Putting it out there………

Right, so I figured I might just write down, for the first ‘official’ time, what my thoughts and hopes are about what Story Seekers could become.

Having worked in a very structured profession as a teacher all my adult life and having had no-one close to me who has ever set up their own business from scratch, I feel as though I don’t even know where to start.

I’ve think I’ve done all the things I could easily do without too much time or financial commitment – registered the domain name, set up an email account, a Twitter account, etc.  I’ve done some pretty basic research into the technicalities and the admin side of running a business, but I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to pick these things up once they become more relevant, i.e., when I’m a bit closer to actually starting ‘work’ (I feel the need to emphasise that, as it always irks me a little when people imply that being at home with two small children isn’t work!  As I’m sure most people who’ve been there and done that know, it’s one of the hardest jobs ever!).  I have many flaws, but one of my positive qualities is that I’m very organised, so even being as self-critical as am, I think I could cope with the admin side of things.

I have lots of ideas for advertising and marketing Story Seekers too, although again, they’re not really appropriate yet.

I’ve done lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots………..!) of reading around reading and have gained confidence in forming and expressing my own ideas on the subject – being vocal about my passions and beliefs is something I’ve always found harder, so at least there’s been that one positive spin-off even at this stage.  To go off on a slight tangent, two of the best books I have read (so far – still got a huge stack waiting for me (which is SUCH a lovely feeling – I really worry when I don’t have a few books lined up 😉 ) are ‘Reading magic’ by Mem Fox, and ‘The rights of the reader’ by Daniel Pennac.  The latter has been mentioned a few times this week, by various people I follow on Twitter and in various publications, so I’m not the first to post this, but I wanted to include a link to this poster – with the gorgeous Quentin Blake illustrations – as I just love it!

http://www.walker.co.uk/UserFiles/file/Rights%20of%20the%20reader/NYOR_ROTR.pdf

I guess the main worry I have is that the actual concept of Story Seekers is somehow flawed; that my (to me) oh-so-exciting idea just won’t work in real life.  So, despite many reservations (and terribly vain fantasies about people stealing my ideas – ha ha, I’m pretty sure that’s not a problem yet!), I thought I’d try and write down the sort of thing I’m imagining.

Maybe it’ll make it clearer to me, maybe some of you will be kind enough to offer your thoughts and advice, maybe it’ll just make me feel good for having completed yet another blog post – who knows!  My head is telling me that it can’t do any harm, so here goes:

My rambling thoughts at this stage!

1)  I’d like to develop a baby and toddler class that focused on the importance and FUN of reading with children.  If possible, I’d like to make this available from birth (or even antenatally, though really not sure what interest there’d be for that!) as I remember how nice it was to have a reason to get out of the house in the early days, plus I read somewhere this week (if anyone can point me in the direction of the article I’ll happily credit it, but I can’t remember the source right now) that a lot of parents don’t start reading to their children until they are about seven months old, which misses an important window in language development.

Age-wise, the classes would be grouped in stages, up until the child started school.

Each session would involve reading some or all of at least one book and then some sensory, musical and play activities linked to the book(s), plus maybe an oral storytelling element where I took a few suggestions from the group and then made up a story about them on the spot.  This is a game that my granny used to play with us when we were younger and we LOVED it!  I would also like to offer hand-outs, and have an accompanying website, that provided information about associated books (i.e., if your child enjoyed this book, then perhaps they might also like…), music, websites (and maybe even apps) and further activities that parents and children could do together linked to the texts.

The sessions would maybe be grouped into modules, so that we had a few weeks on stories related to food, a few weeks on animals, etc, with modules being appropriate to each age group.

It might be that the youngest age group was run as an all-morning drop-in session rather than a fixed-time class, but either way, it would certainly be relaxed, allow space for feeding, etc.  I am keen that the groups would also allow parents and carers to have a chance to meet, as most of the classes I took / take C and H to didn’t have this and I found it very odd to bump into someone in Sainsbury’s and not even know their name, despite having been at a music class with them for nearly a year!  So maybe a 15 minute ‘chat’ slot at the end of each class????  I know some groups already do this, but have just never been to done myself.

I’d also like to have a system for lending out books and story sacks on a weekly basis, if possible.

2)  I would love to also take these classes into children’s centres, pre-schools and nurseries, either as a weekly activity (C’s pre-school has a weekly music lesson from an external provider) or on a workshop basis, to provide a stimulus for further activities after I’d gone.

3)  If possible, I’d also love to run after-school clubs at primary schools along the same lines as the above, although again, obviously with age-appropriate texts.

4)  In a TOTAL dream world, I’d also like to organise a small-scale pop-up children’s literature festival in my area, based around the same themes as the above and, I’m sure, also influenced by the many larger events of this sort that already exist.

