Her eyes widened and her hands accented the expressions on her face and in her voice. Bryant Montessori School teacher-librarian, Dawn Baughman, told the story of the country mouse to her newly formed, after-school storytelling club at Bryant. She demonstrated how to keep your audience engaged in your story, and Baughman kept her listeners riveted to her words.
"Storytelling is a lost art in today's digital world," Baughman said.
Tacoma Public Library's Maria Pontillas leads the free, 10-week club for students as young as second grade through eighth grade. This particular week, she started a story and each child in the circle added a sentence or two to make a new twist to the instant group tale. Later each child could tell his or her own story.
Some storytellers were almost as expressive as Baughman. Others wrapped their hands in their clothing and stared at the floor, not the listeners, or told their tale in a barely audible voice—but this was only the second week of the new club. Baughman said it takes courage to get up in front of an audience, especially one's peers.
"Storytelling helps bring students out of their shell," Pontillas said. "Reserved kids can shine through stories."
"It's rewarding to see the kids' excitement when they really get into it," Baughman said. "Storytelling can bring out confidence for public speaking. You have to take a risk to tell stories."
Some of the Bryant students jumped right in and told stories. For others being a listener comes first for a while. Then they may venture into telling stories—a storyteller of any age needs good listeners.
The Bryant Story Adventurers will explore storytelling techniques and learn to build a life skill that lasts into adulthood.
"We can empower our kids and give them a voice," Pontillas said. "We can give them something to add to their 'bag of tricks.' Our future leaders need to have storytelling skills."
Students in the Bryant Story Adventurers comment on why they wanted to join the club.
"It opens you to new books."
"I love reading. It's fun to tell stories and makes you feel good when others listen to you."
"You can express yourself. It's funner than playing video games. A good teller makes it believable. You feel like you are in the story."
Bryant students will have a chance to display their newfound storytelling skills at the Bryant Block Party on June 15.
Storytelling is part of everyday life, and adults can find books on how to tell their story to get on top, Pontillas said. Some use storytelling to enhance presentations in dramatic ways.
Storytelling is the oldest form of education, according to "Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom" by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss. The following information comes from their book:
Cultures have always told tales as a way of passing down beliefs, traditions and history to future generations. Storytelling is at the core of all that makes us human.
Stories are the way we store information in the brain. A list of facts will be forgotten, but stories are remembered. Stories help us organize information, and tie content together.
Stories go straight to the heart. Because students are emotionally involved and truly enjoy storytelling, it can help to create a positive attitude toward the learning process.
Storytelling stimulates the imagination.
Storytelling develops listening skills. Storytelling helps students develop concentration, and the pure pleasure that they experience while listening to a story helps them to associate listening with enjoyment.
Telling stories from around the world creates an awareness and appreciation of different cultures.
Stories teach lessons. Stories are excellent tools for teaching about desirable behaviors and strengthening character.
Stories act as a humanizing element. They help to counteract the increasing emphasis on technology at home and in school.
Hamilton and Weiss write that you don't have to tell a story perfectly or very dramatically to be successful. If you tell a story you really love and tell it from the heart, you will have a mesmerized, forgiving audience.
Note: Storytelling festivals abound across the country and world, but on July 13 and 14, PowellsWood Garden in Federal Way will host a storytelling festival, featuring nationally and internationally known storytellers, including former Tacoma Public Schools teachers Jennifer and Nathaniel Whitman.
The Whitmans' Web site says:
Jennifer and Nathaniel Whitman have been performing tandem, audience participation folktales as the Whitman Story Sampler for the past six years. They are educators in Hong Kong where they use storytelling to teach creative dramatics and literacy skills. Jen and Nat draw on their background in musical theater to weave rhythm, music and motion into their performances.
Although the Whitmans teach abroad in international schools, they have returned to perform for King County Library System Summer Reading programs every summer for the past 15 years.
Bryant Montessori School teacher-librarian Dawn Baughman tells a story with much expression.
Tacoma Public Library's Maria Pontillas works with the Bryant Story Adventurers after school.