primary way of becoming multi-literate. I use this word because literacy is not only about reading and writing, it is about, as Professor John O’Toole says, ‘ all the symbol systems linguistic and otherwise, that mediate meaning, each with their own literacy demands.’ p.29.
Sometimes storytimes and early childhood language activities are referred to as pre-literacy activities, but I prefer to think of them as being on a literacy continuum. Children don’t stop saying rhymes, singing songs and drawing pictures when they learn how to read and write. As all human beings develop competencies and preferences at different times, then catering to a group of diverse young children and their carers can seem daunting to a storytime presenter. These are my hints for ensuring that you are providing the best literacy experiences possible.
1. Open your heart. The best literacy experiences happen with love and laughter.
2. Talk. Tell your audience what you will be doing, how long the session will go for, what you would like them to do (e.g. adults please sit with the children and turn off mobile phones). Tell them how you feel and ask how they are. An appropriate rhyme/song could follow.
3. Love what you present. Never read a book, say a rhyme or tell a story you don’t like. Practice your rhymes, reading and storytelling out loud beforehand, so that you feel confident in your delivery.
4. Ask for help. This allows children to develop their self esteem, be the expert and participate freely.
5. Make mistakes. Again this allows children to correct you and feel competent and empowered. It also makes parents and carers feel OK about doing what you do.
6. Be yourself. You are not an entertainer, although storytime can be entertaining, you are not a therapist, although storytime can be therapeutic, you are not a teacher, although storytime can be educational.
7. You are a librarian and your raps, rhymes, songs and stories are nutritious soul food for each child’s journey through life.
Education in the Arts – teaching and learning in the contemporary curriculum, Oxford University Press, Melbourne Australia
(O’Toole, J., Sinclair, C. and Jeanneret, N (eds.) (2008), p29
Photo by Roman Schatz