Kids tells their stories through Rotarian program

Margaret Hurt
Special To BMN

With great anticipation, 5-year-old Kimie Craven asked if it is her turn to get to write her story.

Over the past several months, students in the preschool classroom at Children and Friends, a local childcare center, have gotten used to having a community volunteer work with a child in the class. The volunteer records the story the student dictates, then the class acts out the story, each person having a part. Kimmie “gets excited when it is time to do a story,” she said with a big smile on her face. Acting out the story is definitely her favorite part.

Bill Christy, a member of the Black Mountain Rotary Club, has been visiting Children and Friends several times a month since the fall. The days he visits the center for storytelling with children are cheery and bright, he said.

With his own children grown now, he enjoys being around the young children and seeing their excitement and anticipation.

“It’s the most energy I am around all day,” he said. Instead of simply giving money, the Rotary Club tries to become involved in the projects it supports. “This project is helping us make a real connection with the children and staff at Children and Friends. We have been very pleased” Christy said.

Children, teachers and Rotary volunteers are learning through work for and by Children and Friends, the Rotary Club and the Verner Center for Early Learning. Children at Children and Friends are learning to create and act out stories, as well as learning the importance of vocabulary and punctuation. Teachers from the two childcare centers are observing and helping train one another.

The volunteers are facilitating the storytelling process and connecting with children who benefit from the literacy support. Teachers say they feel supported by community members who are taking an interest in their students.

A $5,000 Rotary grant is underwriting a partnership between the three entities. The initial phase of the two-part grant, titled Power to Educate Hearts and Minds, focuses on teacher training.

In this case, staff at Children and Friends learn from staff at the Verner child care center. Teachers visit classrooms to observe and learn what are called “best practices.” The grant paid for two teachers to attend a statewide childcare conference this fall.

The second part of the grant involved training Rotarians to work one-on-one with students on a creative storytelling method.

Eight Rotarians visit the center for a few months to mentor the children. They facilitate the storytelling process, helping instill a sense of accomplishment in the child.

Brianna Ray, the lead preschool teacher at Children and Friends, said the children are so proud to have their story read that the storytelling project has helped bring some of the shy ones out of their shell. The students want to write stories in class all the time now, she said.

“They make their stories so elaborate and creative, and (they) understand they need a beginning, middle and ending,” Ray said.

(Kimie's story included a princess with fairy dust who became “Elsa” by using a necklace she bought to give her powers. In Kimie’s story, Elsa goes to town and climbs into a firetruck to put out a fire at the castle. She and family members were chased by a T-Rex, upon which they use powers to freeze. In the end, Elsa goes to the store to get earrings.)

Research about early brain development has demonstrated the importance of early learning in children during their first five years. Other research indicates that academic and social success are more certain is adults listen and work with young children.

Local early childhood specialist Pat Tuttle has worked closely with the Rotary project since it began in the fall.

She said the Rotarians have helped spark a lot of interest in story writing and acting among the students.

The teachers are appreciative of the interest the volunteers have taken.

“The days a Rotarian comes are the icing on the cake,” she said.