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Sunday, August 03, 2008


Working with kids—tips from a professional storyteller

I was recently asked for a few tips on working with kids. Here's some of what I've learned over my time as a professional storyteller.

Everyone is a storyteller. Don't think you can't do it. You probably already do but don't know that's what you're doing. When you tell your friends and family about some incident at work or from some other aspect of life, you might notice that they pay you full attention. That's because you are weaving an interesting narrative and they want to find out what happens next.

When you tell stories to kids you can use stories from life, folktales or contemporary published stories. The way to hold their attention is with a story that keeps them guessing about what is going to happen. If the story surprises them they are satisfied. If they can guess what's coming that's boring. Don't rush it. Draw it out and you'll keep them on the edge of their seats.

Reading to kids from books is great. It shows them that the good time they're having is coming from literature. That encourages them to turn to books for entertainment and leads them to literacy. However, if you can let go off the book and tell the story from memory, you make eye contact with the audience, you read them and from their feedback you know how to pace the story, what to emphasise, what to leave out. Storytelling with a book is great. Storytelling without a book is way more powerful. Try it.

When choosing stories, it's not actually wrong for a story to have a message but if the message value is higher than the entertainment value forget it. Even 'bad' kids will sit and listen for hours if you entertain them well but start giving out overt messages about what they should or shouldn't do and you lose them. If your message is so subtle that they don't even notice it, the story can do it's own work on their subconscious.

For all performers, remember the audience comes first. Don't get caught up in your own ego. It can happen so easily. You start thinking how cool you are and then you lose it. The trick is to make them feel cool about themselves and they'll keep coming back for more.

If you teach kids, look for what they're doing right, not what they're doing wrong. So called 'bad' kids have had people telling them bad stuff about themselves so much they've turned right off. To turn them back on find what they do well and let them know. The same applies to adults too. We all need a self-esteem boost from time to time. But don't be patronising. Even kids can see through that.

I've always found kids to be fun. I had a ball for nine years working as a full-time storyteller. Make sure you're having fun and they will too.

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