One of the challenges with homeschooling is finding a social circle for your child. When my kids were little, we didn't know many families in our area that homeschooled, and we couldn't afford many of the activities that were offered in the homeschooling community. I wondered if anyone else homeschooled on a budget, like us. I thought if we could offer a group activity, maybe we could find other families to join us. This was the beginning of the Home Spun Storytellers.
We already had a good relationship with North White Plains Library. It was a small library with a playground right outside and ball fields beyond. It was a perfect setting for a young family. We made friends with the librarian there and it wasn't long before my oldest, Marina, began assisting at the toddler story times. She loved reading to them and they loved her. (One toddler actually said, "I love Marina" during storytime.)
At the same time, we attended homeschooling nature classes up at Croton Point Park. The classes were open to all ages. This was important because my two kids were three years apart, so usually one or the other ended up outside of the age limit. Their time there was spent learning about the natural world at the park--tree and animal track identification, hawks and eagles, crabs and toads, etc. While Marina was there, she met two girls near her age that shared her love for books and reading.
I approached these families with my idea for "Home Spun Storytellers" and it wasn't long before the three girls were practicing at my house. I gave advice on how to hold the books while reading, speaking loudly, holding an audience's attention, and storytelling without the book. When they were ready, I spoke with my library connection and arranged a date for them to run storytelling. I decided to limit myself to the background, promoting the group on our homeschooling network (at that time it was a newsletter and an email list), and worked out an order for them to read based on the stories they chose. The rest would be up to them. I wanted them to feel a sense of ownership of their group.
During their first storytelling group at the library, everyone got stage fright. They slipped into quiet voices as I made gestures from the sidelines to speak louder. Then my son, five at the time, got up to read. He had begged me to read, and after consulting with Marina and her friends, we decided to let him tell his story in the middle, before their second turns. His book in hand, he began. "Dinosaur quiet. Dinosaur ROAR!!!" he read. He had amazing stage presence, and his reading loosened up all of the storytellers so that their second readings were more animated. It was a wonderful experience for them.
The first year, the storytellers had an audience of one or two families. As time went on, we had larger crowds and also requests from parents whose children wanted to try storytelling. To allow for this, we decided to always present guest storytellers at our halftime. It reached a point where I would run a workshop once or twice per school year to teach our guest storytelllers how to make their tales come alive. The group met for ten years before our core group started going their own way. One of the girls moved. Two more decided to go to high school. Marina started at the community college. Then my son did, too. My youngest was never interested in taking over the group. I tried running it as a workshop for a little while longer, but without anyone to take over the group, it was time to move on to our next chapter. I'm happy they were able to have the experience of running their own program!
If you're interested in learning more about storytelling and reading out loud, here is a list of storytelling resources.