We are now at the end of the first week of teaching the 5th annual ‘Right Story at the Right Time’ -storytelling for children and teens. I would like to dedicate the following musings to the wonderful MariannadeCroes, my American companion who sadly, because of recent changes to visa regulations can no longer carry this course with me in the UK. The work continues! They can blow out a candle but they can't blow out a fire.
2013 was the year the word "Selfie" was officially added to Oxford dictionaries and named by them as ‘word of the year’ after research suggested its frequency in the English language had increased by 17,000% in 2012.
Selfie -noun (plural selfies): A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
Much was said already about ‘selfie’ mirroring a ‘culture of narcissism’ so I will avoid the temptation to add to that, but thinking about how things got to this point I felt inspired to introduce you to a somehow related word which may not be as familiar but is certainly gaining momentum. The word K.A.G.O.Y is an acronym used in the marketing industry to describe the phenomena –Kids Are Growing Older Younger.
Growing up in the world today, watching older kids and adults around them constantly engaging with mobile phones (recent study shows UK average as 150 times a day) and being exposed themselves to digital media, kindergarten children are attracted (or pushed) to play with older-kids’ stuff at an ever earlier age. Acknowledging ‘KAGOY’, clothes and toys that were designed to appeal to 13 year-olds ten years ago were marketed to 9 year olds a couple of years later and are today offered to 4 year olds.
I do not know how many of you storytellers know that in 2012 Christmas's no 1 bestselling toy in the UK and Europe was the Innotab - a child's touch-screen tablet. Following their success the makers recently released ‘Innotab2 and 3-baby’. A touch screen tablet marketed for babies 12 months old and up! It features a rotating self-portrait camera, microphone and Wi-Fi connection. You can see this wonder here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh4wGJAhrUc)
The digital storytelling application on this device cannot unfortunately change its tone of voice if the child is frightened or saddened by a story, nor will it stop if the child falls asleep or, heaven forbid, choke on a peanut…but hey! It is now possible that the next generation of human beings will be able to take their own ‘selfies’ before they learn how to walk and talk!!! Isn’t that advanced?
We live in a fast changing world where many confused parents who wish to help prepare their children for life seek professional advice on what is educational.
The ‘Innotab2 Baby’ is marketed as an educationaltoy backed up by ‘Professionals’!
The problem is that ‘professionals’ now include not just educators but very often business and media people, toy makers, publishers and a ratio of about nine psychologists working as marketing consultants to one working directly with children.
So, is it true that teaching toddlers to use computers is educational and will help their development?
We can perceive that once we enter adulthood our physical body slows down the speed of its growth. The life energy, that was used during childhood as ‘growing forces’ - manifesting as movement, building and developing the physical body, is ‘freed’ from its previous task and is directed and transformed into the new emerging thinking capacities of the head. Thanks to this natural transformation it is possible for us to think, analyse, and intellectually understand abstract concepts. As adults we can think and understand that computers are man-made useful functional tools simulating reality.
Can babies be trained to think and intellectualise? Do they need to?
Babies and young children naturally use all their life forces during the first 7 years for growing, strengthening and developing their physical bodies at a rate that is incomparable with the rest of their lives. Healthy toddlers happily meet any physical challenge, naturally using their whole body in performing any action, which demands interaction with real objects. It is through this movement that theylearn to relate to space around them, balance and develop a true understanding of what is possible and what is not.
The ease with which many different tasks are performed by a computer, with no need to physically move is a tempting illusion for young children. Mesmerised they behold how minimal physical movement (a touch of the tip of the finger –demanding from the child to keep the rest of the body still) results in drawing, colouring, copying, erasing and performing other actions. It pulls the child away from the natural instinct to meet the world physically (e.g. painting using a brush on real paper, making a big mess and helping dad to clean it up…) and as a result leading the child to ‘go up to the head’ and ‘wake up the intellect forces’ too early resulting in a weaker ‘lazy’ body, thinner life forces, frustration when meeting real challenges and confusion between virtual and real life.
Up to the age of 7 and even beyond, children learn through imitation. It is through imitation that healthy children soak up like little sponges all the human gestures, facial expressions, emotions and behaviours around them as a foundation to later explore and develop a range of feelings such as empathy with other human beings.
Young children who spend many hours in front of computers start to imitate the controlled responses, mechanical ‘empty’ emotions and programmed simulations of the real thing resulting for many young children in confusing human with non-human emotions, a soul numbness,apathy and emotional illiteracy.
Play is essential for child development and can influence what kind of tendencies and capacities children develop. This invites parents and anyone working with children to see through to the story behind the toys and games available for children today. Most of the popular games are based on digital and television figures which often were created with no understanding or care for children’s needs. Often the only thinking behind the creation of such toys is financial, aiming at mass consumption, and creating the social pressure to consume more. As T.V and online computer games often replace the babysitter, children fall victims to advertisements and psychological hooks which are used to make them want to spend more time in front of the screen, desire to go up a level in the game, and buy the merchandise.
