Storytelling for SpEd kids

I had a full day of employment today, and didn’t even really get to use it all.

Fairbanks Arts Assn. hired me to tell stories to the (primarily) Special Ed. students who were coming to their annual “Very Special Arts Day,” and I agreed, knowing I would have to do a lot of thinking/program-ordering on the fly, since there was no way to gage in advance the… mental abilities (or span of those) within any given group.

I settled on a handful of tried-and-true, back-pocket stories (things that I wouldn’t get flustered in if somebody got loud or something), and a few folktale picture books.

Out of six available “slots”, I had only four attended. The first group was an over-large (everyone was supposed to be in groups of 10 or less) herd of 4- and 5-year-olds. About half of them keyed-in beautifully, though they didn’t seem to catch most of the humor or interactive parts.

Honestly, it seemed to me that I had captured them more than the story did. Out of 13/14 kids, 6 or 7 were still in their seats and very focused. I didn’t really pay attention to the others. The teachers took the squirmy ones to the fringes of the room, or out of it, and I actually expected to finish with the crew that was left.

But the main teach came to the front shortly after the story ended (I wonder now if she thought she was rescuing me from one tiny girl’s display and explanation of her band-aid), and said the class really didn’t have the attention-span for such long stories, and they would be moving on now.

I understand the need for keeping the class together, but I felt a little sorry for those half-doz who had keyed-in. I think learning to listen like that is such an important skill, and they were doing so well. I almost offered to let her leave those who were interested, but she was obviously on a mission. She had them sing a song (ad infinitum to the tune of Farmer in the Dell) “for me,” trying, I suppose, to fill more of their slot before moving on, then herded them out of the room.

My second group was awesome. It was a widely varied group from a local Jr High. Most walked unassisted, one was in a wheelchair, and one wore a walking helmet, leaning on a classmate and an adult.

They were all good listeners. Some made sounds as I told, but they were obviously sounds of engagement, rather than annoyance or distraction, and I assumed this group was frequently together, because no one was distracted by random sounds or movements other kids made.

They too made to leave after the first story, and I told the teachers if they wanted to stay, I had more. The kids did want to stay, but one of the boys took the floor before I did.

He began telling a story after saying he saw it in a movie. I didn’t want to stop him, not thinking it was my place, but as I listened, I began to track with him, and realized he was telling (through a thick speech impediment) the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. It was delightful! I vaguely wondered at first if he was looping (returning to) scenes, and also how long he would take, but he told fairly concisely, moving from scene to scene as (I assume) he’d seen it in the movie.

My favorite part was when he held his two hands like the door in the cliff and used them to illustrate the scene: “He thaid, ‘Opem! Sestheme!’ and the door obayed!” His intensity and delight in the images of the story was beautiful. No one interrupted him, and he came to the end in a very respectable amount of time (especially considering the story he had picked!).

I thanked him for sharing, and used the oil-jars from his story to transition to a different (very short) folktale. Everyone tracked, and they were ready for a third, longer story when that was over. No one tried to participate or guess out-loud (something I always encourage), but they laughed at all the right times and had that look of knowing what was coming next.

They were hooked, obviously enjoying themselves. It was gorgeous. Most fun I had all day.


That was the last full class I had. I had two more “groups” with two kids each. One a homeschooling family with two brothers (my favorite part of this session was seeing the older boy actually jump when a snake struck), and the other a pair of Jr. Highers in wheel chairs that I read an illustrated folktale to.


For now, I’m just glad Elisha chose to wait, and let me have that time. I’m very curious to see if anything spontaneous will come out of this event for me. God knows I don’t have the oomph/inclination to do anything just now

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