Seeing Shadows at Storytime!

With Groundhog day behind us, and 6 more weeks of winter ahead of us (sorry, spoilers) I present to you a 3 Story Act (or is it 3 act story?) By a co-worker of mine, Bethany, who was kind enough to guest blog about a recent program she hosted at the library.

Her program did a wonderful job of integrating the Common Core Standards of Speaking and Listening comprehension and collaboration by giving them a chance to “evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.” as well as Common Core Standards of Speaking and Listening presentation of knowledge and ideas 

Here’s what she had to say.

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I adore making silhouettes. It is an art form that combines simplicity with sophistication, depending on the intricacy of the detail you choose to incorporate into the paper cutouts. There is something marvelously intriguing about the mystery of a shadow. Looking at something’s silhouette, you cannot quite tell who it is or make out all the details of that figure’s appearance, so you just look at the outline and fill in the gaps with your imagination.

I had to find a way to make silhouettes part of a craft and/or storytelling activity for children. So when the chance came for me to plan my first ever youth services program (WOOHOO!), I was thinking about doing some sort of program for a holiday, and BAM—I realized that Groundhog Day fell on a weekend (the library’s busiest time) this year, and would provide the perfect context for planning a program about SHADOWS.

I decided to present a “Shadow Puppet Theater” by telling children some stories about groundhogs, using a cast of black paper silhouette characters I made. I made my puppet theater itself out of a big cardboard box. Cut out the bottom and lay it on its side. Make the screen by covering the opening with a large piece of white paper. Leave two of the boxes flaps open on the side to create “curtains” for the stage. I covered the flaps with sparkly gold material, and draped a sheer red scarf over the “screen” for a stage curtain. I set a small battery operated lantern inside the theater behind the screen to provide the illumination for the props. I taped a line of black construction paper at the bottom of the white paper to hide my hands from view as I operated the characters. I also taped a few wintry trees to the white paper for a stock background for my stories, which all had a similar setting. You can only hold onto so many characters on sticks at once, so choose simple stories that do not require many actions or characters or scenery needing to be used at once. I memorized three stories to tell: Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox by Susan Blackaby, Groundhog Stays Up Late by Margery Cuyler, and Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts. I also set up a bunch of groundhog storybooks for parents and kids to check out in case they wanted more. It is my personal philosophy to tie every library program I do back to reading and promoting the library collection.

The coolest thing about this program was that it gave kids the chance to both listen to stories and to create their own. We talked about what Groundhog Day was, and then they all sat in the dark and watched me perform the stories. I think the unusual mode of storytelling was what captured and held their attention! Even though I actually forgot to ever lift the sheer red curtain off the white screen, no one noticed. In the dark, the light still shone through the screen and enabled everyone to see the characters, and one parent even commented later that the curtain created a neat illusory effect in the theater. Note to self here: in future, if you mess up any part of a performance, don’t make a big deal out of it. Act natural and run with it, even if you have to go in a different direction than planned. Many times people only catch on to a mistake if you draw attention to it!

Kids love making shadow puppets with their hands, and that kind of storytelling provides a great way for them to practice fingerplay and other hand movement coordination. That could be another programming option I use in future. But this time, having kids make shadow puppet silhouettes out of black construction paper gave them a chance to get crafty. The supplies for this craft are simple, but the fine motor skills involved help them practice some detail-oriented skills like tracing and cutting out shapes. I provided a few cardstock animal/object templates (the dinosaur proved to be a kid favorite) for tracing, but also encouraged kids to draw their own silhouette characters. Once they cut out their silhouettes, all the kids had to do was tape them to a craft stick and head for the shadow puppet theater to test out their creations.

I think the kids had even more fun with the craft part of the program because it let them be in charge of performing. They loved taking turns using the puppet theater to show off their cutouts and many of them even started telling their own stories, either mumbling to themselves or talking to the onlookers. Some kids even collaborated with each other. It feels great to be able to say that my first program turned out to be a wonderful way to combine watching and listening, creating and participating, storytelling and crafting for children.

~Bethany Boutin Youth Services Library Intern

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I helped out with the program (sorta) so I was able to sneak in some pictures as she performed; It was really cool! The pictures don’t do it justice, and there was a good crowd in attendance, but not too big, which was good considering it wouldn’t have been easy for them all to see. From what I could gather, it went over fabulously and the kids really got into it both during, and after when they were able to go perform with their newly created silhouette characters!

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Bethany Boutin performing Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts.

Time to make our own!

Time to make our own!

all you need are some good shapes...

all you need are some good shapes…

black paper, white crayons, scissors, and sticks to attach the cutouts to.

black paper, white crayons, scissors, and sticks to attach the cutouts to.

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