Feeling the fear at story time
What does story time mean to you?
I remember feeling the fear. Facing the sea of faces expectantly waiting for the magic of story time to begin. Were they all waiting to be transported to another world? To discover something new? Or to visit an old friend? In her blog 100 Progressive Books for Children, Olivia Hinebaugh writes, “…it’s an opening to introduce them to characters who are different from them – to expand their world – to help them feel seen.”
I’m sure the pressure of that expectation can strike fear into the most experienced practitioners. Just as seasoned actors and musicians get stage fright so do many practitioners when story time comes around.
I think for some practitioners, it’s a case of trying to reinvent a book they have already read so many times before. A book that they could recite backwards whilst doing a bungee jump! We try to stay enthusiastic to avoid that feeling of monotony for ourselves and of course for the children. Because, like animals, children can sense the fear/boredom/lack of presence/pleasure/enjoyment which they suck up and reﬂect back onto you, the unenthusiastic storyteller.
But still, we all have our favourite stories we enjoy sharing time and time again. Perhaps we remember these favourites being read to us. The familiarity of these favourites is like being wrapped up in a soft squishy duvet. When you are faced with performing without these favourites you may feel like your duvet has been snatched away leaving you feeling vulnerable. You may ﬁnd yourself in this fear inducing situation when asked to cover for another team member. You may know about this in advance, or it may happen last minute as someone is called away to speak to a parent or Ofsted. You might ﬁnd yourself in an unfamiliar environment, or simply with children you don’t know that well. You might not have seen a familiar book you could have chosen in the book corner. Or you may have been asked to use a speciﬁc text which you don’t feel conﬁdent about delivering successfully.
Your own experience may be what is holding you back and creating the fear. Unhappy memories from school, that you deem to be personal failure. What you feel are your own incapabilities might be crippling you, and stopping you from sharing your fears, or asking for help. Are you dyslexic? Have you told anyone? Did it impact on your own early years and education? I had a dyslexic staff member who was not at all comfortable doing large group storytimes. She did however ﬂourish with her own small group of key children during circle time. She even developed a Story Sack lending service for the parents. She was great at leading singing sessions and often dressed up and did silly dances on Fun Fridays. Despite this, she never enjoyed storytelling with a larger group. We tried to make sure she wasn’t put in a situation where she felt uncomfortable and stressed.
Feeling pressure from ‘being watched’ is also quite common in the early years sector. You may feel that the other staff who are around are judging your abilities, when in reality they are probably just trying to tidy up quietly and not disturb you! Of course you may actually be being watched for an appraisal observation, peer to peer observation, or by an Ofsted inspector. Carrying on as usual is easier said than done when faced with an observation, particularly if you feel story time is not your strongest area. I found videoing myself (or having a team member help) very useful. Although watching yourself back is not hugely enjoyable, you do notice areas where you can improve and perhaps discover some things you do that you were not aware of!
My ﬁrst recommendation for anyone who doesn’t enjoy story time is to embrace the magic. Jump right in and join the ride. You too can be transported to another land.
Unless you are actually being observed, the only people watching you are those little faces who, quite frankly, probably hang on your every word anyway. Think only of them and the places you can go together when you turn the ﬁrst page.
One of the easiest ways to guarantee success at story time is to ensue you have a core reading list to hand. That way you can always be conﬁdent that you are sure to pick up a winning book. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education have several core lists which you may ﬁnd very useful. It’s also important to know your books: take time to read them before you read them to a group. I think children seeing you sitting reading a book is a great thing. You may of course ﬁnd yourself surrounded ,but please don’t think that sitting, reading, and getting to know your books isn’t part of your role. If you feel you are being watched and judged, take story time outside. You can read a book anywhere. You certainly don’t have to all be sitting in neat rows on a carpet, or ‘on your spot’ and unable to move. You don’t even have to be sitting. Sometimes getting up and moving about is needed to keep everyone on track. Here you will ﬁnd plays written by Julia Donaldson for classes to act out. Of course you may have a favourite you can act out already: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt springs to mind.
An alternative to changing location or going outside is to alter your book corner/story telling area. Do you have a parachute? Can you sit under it for a story? Can you hang it temporarily to create a tent? Mosquito nets are also useful for creating a feeling of being enclosed and hidden.
Lastly, I highly recommend having a story you can tell orally form memory up your sleeve. That way you can use it at anytime and in most situations. You don’t need to have physical book. You can move around as you tell the story. I often tell a traditional Japanese story orally when I visit nurseries and schools. I act out the story and move around whilst I do so. It always gets a round of applause. It could be your secret weapon, the ace up your sleeve, your security blanket to give you that extra conﬁdence you need to be an amazing storyteller.