Monday, July 16, 2007

Seven Tips for Successful Storytelling at Parties



I had a good time telling stories and singing songs at my two birthday party gigs over the weekend. Both parties were outside. During one gig, a train went by as the birthday group was dancing in a circle to "Hop Up Ladies." Everyone could hear me play and sing over the train noise, but it was still one of those distractions that make outdoor celebrations such a challenge. As a side note for those planning to get married outside in one of Seattle, Washington's balmy gardens, I have just one word of caution for you: airplanes.

Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to outline some guidelines for people who are considering having a performer come to their child's birthday party. Here are seven tips to help make the experience a good one:

Here are seven tips for everyone to enjoy a storytime at your party:

1) Have a comfortable, specific place for the children to sit, preferably away from distractions like toys (especially the battery-powered ones), balloons, and media devices.

2) Grownups often only get a chance to talk to each other when their kids are occupied. Have a separate space for the grownups’ conversations so that the children can listen attentively to the stories and songs.

3) If the party takes place outside with an excess of background noise, have the storytelling program be in a place with the option to plug in a sound system.

4) Have the storyteller perform before the hosts bring out the cake. Even the most enthralling performer can’t compete with a group sugar-high!

5) Small children (ages 2-3) often need to be accompanied by attentive adults. Older children (4 and up) are fine on their own but it’s a good idea to have an adult check in on the group every now and then. Storytellers are good at crowd control, but sometimes an audience member needs to leave the circle for a few minutes. It’s best for another adult to spend calming time with that child until the child is ready to return to the group.

6) Before the storytelling performance, make sure the children know where the bathrooms are. If the program takes place outside on a warm day, it’s also a good idea to have drinking water nearby. Singing and dancing is thirsty work.

7) Young children (ages 2-3) have relatively short attention spans, while older children can go for longer periods of time listening to stories and songs. I pay close attention to the group dynamics and prepare more than I need for a single storytime in order to provide the most flexibility. If I notice children getting restless during the story, then the next item is almost always a song involving movement.


11 comments:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

You have certainly thought through your craft. To maintain the ancient storytelling tradition in a mad techno world is laudable BUT that poor little felt raccoon is still on your display board! Chant with me children - "SHAVE THE RACCOON! SHAVE THE RACCOON!"

jules said...

Excellent tips. And very wise of you to point out #2. I notice at the library story times that we attend that often the mamas are sitting and talking over the librarians (whenever the librarians are not singing), 'cause they're so happy to have another adult to talk to.

Look at that felt board! Sara L. Holmes asked me to post a photo of mine, and I still haven't gotten around to it. One day, when I get organized . . .

Lady K said...

Looks like a good time was had by all! Those really ARE good tips. I wish a lot of the parents would have known those things when I was clowning...

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

YP: You are so cut off from raccoons! I'm not quite sure what that means...

Jules: I'm more sympathetic to the murmurs at storytimes now that I have a child of my own, but it still drives me batty, like having water in my ear when I'm trying to concentrate on a book.

Lady K: I want to hear about clowning.

Camille said...

These are excellent tips for all storytellers.

The parents always THINK they want to watch their child and enjoy the show but actually they desperately need to talk to the friend/acquaintance/total stranger that they have not seen for 14.5 minutes and catch up on everything that happened to them in the last few seconds. The only folks who talk more than parents are teachers.

Nonny said...

I would probably only ever want you to perform at my party. I will follow your recommendations to the letter. I pay well (all the cake/ice cream you want!).

I hope your getting paid well, keeping kids entertained is a specialized skill :)

Eric Herman said...

Hi there, Farida.

I've never thought of kids' birthday parties as the most ideal venue for live performances, but your tips are definitely spot on for helping to avoid the majority of pitfalls that I've seen, and some of them apply for other venues, as well. Thanks so much for sharing that.

And I've been meaning to say thanks for mentioning my "Elephant Song" video a while ago. Someone pointed that out to me and I've been enjoying your blog ever since. I'm out in the Seattle area doing shows for a few weeks, so I'll try to bring my girls out to see you sometime. Where would I find your performance schedule?

Very best,
Eric

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Eric Herman: Hooray! Thanks for visiting my blog. Hey look everyone, Eric Herman visited my blog. Go over and visit his blog, too, because he not only has a lot of good recommendations for children's music, but he's a performer himself.

My performance schedule is at http:faridadowler.blogspot.com. I don't have any public performances lined up in the near future, but I'm hoping that some come together soon. I am also hoping to make it out to your performances, too.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Nonny: I'm so there. I do enjoy entertaining children. Becoming a mom has definitely helped me on the maintaining order end of things. Sometimes children forget that participating in a live performance isn't like watching a television program.

Camille: I think the only negative experiences I've ever had with teachers have been when they've wanted to interrupt my library programs in order to make the moment into a didactic teaching experience. Back when I was a newbie librarian, this sort of thing would just leave me gaping with incredulousness. Now, as a performer of infinite resource and sagacity, I'd probably end up doing some sort of silly-dance that would throw the teacher off guard. And then, I'd resume my story. Ahem.

diana said...

I remember vividly the two times a storyteller performed at my school. Everyone was riveted. One time was in early grade school, the next in middle school. You would think we were too old for that sort of thing in middle school...but no. And he brought a guitar and looked like a hippie when it was 1980--something you would think snotty middle schoolers would guffaw at, the little demons!--but like I said we were fascinated! He talked about how he became a storyteller and where he got his stories from. Wonder where he is now....the other was a young woman and it was so long ago I can't remember details but that we enjoyed seeing her immensely. You never can tell what gets through to kids.

Lone Star Ma said...

Yay, you! You are so amazing!