The Family Storytelling Project involves families, teachers and children in learning and creating stories together. For a number of years, Pie Corbett’s ‘storymaking’ project has been used in Sheffield’s ‘early years settings’ as a key strategy for helping children to build up a bank of traditional tales, developing their imaginative and linguistic repertoires. The Family Storytelling Project builds upon these foundations to involve parents, grandparents, carers and other family members in learning the same stories that the children are learning in school.
The initial trial for the Family Storytelling Project, in 2009 – 2010, focused on children in Reception classes in a few Sheffield schools. The teachers and teaching assistants were asked to record children’s storytelling at the start of the year and compare this with what they could do by the end. They were expected to establish a regular, daily routine for storytelling so that the children gradually learned a bank of stories, as well as innovating and inventing their own tales. Many classes in Sheffield were already used to this routine. However, the extra ingredient to the project was to explore strategies for involving the families. We wanted to see what would happen if parents and carers were ‘trained’ and supported in telling the stories that the children were working on in class, at home. This would involve helping the parents feel special and confident in their role with the children. The initial successful trial was followed in 2010 – 11 by a pilot that focused on whether involving the families in this way made a difference.
The schools in the original trial faced a range of issues linked to poverty and lack of aspiration as well as language and cultural diversity. We posed the group 3 key questions:
- How to get parents and carers involved?
- What do you do with them?
- How do you keep the ball rolling?
The three key ingredients for involving and engaging families
The following ingredients are essential to success of the approach:
The Head Teacher’s genuine and active support for the project. It is so easy for a ‘good idea’ to become lost amongst too many other ‘good ideas’. The teacher needs to have permission to focus on establishing storytelling both in the class and with the families and community.
The teacher’s own belief in the importance of the project and its potential as a vital ingredient in the children’s development. Without a passionate commitment from the teacher, such a project will founder.
The quality of the relationship between the teacher and teaching assistant and the families. Getting to know parents and carers so that there is an element of trust seems to be vital to any form of school-home initiative.
In addition, once the trial was under way, it soon became clear that before you could involve the families effectively, it was important for the children to have internalised a story themselves. Once they had done this, the most effective way of involving the families was not by setting up separate events but simply inviting them to arrive a little early at the end of the day and getting the children to perform their story and then invite their families to join in. A simple and very powerful solution.
Impact of the family storytelling approach
The initial trial showed that where successful links had been made, involving storytelling at home as well as in school, there was a powerful impact upon children’s language development. For instance, evidence from the ‘communication, language and literacy’ section of the Foundation Profiles in one school showed that by the end of the first year of school, 75% of children involved in the trial were at or above national related expectations. This contrasted with the previous years’ intakes, where on average only 30% of the children had made similar progress.
This confirms what was found by the original research project where children’s language development accelerated as well as their behaviour but shows a stronger impact. It is worth remembering that all the schools involved served what might typically be described as ‘deprived’ communities. The leading schools in the project have successfully introduced the approach in Reception and Year 1 and are now developing a whole school approach.