Here are my worries!

a)  That parents wouldn’t buy into this idea as they see reading as a more intimate, family activity that is done at home.  I did read a really interesting interview with the author Frank Cottrell Boyce this week – http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jun/18/frank-cottrell-boyce-interview?CMP=twt_gu – and this quote particularly encouraged me:

“In his talks, he emphasises the pleasure of people reading together: book circles, families queuing to read the latest JK Rowling or similar, school classes passing a book round and taking turns to read out loud.

The communal side appeals to him, even after years in the highly competitive media world. He says: “Competition will sharpen a knife, but never make one.” Mutual encouragement, and the sort of teamwork he has experienced in the film world, are the means to increase the pleasure of reading still more.”

Maybe the key is me just working out how to translate his admirable sentiments into a tangible activity that would really help parents?  Still not sure…

b) That parents would think that my classes were actively going to help with the technical aspects of children learning to read.  Having closely followed the furore over the phonics testing for Year 1 that was introduced this week, I’d want to make it really clear that my classes were contributing to the ‘bigger picture’ of encouraging children to read for pleasure as children and as adults, as I believe it is this approach that supports all the claims  about readers having better ‘life chances’.  As a result of this, it might be that there are no quantifiable benefits that I could claim to deliver (they wouldn’t be able swim, to use baby signing, play a drum in time, climb a climbing frame, etc) in the same way that other baby classes can.  I’m sure that pretty much all parents would say they wanted their child to enjoy reading, but whether they’d pay to have someone (hopefully) help them achieve this without any immediate guarantee of success is another matter.

c)  That there are already enough baby and toddler classes around, as well as free sessions at the library, etc and regardless of how important people might consider the content of Story Seekers, there are only so many hours in the day and pennies in the bank.

d)  That because I am the kind of person I am and also because I am so involved with the subject matter and am so excited by it and believe in it so much, I won’t be able to be objective enough to operate it as a business.  I know you definitely need passion to get a business of your own off the ground and that no-one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself, but maybe I’m just not the right person to deliver all of this stuff.

OK, well, I think that’s everything for now.  I’m sure there’ll be other aspects that I suddenly realise I’ve left out, and I know for certain that I’ll always find more worries to add to the list, but I think this about covers it for now.  Huge congrats if you’ve actually read this far – please accept a virtual gold star for your efforts!  If you’re also kind enough to offer your own comments, then please have a further virtual ten house-points and a virtual shiny certificate 🙂

TTFN xxxx

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9 comments

  1. You’ve put lots of thought into this, it’s really interesting to read your ideas and hats off to you for putting them out there for us to comment on! I agree c) is a concern, but it depends on the quality of the free library sessions in your area which I imagine vary. And if you are providing extra value through the linked activities, story sacks, socialising etc then as long as you spell out those benefits clearly I think you could overcome that. I also think it would be interesting to develop how you would run the class for babies, as to be honest I am probably one of those who did not read to my children in the very early months and I would be interested to know the benefits of that and how you would engage the babies (would you mainly engage the parents in that group?)
    Here’s an idea which might be difficult to run with but I think would be interesting – what about a club which meets outdoors? Our local country park runs storytelling walks during the summer months which are very popular. You could link stories to location, although I appreciate there are insurance/safety/weather implications in not having an indoor location! But just finding something a little quirky/different would help to build an audience I think and is something I would be more interested in paying for.
    Just some random thoughts, hope they are useful :o)

  2. They’re really useful, thank you so much for sharing them!

    The outside idea is fab – I used to love teaching outside at school – and I’m sure with enough planning I could overcome the potential health and safety issues. Even if the whole premise of the group wasn’t based around meeting outside, I could certainly have a couple of modules in the summer that were linked to the outdoors and that involved the sessions being outside.

    I would hope that Storyseekers would offer a bit more than the library sessions I’m aware of in the area, although you make a good point in that obviously I’d have to clearly emphasis this when promoting the class, so that parents were aware of how Storyseekers was differentiating itself and the extra benefits it would hopefully provide.

    I also know that with C and H, the classes we’ve paid for in advance are the ones we always attend, but we are a bit more relaxed about the ones that are free / pay on the day. Not that I’d use that fact to promote the business at all, but I remember in the very early days with C and H that I actually quite liked having something for which I HAD to get out of the house 🙂

    Re the baby sessions, I was thinking there would be a different balance of reading and other activities, so that sensory activities, etc played perhaps a greater part. There would still be a focus on a text (of the touchy feely, squishy, squashy sort – we could even use water and bath books with the slightly older ones!) and there would perhaps be a ‘break-out’ time where parents could take a copy of the text and have a quiet bonding time reading to their babies. For the group read, the parents would have ‘props’ to use with their individual child whilst we read the book.

