Monday, March 26, 2012

Giving kids a voice

Gran and Simon 1997
This week I did an hour long workshop at a school in Enfield, NH.  It is a wonderful little school that is still in its original building (albeit with a few additions built on).  Some of these old schools are the best, with winding corridors leading all over, wooden paneling and beautiful wooden floors in places.  Trying to teach storytelling to kids so that they can take the skills and use them is not an easy thing in one hour!  It is rushed to say the least.  But still they got it!  From the first telling, the three kids picked grew to be able to tell a rich story worthy of listening too and holding anyone’s attention.  Teaching students how to tell stories gives children a voice through which they can be heard.  In our overly busy schedules I know that there are times when we tune children out.  We fail to hear what they say.  I have met kids that rarely get a voice. Or the voice they get is one that is telling them to go and watch tv, or play outside, or read (if they are lucky).  By teaching a child how to tell a story, their voices become compelling.  We want to hear what they have to say, we want to help them find the right words and increase their vocabulary.  Being able to tell stories empowers the child, not just with adults, but with their peers, too.  When the child is empowered, the child’s confidence grows and when that grows they become better students and better people too.

And it is not just at school where storytelling is important.  Growing up at home, I had two ‘camps’ as it were: one where my voice was heard and another where it was not.  I ended up going to where I was listened to, where I was nurtured.  I also had grandparents nearby who always listened to me.  I loved to jump on my bike and ride to their house and just be with them to ‘swap stories’.  It did not feel like that, it was just ‘what are you doing today?’ or ‘how are things?”  To listen to my grandparents and be listened to, by my grandparents was a wonderful experience, one which gave me a close relationship with them that is still strong today with my surviving Granny who was still up for telling stories 12 months ago (stories I was able to record)!

Not everyone these days has that luxury.  Many grandparents in America live hundreds or thousands of miles away as our jobs take us from our roots, or we move to more agreeable climates! So take time in your day to ask your kids (no matter what age they are – whether they are five or fifty) how their day was, and what they got up to.  They love to be asked, even if they only grunt a monosyllabic reply! Tell them your stories too. It doesn’t have to be a story about the office, but maybe something that happened between you and your parents.  It might give them a deeper understanding about you and who and why you are the way you are.  I know I am guilty of this, so step away from the computer, the bills, the emails, and sit down with your kids, or phone them up if they are at college or far away, and share some stories.  Make a ritual out of it.  Stories are powerful things that, like boots, love to travel!