Storytelling for Children
Storytelling for children is an important activity for early childhood development. It engages their imagination and creativity.
At the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, professional storyteller Michelle Washington Wilson shared multicultural folktales with young listeners. This type of activity can aid in early childhood development. It also helps children learn about different cultures and perspectives.
Stories from West Africa
Michelle’s stories were from West Africa which is why we were curious to see this experienced storyteller in action. Our Storytelling workshops in Sri Lanka, Peru, Kenya, DRC, and Ghana include stories by local elders.
The Importance of Creativity and Imagination for Children
In Kenya, CPI worked in several small villages where a high percentage of children were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. The Storytelling session was particularly popular.
Michelle has a commanding stage presence. The moment she entered, she engaged the children’s interest. She opened by telling her audience that storytellers love attention. What a great way to encourage this group of 3- to 8-year-olds to oblige!
She provided clapping instructions (not when but, rather, how), and got young and old in sync. What really interested us was how she opened up the storytelling experience. She invited the kids to use their imagination as a vehicle. They could travel anywhere right from where they were seated, and so could we.
A Storyteller Who Connects with the Children
Of course, we loved this last instruction, since CPI encourages children to let their imaginations help them slip past their immediate (sometimes dreary) circumstances. The kids at the Museum probably had an easier challenge. They were seated in a spacious gallery that featured a performance stage (where Michelle performed), works by contemporary artists, and an activity room. It was a protected, nurturing space, with skilled Museum staff nearby.
“Anansi and the Pot of Beans“
Michelle brought props; a synthesizer keyboard, which she used as a beatbox. She opened with a “get onboard the story train song,” where the beat from the keyboard got the kids (and us) clapping. The first story Anansi and the Pot of Beans was about a Ghanaian spider, Anansi, visiting its grandmother. The gist was that you had better follow your grandmother’s instructions or you’re likely to end up with hot stew on your head!
What Do you Call Your Grandmother?
Michelle engaged with the kids by asking what the grandmother was called, and they called out all kinds of funny names. Quickly, the children got into the spirit, which was the real purpose of the event – to create an environment for the kids to use their imagination through storytelling.
The Museum states on its website that it seeks to nurture kids’ imaginations, as well as to develop language and problem-solving skills. Its pedagogy is rooted in the local community, Harlem, and provides the type of learning that occurs through play and exploration. The Museum is also inspired by research that draws a correlation between early exposure to the arts and increased long-term critical thinking. This helps children with communication, and social skills.
Storytelling in Action
While we observed Michelle – a dynamic, big stage presence – we saw how she translated the Museum’s goals into real, engaging opportunities for kids to learn and grow. Her performance was literally storytelling in action.
CPI’s own storytelling initiatives share these same basic goals. Storytelling for children is a central activity at CPI. Kids around the world love stories. They want to listen to stories, make them up, and call on them as inspiration for artworks in an array of media (masks, drawings, paintings, and even videos). Michelle’s performance confirmed, once again, that storytelling is international, and a vital part of kids’ development.
Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling
The museum is within the Sugar Hill Development, a mixed-use site that also includes affordable housing units and a preschool. Developed by Broadway Housing Communities and designed by esteemed architect David Adjaye. Join Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling’s email list and get weekly updates of all the fun thing for young and old that happens at the museum.
Michelle Washington Wilson
Michelle is a writer, performer and storyteller from rural Newtonville, New Jersey, bringing stories to life for more than 30 years. She has traveled throughout North America and the Caribbean sharing stories from around the world. Link to Michelle Washington Wilson’s YouTube Channel where you can learn how to make her world-famous Mac and Cheese.