It is evident that some toddlers know how to work a computer faster than their parents. A healthy human being can learn these skills at any age. It is also clear that using the Internet to access information is easy for children but their real challenge online is discerning what is true, real and relevant, safe and nourishing for them.
Can we consider that preparing young children for life nowadays does not necessarily mean surrounding them with information and technology? Before we rush to plug them into the programmed box can we support children in building a healthy body, expand their imagination, develop social and emotional life skills, morality and a sense of direction?
These will allow children to naturally develop the capacities to protect themselves from the many undesired side effects of exposure to digital media and give them the strength to overcome any challenge!
When these are not developed, the soul numbness discussed earlier will intensify as children reach the teenage years.
Most teenagers naturally develop the tendencies to shut themselves in themselves, to be self-obsessed, test the boundaries and see the world in black and white. We can already see how some of the KAGOY kids reach their teen years with exhausted life forces due to over exposure to media and information. They suffer from boredom, emptiness and addictions. Many of them desensitised by exposure to violence, pornography and unsocial behaviours, struggle with empathy and seek very extreme experiences.
If you can spare 45 minutes please have a look at this link to a Canadian documentary describing the growing trend of ‘SEXTING’ - a sexual variation of the ‘SELFIE’ and its current disturbing impact on teenage culture.
To balance these modern trends and bring a cultural change is a huge social undertaking. It requires courage, awareness and the fostering of an inspiring alternative.
This is a worthy challenge and a call for us storytellers to play our part.
Working with the right intention, the culture we create and share through storytelling has the most potent ingredients to bring forth such alternative. It is powered by real living encounter and true interest in each other. It is fun, caring, social and warm. It is calling for responsibility, sustainability and consciousness. It is inclusive, respectful and healing. It is deeply rooted in its knowing yet flexible and open to change. It nurtures truth beauty and goodness, connecting us with spirit and the essence of our humanity.
Storytelling is truly educational.
May the Year bring you blessings of courage, creativity inspiration and joy!
Storytelling in South Africa
In October, Ashley and I were in Cape Town teaching a 5 week personal storytelling course. We left just before Nelson Mandela died so we missed that extraordinary event BUT the whole course was blessed with the extraordinary presence of Johnson Mlambo who had been on Robben Island with Mandela for 20 years. He was able to attend through the generosity of those of you who donated money to our bursary fund for South Africa for which I cannot thank you enough.
One Sunday morning during the course, Johnson returned to his prison on Robben Island in the company of some of the other students who were able to go with him. In class the next day, people spoke about what a moving experience it was to go to such an historic place with someone who was actually actively involved in the struggle against apartheid. They saw not only Mandela's cell but also where Johnson himself had been incarcerated and heard stories of his time there – personal storytelling at its very best. The photograph was taken on Robben Island (Johnson in the centre) looking across to the mainland and Table Mountain, so close and yet so far for him for so many years.
The courses in South Africa are proving to be a rich and rewarding experience for everyone, not just in the class room but also in the opportunities for people from all backgrounds, religions and nationalities to meet and get to understand each other better. And this is happening in a country which for so long was separated from the rest of the world and whose people were also physically separated from each other.
In other news, last September, Norman Skillen, who completed The Storyteller in the Community in 2010 and who some of you may remember from the Festival in August, and his wife Jenny, bought a huge old Art Deco Mansion in the Muizenberg area of Cape Town, This will become our base for short storytelling courses and Ashley and I will be running the very first one in March, a refresher weekend for former students. There's lots happening in South Africa so watch this space!
Storytelling as a Performing Art from June 15th to July 18th
To celebrate my 60th year I am offering Storytelling as a Performing Art from June 15th to July 18th !
Once in a while we sense that there are storytellers looking for a chance to develop a new programme that will bring people into the presence of who you are and the gifts you can bring them as a storyteller. Over five weeks this course will build on the skills you already have with sessions featuring focused individual coaching, work on your voice, presence and, of course, the stories you have chosen to tell. There will also be new content inspired by how the planets can offer storytellers their genius and wisdom. I will just take 8 participants on this course as each one will give an entire evening of stories in the final week (along with designing a poster for the occasion), which will be a great celebration.
Look online for further details.
PS. The weekend of 4/5/6th July, which features the UK’s largest Storytelling event the ‘Beyond the Border’ Festival, falls within this time. Duncan Mackintosh and I are both performing at the festival and hopefully we can weave this in as a wonderful opportunity to witness a host of remarkable storytellers; for this there will naturally be some extra costs.
And as a Final Note - Good Tidings…
We are delighted to share with you all the happy news of the arrival of our little baby boy Matan (meaning Giving and Gift in Hebrew) to this world. Matan was born in our home on Monday 2nd December 2013 at 22:28. The birth was a love filled event accompanied with story and song. All is well with baby, mom and dad. Those of you who’ll be around Emerson College in the near future are very welcome to come and say hello to His Royal Tininess.