Wednesday, 29 April 2020

What remote story times have taught me

remote story books

There is nothing to beat the delights of sharing books with a child or children right there with you. I blogged recently about the multiple benefits of reading aloud. Sadly, in these days of lockdown, for the moment many of us are having to resort to remote story times. I certainly miss the physical connection, but I’ve also realised that doing storytelling via video link has been a valuable learning opportunity for me. I’ve been observing what works well, and what less so, and I’m sure this will inform my post-lockdown practice.

It’s been fascinating to find out what sorts of book best suit remote book sharing. (Anyone sharing books on a public platform, do make sure to check out copyright issues through the publishers’ websites.) The photo shows some that I’ve found to go down particularly well with a toddler audience. A good many tried and tested old favourites here, as well as several delightful newer titles. All the books are engaging and visually attractive. All offer lots to discuss. Several have flaps. Video storytelling has served as a useful reminder to me that the more we build anticipation the more we increase involvement and pleasure. Flap books work so well because of the excitement we can develop in advance of the big reveal. But novelty-free books also provide plenty of potential for enjoyable speculation about what’s going to happen next.

It is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s certainly worth remembering that clarity of illustration is crucial. Any illustration that is difficult to understand will be even harder for a child to grasp when it can only be seen on a device. I’ve discovered that it’s vital to hold each page up close to the camera, and to give enough time for it to be taken in . At times it’s helpful to bring particular details into focus.

What else makes a difference? Whole-hearted involvement from a parent or carer at the receiving end has a massive positive impact in terms of children’s focus and fun. Props propsat either end can provide extra stimulation and aid comprehension, soft toy animals, for example. Again, we need to position them carefully so they can be seen easily at the other end. I haven’t tried dressing up, but I’m sure it would be a big hit. In the absence of physical nearness, body language takes on particular importance. I’ve realised the value of using lots of expression. Different voices for different characters greatly bolster enjoyment, engagement and understanding. Rhymes that tie in with the books we are sharing help break things up and provide opportunities for movement and interaction. If I’ve just shared a book with transport in it, we might do ‘the wheels on the bus’, for instance. ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’, perhaps with a torch to provide added twinkle, is great before or after any book featuring starry skies.

One of the keys to success, as with all book sharing, is that we love what we are reading. Our enthusiasm transmits. Keying into our audience’s personal interests and passions, whatever they may be, is also very worthwhile, as is including some of their favourite books in each session. Young children love repetition and need it for learning. I have rediscovered that when using a book children have not come across before, I usually need to read it at least twice before moving on to to something else. If the child or children have copies at their end of the books we read, that offers something extra. They can have the physical pleasure and interactivity of turning the pages at the same time as enjoying listening, sometimes looking up at the book and the reader on screen. Even very young children seem to adapt easily to this different way to sharing.

There’s something else I’ve learnt, or rather re-learnt. It’s far better to keep story times short and sweet than to keep going if a child has lost interest. Everyone’s attention spans are limited right now.

I can’t wait to get back to the particular pleasures of reading up close, but in the meantime video story times are very special.