Making stories sparkle for children with complex learning needs

Once upon a time a little lady named Gwyn ran a little company, from a little house, in a little village. Although Gwyn was a little lady, in a little house, in a little village, she delivered big courses all over the world. Then suddenly a nasty germ started making people very poorly and everything around the world stopped. Gwyn decided she must do something to cheer children up, while they were stuck inside sheltering from the nasty germ. In her big cupboard of sparkly things, Gwyn found her story character, Marvin, and she set about doing something to help.

On Monday 23 March 2020 she went LIVE on Facebook and the Story Time Show was born. Gradually over the weeks ahead many families from around the world discovered the show and a wonderful positive community formed at a most difficult time. Children started to respond to the show. Gwyn saw the difference it made as parents shared photos and videos of their children’s joy and engagement. A further fifty-four Story Time Shows were presented to an untold number of children until the end of the first lockdown.

As the world moved on line, a conversation took place between Gwyn and the Statewide Coordinator of the Kentucky Deafblind Project – Dr Donna Carpenter. Donna talked about the children she and her team support, saying, ‘For many of our children, books from the store are rarely accessible or meaningful. Our families ask….

How can we bring books/stories to life for our children?

How can we as a family enjoy literacy together?’

What happened next?

In summer 2020, ten South-East States Deafblind Projects collaborated to create a ‘Family Story Time Show’ for their families. They realised they needed a ‘unicorn’…someone with lots of enthusiasm, who could connect with children through the screen, especially those children with complex learning needs. While watching Gwyn’s Story Time Shows they realised that she might make their perfect unicorn!

The Family Story Time Show Project Aims

• To expand access to literacy: Bringing books/stories to life for children

• Build confidence and support at home: Increase the child’s literacy and language skills while having fun

• Meet other families: Ten States – lots of families to meet!

• Build a home library: Make an accessible, fun library for home!

• Have fun with the whole family.

How does the Story Time Show work to increase engagement and communication?

Each highly colourful, lively show starts with an engaging, rainbow wheel welcome to draw the children in. High contrast, glittery cardboard characters enact Marvin’s adventures. Children are encouraged to join in with the show’s catchy songs. Highly energetic, enthusiastic storytelling, ‘shout-outs, rhythms and funny voices all combine to maintain the children’s focus and attention. Children respond warmly to Marvin’s mid-show chat, a moment enhanced by each having their own Marvin doll to interact with. Live captioning and two interpreters ensure an accessible show and families are given materials to make the fun crafts demonstrated live.

How does the show continue to support families?

With two series successfully completed, the South-East States are about to participate in an eight week summer show run. The Midwest States Deafblind Projects have also collaborated to have Story Time Shows for their families. To date the show has reached over 150 families across twenty-two States from Alaska to California to the British Virgin Islands. Parents have attended training with Gwyn to understand the essentials of literacy and to create their own accessible stories. There is interest from Special Education Needs Directors across the USA…In July the South East States Deafblind Projects are presenting at the Office for Special Education Programs (OSEP) Leadership & Project Directors Conference about the impact the Story Time Shows have had on children’s literacy outcomes.

The Sparkly Library of Accessible Stories dream

This is happening! Donna and Gwyn have collaborated to create the International Community of Sparkly Story Writers to bring parents and educators together to write accessible stories. Stories and linked resource ideas will be added to an online Sparkly Library that can be downloaded by families, to simply listen to, retell, or enact.

In May 2021 the first meeting of the community brought together 35 parents and educators. The buzz was electric and everyone left excited, enthusiastic and ready to write. August’s meeting should see the first stories added to the library! An exciting invitation for you…..We would like to welcome you to join this group, to write simple, accessible stories. Come and be part of something exciting and dynamic and help to make stories sparkle for children!

Contact gwyn@positiveeye.co.uk