    Perhaps the oral storystelling element would be slightly different too and would focus on the simple retelling of an event that had happened to one of the babies that week. That way, parents would hopefully feel confident to go away and do the same with their babies – with C and H, I used to provide pretty much a running commentary on what we were doing (I’m sure lots of people already do this too), but from that, it’s a small step to translating that chatter into a summary ‘story’ at the end of each day. Children of that age aren’t necessarily going to demand a fast-paced thriller and tired parents probably aren’t going to have the time or energy to create an imaginative plot off the top of their heads at bedtime. However, the oral storytelling habit is a lovely one to develop, and I think it definitely supports later work on school, when children are asked to write stories of their own. Clearly, having been exposed to lots of great story books is going to play a big part in that as well!!!!

    Thanks again for your comments – it’s great to have more to think about!

    1. Sorry, I only just saw this reply! Brilliant, you’ve thought about it in so much detail, I’m sold 🙂

      1. Woo hoo – great news!

  3. This is such a great idea. We read to Mig from birth and now he is only just 2 and will sit and listen to stories written for much older childre with very few pictures because he just loves reading and being read too. If I can help in any way (and I have a couple of ideas actually link to my Home Grown business (www.mum-of-the-mig.com/home-grown) then let me know!

    Keep going, every idea is viable and yours sounds like the start of something great! xx

  4. Thanks so much for commenting, Charlotte – I really appreciate it! Lucky old Mig sounds as though he’s going to be a fellow book-worm 🙂 Will check out your Home Grown business site today xx

  5. I think this is a wonderful idea! In fact I’ve been musing about doing something similar myself, although for many reasons it’s not something that’s possible at the moment – my two girls are similar ages to yours and I’m currently working full-time. But I have daydreams about giving it all up when the girls are both at school and running interactive story sessions for pre-school children (I’d also love to have a children’s book shop and in my elaborate daydreams it’s a large shop with a café area and a separate room to host such story sessions!!)

    I really think it’s possible to make a business out of this (although quite how lucrative it would be I’m not sure….) I’ve been to many baby/toddler groups and I think there’s a real gap for a story based class/group. There’s so much potential for it (as you’ve described above) and I’ve seen some examples of people reading stories to groups of young children in such an engaging way that they’re absolutely captivated. The Discover Story Centre in Stratford near where we live is amazing at this, and a lady at a music class we go to sometimes reads books using soft toys to help tell the story and she is amazing. The rhyme time at our local library is not that great but is still pretty well attended… perhaps because it is free, but I do think people are prepared to pay for good quality baby/toddler classes – and you’re right you are more committed to going once you’ve signed up to a block of classes that drop-ins or free classes.

    I really wish you the best of luck with your venture and as a fellow book-loving mum if I can help in any way I’m more than happy to! I look forward to following your story and seeing how it all progresses for you!

  6. Hi Charelle, thanks SO much for your comments and your words of support! You definitely sound like a kindred spirit 🙂
    Having a bookshop / cafe / workshop area is something I’ve always aspired to as well (I think I harbour secret dreams of something like Meg Ryan’s shop in “You’ve Got Mail’!), although as it would cost a lot more to set up than Storyseekers, it’s unfortunately not really an option!
    We have the same situation with Rhyme Time at our local library – very well attended, but it’s not really about sharing books, it’s singing songs and playing with instruments. I’d be very keen to try (somehow) and have Storyseekers as something that collaborated with the library rather then competed with it, so was thinking I could maybe run a session there once a month for free?
    I’ve tried to work out some really rough costs for Storyseekers and you’re right, it’s definitely not going to me make me millions, so I guess it’s lucky I’m not going into it for that reason 😉 Hopefully it will be enough to keep me going though, fingers crossed…
    I’m still toying with the idea of organising a small children’s literature festival as a way of ‘launching’ Storyseekers, as well – of course – of doing something worthwhile for the local area and helping people see how fun reading is!
    I’m hoping to write another couple of blog posts tonight, with more detail about what the festival might entail, as well as what the Storyseekers sessions might look like, so hopefully you’ll still like the idea after reading a bit more!
    After that, I’m hoping to start posting reasonably regularly to share some of the books, props and activities I’d like to include in the Storyseekers sessions, so it would be great to hear what you think about those too.
    Thanks again for your feedback and I look forward to ‘chatting’ again soon!
    P.S. @mummy_plum told me about storyexplorers.co.uk, which is in Richmond, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in London?

    1. I’m sure your local library would be happy to have volunteer your services and it would be a great way to dip your toe in the water so to speak.

      I checked out the storyexplorers site – looks great. We’re on the other side of London but could be worth a visit. Have you ever been to Seven Stories in Newscastle? It’s excellent.

      Really look forward to seeing your next posts. I wad so inspired today I wrote a post about my own book-life fantasy!

      I think your festival idea sounds great. They seem to be a growing trend – have seen loads advertised although havent managed to get to one yet! Maybe yours will be the first!

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