One of the most touching storytelling interviews I have done to date. I love the passion in Rachel’s voice and storytelling as she tells the story of Black socks. I hope you are inspired in your work with child storytellers.
Child tellers often have silent wishes regardless if they attend elementary, middle, or high school. When given the chance to speak, these are the top three wishes:
1. Wish to meet other child tellers
2. Wish to have friends rather than coaches
3. Wish to be leaders
Perhaps you will be the one to help grant these wishes.
Wish to meet other child tellers
Children are lucky if they attend a school that has a storytelling club. Sometimes “storytelling club” comes under such guises as 4H groups, Forensics (public-speaking contests), or theatre. Storytelling may not be the pure focus of these gatherings, though it may be enough to at least find potential youth tellers or for some sort of support group to be established.
Three tellers from the 2007 Kids Koncert at the National Storytelling Conference never considered themselves storytellers until they were invited to participate. The youth had to re-think of who they were as performers. By meeting youth tellers from other areas of the country, suddenly the art form grew more important.
Similar experiences have also been found amongst finalists of the National Youth Storytelling Showcase (NYSS). Finalist Chris Hand commented, “The only thing I knew about storytelling was grandparents telling them before going to bed. . .I went to a club meeting and found out from my dad that storytelling is a really big art form.”
Another NYSS finalist, Chloe Clunis, encouraged other kids to join club meetings or events by sharing a story, which she used as her “30-second commercial” complete with facial expressions, gestures, and voice inflections.
What you can do: Contact your local 4H group. Sometimes this organization will give a stipend to cover your preparation needed to create a storytelling group. Discover the drama team of the school and see if you can “convert” some into storytellers. Convince a school to hire you to lead a storytelling festival, which would improve speech and writing skills, rather than the typical carnival that has no education merit. Encourage storytelling festivals/events to involve youth tellers. Introduce youth to the National Youth Storytelling Showcase.
Wish to have friends rather than coaches
Some youth tellers squirm at the thought of having a coach for this means someone may be telling them what to do. Jeremy Evans, another NYSS finalist, agreed that coaches could be controlling and a “coach would want me to listen to them.” Evans smiled and continued, “Now, if I don’t like something, I don’t listen to it!”
If one thinks about adult tellers within the American Storytelling Movement who have a coach, what would that number be? A handful? The adults may admit to having a mentor, a friend, or an influence. Any three of these assumes that the teller has ultimate control on how to accept any advice or suggestions. Yet, oftentimes, youth tellers are expected to have a coach.
When adults make decisions for the youth tellers, then there is the danger of the children losing passion in the telling of the stories. The delivery may be phenomenal but the heart behind the performance might be missing. This often leads to a struggle to connect with the audience.
What you can do: Encourage the children to find the stories they want to tell. Saying “You should tell this one” is detrimental and may cause the children to hold grudges toward the art of storytelling. Allow the children to come up with their own solutions.
Wish to be leaders
Adults are often more shy than children when it comes to leadership. When children grow up around this fear from adults, then the same fear could reflect on the children. Stephanie Strauss admitted, I was shy “I was so shy I didn’t want people to hear my words.” In 2006, Strauss became the NYSS Grand Torchbearer, an ambassador for youth storytelling. What had once been fear became strength.
As youth combine their creative powers, they could even put together grand events such as the student-run Tellabration! held every November in Lemoore, California. Adults may be around to be a support, though the action, including the emceeing and the storytelling, are all done by youth.
What you can do: Give any opportunity you can for children to be leaders. Invite a child to teach a storytelling game to the group. Eventually, you could have the children emcee and/or run their own events as was done for Tellabration!.
Join me on Tuesday, October 2nd, as we explore more on how to grant these wishes of child tellers across the nation.
Until we tell again,
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance