Yesterday, I traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon and had the chance to visit William Shakespeare’s birthplace and several of the properties where he lived over the course of his life. It was a stupendous day. As I strolled through the yards where the Bard of Avon once himself wandered, I remembered all of his stories that I have come to love and appreciate over the years. I grew up admiring Walter Crane’s Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden and much of high school was spent pouring over Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and the Tempest along with his sonnets. In university, I now realize that it is thanks to my teachers who introduced me to all of these stories that my love of stories has persisted. In the gallery of the Stratford museum, a quotation from the end of The Tempest greets visitors. It is taken from an exchange between Alonso and Prospero and reads simply: “I long to hear the story of your life”.
From a very young age, we learn about stories. We learn to listen to them and we learn to tell them ourselves. We seek to understand them and we learn to write our own. From a very young age, knowing about stories – writing and reading them – can change a child’s life.
In 2017, the Community Learning team at Trafford College in the Greater Manchester area invited local Trafford primary schools to participate in a Creative Writing project. Over the course of four weeks, parents got the opportunity to participate in a creative story-writing workshop alongside their children. They learned about how to get started, how to develop characters and how to create plot. The goal was to impart parents with the creative tools to continue supporting their children writing for pleasure at home. I spoke with Sarah Roiditis, an English tutor at the college and a member of the functional skills team who told me more about the initiative.
The project is called Trafford Tales and was created to help parents support children with their learning. As Sarah said, it not only “helped parents improve their own writing” but also “gave parents the opportunity to write their own story with the help of their child”. After the workshop concluded, children became published authors. With the tangible Tales, they got the chance to see their names printed and shared – who knows whether that precious proud moment could be the impetus for much more writing to come. Parents had the happiness of experiencing the rewards of the project in a more subtle way. Through the Trafford Tales, they had the chance to share a writing experience with their children in school and create a special time and memory with them.
Maybe, through workshops such as these, we realize that we have the power to shape our stories. Maybe, we also realize that stories have the power to shape us. Parents have a marvelous influence in introducing their children to a love of stories. Effectively, parents who participate in workshops that encourage writing for children are raising readers.
The Montreal Gazette published an article called, “Getting the word out about children's literature in Montreal” by Bernie Goedhart last November. In it, Goedhart speaks with Robert Paterson, a member on the board of the Knowlton Literary Festival Association, who emphasizes the importance of reading to the very young. Below is an excerpt from the article:
“Children need to hear a lot of words by the age of two,” he said, noting that it’s crucial to the acquisition of language and vocabulary. “The wonderful thing about being read to as an infant is that you’re bathing that child in words. Parents are holding the babies in their arms and that touch is important — the touch, the words, and the culture of reading for pleasure.”
Reading to children and introducing them to stories from a young age contributes greatly to stimulating their imagination and encouraging their natural creativity. Children and Parents reading and writing together can be even more beneficial. A decade ago, Literacy in Action and the Yamaska Literacy Council released a booklet entitled Learning with your Child. In it, they describe the multi-faceted role that parents have in raising readers. You can view it here.
Eventually, children learn to read themselves and are imparted with the tools they need to write their own stories. And somehow, there isn’t a word to describe how valuable that is. However, it can be gleaned in the way we write the story of our lives. Earlier in The Tempest, Prospero famously says, “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep”. The more we read, the more we expose ourselves to different life stories. More often times than not, these stories expand our world view and help us realize the power we have as storied individuals. As we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week, let us remember his immortal words: We are such stuff as dreams are made on. And so the story goes.
Support the Trafford Tales initiative and order your book copy here.