"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Monday, June 01, 2009

Storytelling Lessons for Kids: 5 Ways to Go Beyond What Piano Can Give Them

Thanks to my nephew, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law for allowing permission to post the pictures.

Throughout all ages of time, parents have encouraged and sometimes "forced" their children to receive piano lessons.

I was one of those kids who took piano lessons.

Currently, I do not have a piano in my home, which I plan to rectify soon. A home is not complete without a piano.

In the meantime, much of my piano skills have gone by the wayside, though the memories sustain me.

Despite the moments when I would rather do chores than practice the piano, I also had moments when I played and played and could not wait for the recitals.

I always was a child who enjoyed the spotlight.

Walking onto that stage was glorious, but once I got to the piano bench, I had to turn my back or side to the audience. Even if the piano was turned in such a way so that I could look at the audience, the piano was too tall to truly connect with the people out there.

Sure, I heard the applause after I played a number, but I missed the continuous reactions from the audience.

Then came high school.

I was a sophomore when my theatre friends encouraged me to look into the National Forensics League, which had several categories in public speaking contests.

One of those categories was storytelling.

Finally, I had an art form that would allow me to look at the audience the whole time.

Nowadays, most children are in front of the computer or television so often that sometimes they forget the joy of looking at the people around them.

They can comfortably interact with a video game or "talk" to online characters through virtual realities.

Then they stutter and stumble in front of real people.

While playing the piano improves creativity and develops a type of work ethic and commitment in the child, there is one art form that can easily adapt and apply to whatever the child pursues in life: storytelling.

Parents celebrate as they see their youth tellers have more sophisticated research skills and the ability to speak smoothly in front of a crowd due to the boost of confidence. Parents and teachers perhaps love the improvement of listening skills the best.

As the child becomes a young adult and must find work, the child will exemplify these skills, which are exactly what employers desire and request.

So where can youth turn for storytelling guidance?

Here are some ways:
1. Clubs
2. Camps
3. Festivals
4. Contest and Showcase Events
5. One-on-One or Small Group Lessons

I wish there was a storytelling club during my elementary, middle, or high school days. At least I had the storytelling category through Forensics. In some ways, the other people in my category were part of a "club".

Fortunately, the creation of storytelling clubs for youth is on the rise across the nation.

The best book is Raising Voices: Creating Youth Storytelling Groups and Troupes co-authored by Kevin Cordi and Judy Sima. Youth clubs with a focus on fun and games will have the most success, and Raising Voices has plenty of games to choose that work from Kindergarten to high school students.

As an adult, you will be tempted to play these games, too. Go ahead and give yourself permission.

Members of storytelling guilds could be pro-active to encourage more youth clubs. The Utah Storytelling Guild is considering a youth chapter where kids across the state could gather and meet each other at least once a quarter.

The strongest states in youth storytelling usually have some form of camp dedicated to the art in order to satisfy the hunger that kids have to tell stories.

The Florida Storytelling Association organizes the most famous Story Camp. The event is mainly attended by adults and workshops are led by national tellers. Five youth are selected as scholarship recipients as a result of the Youthful Voices Storytelling Contest. Each youth has an adult storytelling mentor.

In Nebraska, the guild endorses a camp limited to 15 youth led by a national teller. For 2009, the theme is "In Our Own Voices" geared for 4th to 9th grade students and taught by award-winning singer-songwriter and storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin.

Utah has also had a surge of week-long Story Camps organized by professional storytellers Cherie Davis, Debi Richan, and Nannette Watts. They provide one type of camp for ages 8-12 and another for ages 12-18. They are able to give reduced rates to residents of Orem and Highland due to some generous grants.

Usually these camps are scheduled in the summer time when children may not have as many extra curricular activities and homework.

There are always fetivals looking for youth performers on a local, regional or national basis.

These festivals tend to first think of dancers, musicians, and singers, but many are making way for youth tellers. It may be up to you to hint at the storytelling possiblities.

Many cities and towns have art festivals. Contact the director. Have the youth teller share stories for them. Then watch as the director schedules a slot or two for them.

Though some artists volunteer, the festival may offer to pay for the storytelling services of your youth. It does not hurt to ask.

Contest and Showcase Events
Nothing tends to motivate a child more than when it comes to a contest. In the storytelling arena, usually the word "showcase" is put in place of "contest" to indicate that each child is a winner.

The most popular kinds are tall tale and liar contests.

Perhaps parents are not as keen to these kinds as to what they imply, but as these tales are hilarious and high-energy, kids love them. In fact, if given the chance, kids like ot create their own stories rather than telling the classic tales of Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill.

Then there is the National Youth Storytelling Showcase. Dr. Flora Joy, one of the founders, said, "Tomorrow's storytelling lies in the talents, interests, and motivations of today's youth."

Each state has a representative that forwards videotapes of their top five youth tellers to the Headquarters in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Of the thousands of entries, about 15-20 youth are invited to tell in connection with the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival. All youth are celebrated as finalists, though one is chosen as the Grand Torchbearer of Youth Storytelling for the year.

One-on-One or Small Group Lessons
Since you are familiar with how weekly piano lessons work, then the same format could work for storytelling lessons.

From a 2008 survey of 300 parents, 209 said they would be willing to pay for lessons or after-school programs in the arts reported by the Helicon Collaborative, a New York City-based arts nonprofit consulting group. Economy may be rough but parents want their art.

Most likely the parents first think of piano or dance, but there is a demand of life-skills that storytellers could pursue.

With many schools slashing out the arts, it is sometimes up to the parents to make sure art is experienced. Connect with a professional storyteller and ask if they would be willing to coach your child.

In fact, I will offer storytelling lessons to youth starting Fall 2oo9. I am considering in-person as well as e-lessons in combination of webinars so that location is not a factor. A workbook will be available for the participants.

As for piano lessons, I fully support them. I had piano lessons and continue to be glad I had them.

Remember that it is not always possible to have a piano on the journey of life.

Stories, especially the ones your youth tell, are for forever.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller