Thursday, April 25, 2013

Weekend Whirl: Telling Tales in School

I was up early again on Monday and in the kitchen making tea, coffee and breakfast before 7 am. The day's destination: Lubeck Elementary in neighboring Wood county, WV. Added fun for the day: Lorna was going with me.

We took the scenic route, and really the fastest way to the school, via the winding ridge road to Trace Fork, then to the two-lane Route 21, and then on to Route 2 along the Ohio River. Our timing was perfect: we arrived exactly on time and had plenty of lead time for set-up and familiarizing ourselves with the space we were to use. This sounds silly, perhaps, but it's so important to a successful storytelling event: good sound system, arrangement of space, placement of clock, seating for the audience all play a role.

This day would have five sessions: one for preschool, one for Kindergarten and first grade, one for second grade, one for third and one for 4th and 5th combined. Most groups were around 100+ students, but the pre-K group was only about 40. The theme was Appalachian tales and songs to complement the Appalachian heritage days the school was celebrating in conjunction with West Virginia's 150th birthday this year.

I asked Lorna if she'd like to tell a few tales during the day and she was delighted to do so--and I was delighted she wanted to!

The day was a blast: responsive students, interested teachers and principal, lots of interaction and a neat little neighborhood cafe for lunch. I have learned that for such performances to be really successful, it's best to have the students divided into age/grade groupings so I can tailor the stories to each group. A tall tale is best, I've found for grades 3 and up, and occasionally for the very alert second graders. Ghost stories are often best for 3rd and up, but Jack tales work for almost all ages. Types of stories and the kind of interaction I want vary from one grade to another, too; I plan my stories and the presentation of them along with a list of potential alternates in advance. But on the day of the telling, the plan may vary or be scrapped altogether depending on how I read the audience, their listening and understanding abilities and the general ambiance of the event.

Another thing I have learned after years of presenting in schools: the atmosphere when I arrive often foretells what the day will be like. In this school, I was warmly greeted, made to feel at home, given what I needed for the performance and saw teachers and even the principal actively involved in listening and responding to the stories. All good signs of a very good day.

A thank-you note from the principal arrived just days after the performance; she loved it and wants me back next year! Lord willing and the creeks don't rise, I would love to be back at this school.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Michelle said...

So wonderful to hear that you had a good experience at a school. Students really need to hear Appalachian folk tales/tall tales/etc...

Sue said...

What a wonderful gift you give to these children. They will be glad to have you back next year!


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