Stories are not just for reading, but for telling and teaching. As the StoryMakers project reaches the half-way mark, Karen Shead reports on its progress
Unlike most children today, 10-year-old Seona Herbert does not cite Harry Potter as her favourite book character. In fact, she has not even read any of his adventures and, quite frankly, doesn't want to.
It is not because she doesn't like books or doesn't enjoy magical tales. She loves stories; reading them, telling them and making them up. She simply prefers traditional folk tales and mythical ones, something which is a little different to what everyone else is reading.
Seona, and her friend Jennifer Mason, are members of the storytelling club at their school, Blackhall Primary in Edinburgh, and like to take part in storytelling sessions in the city. Recently they attended a workshop which saw them creating a web of stories, playing a game called Wizards, making up the end of a story and then performing it.
The two-hour workshop was part of the Scottish Storytelling Centre's StoryMakers project, launched last year. The two-year project, which is supported by Scottish Arts Council National Lottery funding, aims to recognise and affirm children aged eight to 11 as storytellers by placing them at the heart of various storytelling activities in Scotland.
As well as stimulating creative skills among children, the project aims to create appropriate training models and integrate story-making practice into arts and educational contexts. Now, half-way through the programme, training co-ordinator Beth Cross says things are going well.
"Last month I held seven different workshops which all went well and I'm hoping to organise more," she says.
"My job is to oversee the project and keep it in the forefront of people's minds. It's all about letting people know we are here and giving them resources.
"We are working with councils and trying to encourage them to do these kinds of workshop sessions for both children and adults. Nearly every council is involved and there are many activities taking place," she says.
Part of the project involves providing children with opportunities to tell stories, encouraging them to express stories through different art forms and to create, transform and adapt stories.
"We want to make storytelling available to all children, especially disadvantaged groups who maybe don't have access to school clubs or libraries, and we are in the process of figuring out how to do that," says Ms Cross. "We also have social workers involved and they are working with children at risk of exclusion. It really does build their confidence and skills."
The benefits of the programme are personal, social and educational. It helps children to listen and concentrate, develop literacy and language skills by engaging in related oral, written and reading activities and discover the worth of their own voice and those of others. It also promotes self-esteem and motivation.
"Storytelling opens up creativity," says Ms Cross, "and it gives children the experience of being producers of culture. They can be the creators of something.
"There's such a risk of losing culture, but this keeps things in living memory.
"There's a different dimension to being told a story and reading a story.
It's five times as hard to resuscitate a story from a book, but when someone tells you a story it stays with you."
The Scottish Storytelling Centre says stories are the way we most readily learn, at any age. So, storytelling is as effective in secondary schools as in primaries, where it is more common. It also is applicable across the curriculum, from science and maths to the expressive arts and religious and moral education. Part of the StoryMakers project is to encourage more storytelling in schools.
"Teachers would make the best storytellers," Ms Cross says. "I would advise them to value the storytelling that is around already and let that flourish in their classrooms."
Beth Cross is researching teachers' experiences of storytelling in class. To contact her, tel 0131 557 5724 or e-mail email@example.comTo get involved in StoryMakers or for more information about storytelling workshops or professional training, see www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk or tel 0131 557 5724