1 July 2019

Written by Pauline Hammond, a Story Starter volunteer in Liverpool

I began volunteering as a Story Starter with Coram Beanstalk in November 2017. After retiring from the NHS, I was looking for something that was completely unlike my previous job (Assistant Director of Nursing at a Regional Cancer Centre), but knew I wanted to do something that involved people.

I have always been passionate about reading; getting up earlier than needed for work so that I would have time to read a chapter or two, and ensuring I read a few more before bed, so when I saw an advert on Facebook for Story Starters, it immediately grabbed my attention. I applied online, and was invited to an interview held at a local school. I have to admit, it was a long time since I had been interviewed for a position, so I arrived with a little trepidation and a few nerves, but was put instantly at ease.

Working in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Edge Hill University, I would be involved in a project looking at whether early intervention using a range of books with children aged three to five prepared them better to start school. I’m pleased to say I was successful at interview, and, following training, commenced as a Story Starter in January 2018 at a wonderful school, Rivacre Valley Primary School.

The staff in the school are tremendously supportive and made me feel very welcome from day one. Initially I was very nervous, as this was a completely different area from one I was used to, and at first I was afraid that I would forget everything I had been taught about introducing a child to the wonderful world of books, but the resources that Coram Beanstalk make available to you ensure that you have the necessary information to check that you are doing it correctly. The local coordinator kept in touch by phone, text and e-mail, and I knew I could ask her if I had any queries.

My first cohort of children were lovely! Two girls and a boy, all aged four years and all completely different! Each month, both myself and the child in the project are sent the same book through the post from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library - the idea is that they will be introduced to the book at home, and then we can look at it together during our scheduled time - which is 20 minutes each child, twice a week. It quickly became apparent which child had been shown the book at home, sadly it’s not unusual to find that some children don’t know how to open a book and hold it the correct way up, but can whizz around an electronic tablet with skills that belie their age!

It has not been difficult to engage with the children, the assortment of books is varied enough to catch their attention with something they like, and I do tend to make or buy 'props' to help out with understanding the story; for example I make telescopes from kitchen roll cardboard to go with Shark in the Park, or Pirate Stories. I have a range of finger puppets that regularly find themselves as characters in the stories, and use glove puppets as an intermediary between the child and I.

The best thing about being a Story Starter is seeing the enjoyment and enthusiasm of a small child through story telling; for example when they use their imagination and make stories to go with a book called 'You Choose which doesn’t have any words is priceless.

I feel very lucky that I saw the advert for Story Starters, and feel very privileged that I can play a small but important part in the introduction and love of books to small people!

Written by Pauline Hammond. 

If you have been inspired by Pauline to become a Story Starter volunteer, please fill out an online application form.