Zoë Palmer works with us regularly on our Learning & Participation programme. Over the past year she has been working with library staff from Idea Stores across Tower Hamlets to develop singing and storytelling skills specifically for engaging early years (0-2s) audiences.
Sitting in a yurt as part of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, Raju turned the first page of his story, looked at the audience of 20 toddlers and their families, and asked, “so where is the golden egg?” But his question was more an invitation to play, move, dance and sing with staff from Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets who had just completed a year-long training programme integrating music into their storytelling work.
“It’s on the bus,” one child shouted, “it’s a star in the sky,” added another, “it’s behind you!” And there it was hanging from the canvas like makeshift sunshine. The next 30 minutes were bursting with questions and answers, spoken, sung, drummed and shaken as Raju narrated the story of Aysha, a little girl from East London whose search for the golden egg takes her on an adventure around the local area. His audience joined in, contributing their voices to the cacophony, sometimes singing without words, as though they were revelling in the magic of collective music-making.
From my position at the back of the tent observing the Idea Store staff as they led the session, it was clear to see how much fun everyone was having. It seemed that they had each found their own role: Sally was using puppets to support the story, Florence was dancing and Jesnara mixed baby sign with her actions to encourage very small children to join in. Parents were singing too, something that doesn’t always happen, but when it does it feels like we’re getting close to achieving what we set out to do.
When we had begun working together a year earlier it was a very different story. I met the group with a fair amount of trepidation; it can be difficult working with adults on training courses, especially where singing is involved. I was also aware that delivering story-time sessions is one aspect of their busy and varied working lives, so keeping the training relevant, engaging and fun was at the forefront of my mind. However, as the year unfolded something exciting started to happen – people were bringing their own ideas into the sessions, sharing their experiences and best practise and supporting each other during the time in between. We learnt songs from Bangladesh, Somalia and Tanzania, amongst others, aiming to reflect and connect with the parents who would turn up to their library based groups on a regular basis.
By the time we reached our final session early last month, it seemed as though the group had taken on its own momentum beyond our sessions. Alongside some reflection and recording, we spent most of our time making things – music, stories, pictures – and then putting them together. We drew pictures of each other without looking at the paper and used puppets to give feedback. We jumped from one thing to the next, as the children we work with so often do, enjoying each task for it’s own sake. In the process I listened to staff say that they felt more creative and less stuck in a rut; the funny thing was, after a year working with them all, I did too!