This storytelling thing twists my brain..ainainainaiiiinnnn

By Limor Shiponi

Holon is a large city in center Israel, officially branded “the children’s city”. It’s cultural scene is rich in quantity of initiatives, quality and some unique investments not to be found elsewhere. One of these unique projects is “Story Gardens” – 30 public gardens named after renowned children’s books, most of them Israeli. Each garden hosts a work of environmental sculpturing, inspired by the original story.

The idea – if you can understand the lady speaking on the video down below – is to bring children closer to literature and enthuse reading through a concrete visual experiences. ¬†Does it really do that? I can’t say I know it does or doesn’t. Sometimes these gardens host kindergartens with their teachers who read the stories to the kids, occasionally they host a storyteller. But most of the time they are just part of the environment, hosting families with kids who need a place to play outside, or by-passers seeking some shade and a bench.

Personal obligation – serving your fellow man and volunteering from young age

Personal obligation is a wide spread volunteering program most Israeli teens pick up at 9th or 10th grade. You give sixty hours of service to the community and receive an extra point in your matriculation exams total point count. Fact is, you receive much more through serving others. What’s really special about Holon to this matter, is that they have a seriously managed volunteering program for kids from K1 to K12 – you just need to want to serve others and many do even before reaching the age of “personal obligation”.

Back from the above aside – a group of teens decided they want to do their personal obligation in the Story Gardens. After assembling a yearlong training program about how to work with young kids and their families, play games, manage discipline, work outside, bring story to life through acting and mimic, they realized something more profound in the communication was missing. After a little head-scratching they got it – storytelling.

A unique set of challenges

Training teens to become storytellers is something that was never really done here before, but we’re managing this challenge pretty well. What really works is being truthful with them and understanding your role as a supportive adult.

The other unique challenges are derived from the actual work they will have to do, and it seems some of these questions are interesting for all storytellers to look at:

  • How do you lead a storytelling event where the environment in the story (imagination) and the environment in the garden (urban reality) look totally different?
  • How do you lead a story-plot in an environment where (1) characters are introduced in a different order than they are introduced in the story (2) you can see all characters at once (3) some characters are not there – in the garden?
  • How do you invite young kids’ imagination to kick into action when some visuals from the story are right in front of them in the real world, might block imagination, overtake it with a powerful image or just frighten them?
  • How do you interlace a plot with real-world action without losing or dimming the plot?
  • How do you use the environment to bring the kids into a story using a different path than plot chronology, while keeping the plot in order?

These questions and others are the fuel of our young counterparts’ interest. We play a lot of imagination games and tricks, expanding their perceptions. Two meetings ago one of them grasped his head and said, “Limor, this storytelling thing twists my brain.. ainainainaiiiinnnn”, which made us all giggle.

Yes, storytelling twists your brain but it’s a healthy twist because you can go only as far as your own imagination can go. That is – if you don’t let others force their images into your brain.

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