Forrest Gump’s mother often said, “What goes around comes around.” I was reminded of that quote from the popular movie when reflecting on my past experiences with my Storytelling Club sessions, held every Friday afternoon for the past 10 years at our local (Ventura, Calif.) Boys and Girls Club. The primary objective of the sessions was to enhance the kids’ education in a fun way. As it turned out, I (the storyteller) received as much education as the kids.
I learned a lot from the stories told by the 8- to 12-year-old kids during those sessions. In addition to the richness of their fertile imaginations, it taught me how empathetic they are - a quality that seems to flow naturally in their young minds. They express personal joy for story characters who experience happy events, and sorrow for characters who encounter bad times.
I also learned how kids can use storytelling as a means of personal therapy. At one session, I asked for volunteers to tell a story about something they really wanted to happen in their lives this summer. One 10-year-old girl started her story by saying, “I want my dad to come home again.”
She explained that her dad was in prison, and she went into some detail about the problems this created for her and the rest of the family. After talking about it for about seven minutes to a very sympathetic group of her peers, she became more confident and took on a more positive view of the future.
That frank discussion opened the door for other youngsters who told of situations at home, good and troubling. It was then that I realized what a powerful therapeutic influence storytelling can be for kids.
The Storytelling Club sessions also accomplished the initial goal of getting kids so excited about stories they would seek out stories to read on their own, thus enhancing their reading skills. This, in turn, helped them in all other areas of education.
Several parents told me their boy or girl enjoyed improved grades at school when they became actively interested in storytelling and reading stories. The sessions also sharpened their creative skills by quickly thinking out and telling stories to the group.
I recently discontinued the formal club sessions, after lo these many years. But I still serve as a volunteer worker at the Boys and Girls Club. And, surprisingly, I’m still storytelling. The kids group around me, in the corner of the large recreation room or on the grass at the side of the club, and ask for a story. I gladly oblige.
There’s another lesson for the storyteller. The universal appeal of the age-old practice of oral storytelling is still very much alive, even in the midst of today’s era of high-tech communications.
C. 2001. Jim Woodard, from Ventura, Calif., is the resident storyteller at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. He also presents programs at public libraries, museums, schools and other venues. He writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column and freelance features. His e-mail address: Storyjim@aol.com. His Web site: www.storyteller.net/tellers/storyjim