I had no idea!
I had no idea how much I had missed it (well, I really did, but...)
I had no idea how much fun it would be to see young people get excited about stories after two years of not being in a school.
I had no idea how out of shape I have become!
This last week I had two school gigs. And it was brilliant. Both were very different, but both were in-school, in-person and very much live. The organizers, librarians, and teachers were wonderful, and seemed so happy to have in-person events going on. The kids, very much the same!
Curious looks and glances were made by children as I made my way through the halls with my gear. "Hallos" were called out, along with the Big Question: "Who are you, and what are you going to be doing here?" So many crazy thoughts went through my mind in answer to that: special agent, location scout for a film, building inspector, but I just said: "I'm going to be seeing you later, to tell stories to your grade!" Eyes wide! That put a bigger smile on my face!
Tuesday was a big rush of a day. I packed a banana for lunch and an apple for the ride home. It was going to be a half-day visit. Three presentations for second and third graders, then kindergarten and first graders, ending with the fourth and fifth graders. Then a workshop for the latter group - invitation only!
I had my stories polished and planned, the PA set-up in the cafeteria, my drum warmed up! But then the kids came in, we started chatting and things changed. I shared some personal narratives about being a kid, long, long ago, before moving into the folk and fairy stories. I talked about the importance of reading, and playing, and spending as little time as they possibly could on t.v. and devices, and that music was also really cool without the videos and think about playing an instrument. Music is a language spoken all over the world. The principal popped in and out, other teachers who were not looking after the young folks listening came and went.
We laughed a lot. As did the teachers. I told some more thoughtful stories which provoked smiles. One group left and another shuffled in. I grabbed water, looked at my notes, and played the penny whistle. I played the same tune three times, but each time it was a different song. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, followed by the ABC song kids learn, and then Ba-ba Black Sheep. I do not profess to be an accomplished penny whistle player, but the kids and teachers liked it, groaned and rolled their eyes when I started the third song. They waved good-bye and the older kids, the nine and ten year olds came in. Another sip of water, and banter. "Ah, here we have the Big Kids!" They strutted a little taller before sitting down on the cafeteria floor. I showed them a map I had painted of Scandinavia and asked if they knew what was where, and a couple did. I then began a story from Finland. The kids were great. So many smiling faces, so much chatter at the end, talking about the stories, their favourite parts, the wonder of it all.
It was then time to rush into the library and get set up for the workshop. We didn't have much time, but I was able to cram a bunch of stuff in, and have some of the students tell their stories, give them different kinds of feedback, before they had to go. The kids were amazing, as they had chosen to work through their lunch break. Their attention wandered at times, as did mine - we had all been at it for a while, but we got quickly back on track. One young lady who really didn't want to share her story, ended up volunteering to tell her tale! And it was good. There's something so empowering for kids to be actively listened to, to share their own stories, and be heard by their peers and teachers.
I left on a high from that morning.
Tuesday night I had another gig but it was a virtual presentation with TBD Storytellers for grown-ups. A fun night with some great stories, but a late night. The next day was prep for Thursday. Thursday was only two presentations, and no workshop. This school was very different from the previous school on Tuesday. A much larger school. Their policies were slightly different in that the classes, if we were to present inside, would not all be allowed to be together, and that one group would be in the library with me, the other classes would watch through streaming live. It was cold and windy and the report said there would be rain, so we moved into the library. A laptop was set up in front of me, I stuck the map up on the white board along with a photograph of a cave in England's Lake District (it's where a dragon used to live) and I began.
Again watching and listening to the kids, this time fifth and six graders, was wonderful. The story of the cave has a dragon in it. At first it is only a voice, the kids don't know who it is in the cave speaking to the kid in the story. But when it comes out that it's a dragon, there's a rush of quick conversation on what they thought it was. And the look on their faces at it being a dragon was so heart warming.
I say that the kids have similar challenges in both schools, but there were differences. When we talked about sweaty palms (one character was very nervous), I asked who had felt that way, and had anyone ever been the principal’s office. Eighty percent of the kids raised their hands! We talked about devices, writing, stories, books. The laptop was treated as a person in the audience. I got close, very close to the camera lens, I made faces for the camera as much as I did for the audience and I asked teachers to put forward questions in the chat feature. It seemed to work; a teacher came out afterwards to tell me the kids were engaged! This is the first time I have got immediate and unsolicited feedback about virtual work. After two years, it seems I have it.
We talked about all sorts of things related to the stories I told, and it was wonderful. Again the kids left chatting about what had happened and the tales told. Teachers talked about the way the kids were not used to having to sit for so long and pay attention (class periods are not sixty minutes long), and how much joy they exhibited - some kids who had not done so since March of 2020. It was great to hear. And I hear similar things from other storytellers - the joy stories bring, the connection stories create with the kids, the peering over the walls some teachers have slowly built up since the beginning of the pandemic.
One thing I did discover today, Friday morning, was that I am Exhausted! Before the pandemic I was doing this sort of work all the time, in and out of schools, dashing around the countryside, presenting, working with teachers, but since March 2020, not so much. So I now need to get this Dad-bod into shape so when I next go out (in a few days) I won't be quite as tired at the end of the day!
Do you feel like too?