HomeMoorestown NewsA tale to tell: professional storyteller visits MFS

A tale to tell: professional storyteller visits MFS

Charlotte Blake Alston shared her gift for storytelling with MFS’ Lower School students.

On Tuesday, March 19, professional storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston visited students at Moorestown Friends School to teach them about storytelling. Alston used her voice and facial expressions to captivate the second grade class.

On Tuesday, March 19, a room full of Moorestown Friends School second-graders sat at full attention as professional storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston spoke. With her voice as her only tool, she weaved a tale that had nearly every student leaning forward, eyes wide and locked on Alston as they clung to her every word.

Alston spent a full-day residency at MFS’ Lower School to share her gift for storytelling. In a series of workshops with students in preschool through fourth grade, Alston showed them how to use their tone, words and bodies to tell stories of their own.

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The roots of Alston’s storytelling were planted in childhood. Every night, Alston’s father would take a book or newspaper and have some quiet time to read. As a bit of a daddy’s girl, Alston would take her own book into the room and sit silently just to be near her father.

Over time, he began reading aloud to Alston, and one day he gave her a book of poetry. She quickly started to memorize the poems, and her father took notice. So, he wrote monologues for her to perform. By the age of 6, Alston was comfortable speaking in front of people.

Alston went on to teach at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. She was responsible for two assemblies a year, and so, at the end of the year, she dramatized a folktale for her kindergarteners, who were to perform the piece as a play. She was taken aback by the audience reaction, who commended her on the performance.

So, she went to listen to a performance at The Patchwork Storytelling Guild in Philadelphia. She was struck by the way someone could just use their voice to transport listeners. Alston subsequently began researching the African American and African traditions of passing history down through oral storytelling.

“I immediately understood its power,” Alston said.

Today, she brings her stories to festivals, schools, colleges, museums and libraries throughout the United States. She performs traditional and contemporary African and African Amerian stories, and at times, she incorporates instruments, including a djembe, mbira, shekere or a 21-string kora.

She regularly travels to schools to discuss storytelling with students. She wants students to know that through their words, bodies and voices, they can communicate feeling and understanding. She said her workshops are designed to help students with their writing, language and communication skills.

She sees her workshops as enhancing what teachers are already doing in the classroom in the areas of writing and oral expression. Alston said oral storytelling frees students up to be creative while still feeding into their language development and vocabulary.

“When we could give life to words and speak those words out loud, there’s something different that happens in the brain when you speak those words out loud than writing or even reading from the page,” Alston said.

Often, Alston hears from teachers who are amazed she kept the students’ attention for an hour. On Tuesday, Alston had every child in the room participating in exercises where she encouraged students to use their voices to convey different tones. She had the group speaking in silly tones, angry tones, joyous tones. By the time Alston left, the class was all smiles and still buzzing about the story of a two-head man she had just told.

Alston said she regularly receives drawings or letters from students who enjoyed her stories. She said she never knows when her presentations might spark an interest for a student.

“You can never underestimate the short-term or long-term impact you can have on a child’s life,” Alston said.


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