To celebrate National Storytelling Week, we spoke with Anna, a professional storyteller, on the benefits of outdoor storytelling for children, our imaginations and the environment.
Anna co-hosted ecobirmingham’s Stories for Nature programme, inspiring parents to continue the sessions as a volunteer-led project. You can find out more about Stories for Nature here.
Q: Do you think the storytelling format makes a difference for the audience?
Anna: If you talk about something, however interesting the topic is, it doesn’t necessarily engage your heart and your emotions. You might be taking a few things in, in your mind… but with a story, immediately you’re introduced to a character, you might become the character, so suddenly there’s empathy, and you become engaged.
For children it’s very important or you might lose them all together. To engage and hold them you need to have a character that they care about, a character that’s fun and interesting. Then they will listen to the rest of the story, if they care about the character. So if you can find a character that represents the things you want to talk about or explain, then you can do it more easily.
Q: I guess telling stories in the outdoors, involves all the other senses more than if you were indoors…
Anna: Yes, I think so. Inside, you have to use your words to paint all of the pictures of your story but outside is already alive, there’s already stimulation, there’s already the wind and the sun and things growing around you and stones and birds so you’re working together with nature.
Q: It’s true, I remember we did a story about the wind, and suddenly the wind was blowing for real!
Anna: Exactly, you couldn’t do that if you were inside, because inside it’s a much more quiet atmosphere, isn’t it.
Q: Do you think that telling the stories in the outdoors helps the audience to connect with nature?
Anna: For sure it does, each story you tell, you’re focussing on a different part of nature and the idea is to bring it out. So Jack and the Beanstalk, we focussed on the how the bean began to grow, we had actual beans, so educationally it’s amazing, they can see the beans, they can plant their beans and in the story it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and we can incorporate the magical elements into the story interactively.
Another example is The Selfish Giant story, which was about ownership of the garden, the garden is sad without the children, then the children come and play in it and it becomes happy.
It really worked well at the ecocentre’s garden as it had just been redone, was kind of empty… and the children could help bring it to life and make it happy.
There’s thousands and thousands of messages out there in nature, so if you tell the story that nature is already telling, it helps people to connect with that message and see what we might not have had a chance to focus on before.
The other thing… storytelling also helps children and adults to stimulate our imagination so we become more creative. So the more time children spend listening to stories, they’re involved in acting them out, that stirs their imaginative capacity and the more imaginative we are as children, the more likely we are to be able to imagine how our future is different to what our present is and the more confident we are to take the actions to make that happen.
So in terms of nature, if you’re being told stories IN nature, that’s helping you to care for nature, build a relationship with nature, that should help you to change the way the world takes care of nature.