“Parrots, Pierogies and Potholes”
Storytelling lessons during summer camps are a win-win solution.
By Pamela Monk
“Stories are our primary tools of learning and teaching, the repositories of our lore and legends. They bring order into our confusing world.
Think about how many times a day you use stories to pass along data, insights, memories or common-sense advice.”
– Edward Miller
founder of Edward Elementary,
illustrator and product designer
This project took place two separate weeks of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church summer camp (ACAC) Week 1 participants were rising fourth graders (approximately 12) and Week 2 participants were rising fifth graders (approximately 10.)
We met them for three days from 11am-12 noon, designated as the academic session of summer camp.
We had four goals:
Introduce the students to personal narrative storytelling
Encourage each child to follow the structure to create their own outline
Have them add details to the outline
Present- telling or reading the story to each other in a relatively formal setting
To that end, we used the first day to introduce personal narrative, the second day to help students craft stories, and the third day to perform them.
The students were attentive and engaged. For some the idea of creating stories about their own lives was difficult. Some fell back on fantasy. Some preferred to write stories about other and for a few, it was not hard to tell about themselves, in fact they welcomed the chance. There was a marked difference between the two age groups in choice of subject. Older students were more interested in talking about peers: younger were more interested in family stories. When it came to performing, there was a similar range of enthusiasm; for some it was a pleasure, for others it was painfully difficult.
The three hour time limit was a challenge. We could easily have spent much more time both helping students craft stories and prepare a polished presentation. Formal autobiography is not a comfortable genre at this point in their young lives. Some students haven’t been asked to consider their own lives as story worthy. Some don’t, even when asked, think of themselves as interesting. Some have stories that are too raw to share (one girl wrote about the death of a baby in her journal; she didn’t want to share with anyone other than letting us see it. We didn’t press)
The informal response from parents and staff has been uniformly positive. There is a great potential to use this art form as a way for younger students to recognize their own worth as both as active participants and keen observers of their own lives.
Workshop leaders: Pamela Monk & Meg St. Esprit
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