Steamboat Spellbinders continues to enchant young readers |

Steamboat Spellbinders continues to enchant young readers

Mike Forney visiting Anna White's fifth grade class at Strawberry Park Elementary.

Many have childhood memories of parents and teachers reading from brightly colored books with a rhyme between every line. Students from a handful of classes at Strawberry Park Elementary and Soda Creek Elementary will have quite different memories — ones of oral storytelling — thanks to the Steamboat Spellbinders.

“Storytelling is ancient,” said Steamboat Spellbinders chapter leader Sherry Holland. “It was the beginnings of language and communication. Through storytelling, we can tell a story that is personal. It is something that you give someone that they can keep forever.”

The National Spellbinders was founded in Aspen 25 years ago by Germaine Dietsch with the goal of reconnecting generations. In 2008, Currie Meyer founded the Steamboat Spellbinders.

The chapter, one of 12 in Colorado, started with eight tellers. Since their inaugural year, the Steamboat Spellbinders has trained more than 80 tellers and, during the 2014-2015 school year, had 14 active storytellers who visited their designated classroom once a month.

Also during this year, the Steamboat Spellbinders visited 33 classrooms and 890 students for a total of 199 visits and 5006 listeners. In addition to classrooms, they spoke at the Pumpkin Light Theater, the Crawford Haunted Mansion, the senior center, Book Feast at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and the Boys and Girls Club.

Four-year member Mike Forney has told stories to Anna White and Jonna Hoza’s fifth-grade classes at Strawberry Park Elementary for the past three years.

“Telling a story is so much different than reading a story,” said Forney. “If you’re reading a story, you’re limited in bringing the experience to the kids because you’re reading the words of the authors. When you tell a story, you’re telling it from not only your perspective, but also from the kids’ perspective.

For example, when Forney tells stories of the Revolutionary War, he talks about the 10-year-old boys who were messengers, fifers and drummers in the war. He asks his fifth graders, who are the same age, to think about how they would feel if they were next to George Washington going into battle.

“They get engrossed in these types of stories,” said Forney. “I can also move around, use different voices or literally perform a short play or playlet. I came in once wearing an old hat and old jeans and told the story of Joe Hahn of Hahn’s Peak from his perspective as an old miner.”

The Spellbinders’ success is not limited to first-person observation. Nationally recognized story expert Kendall Haven has published his findings regarding neurological and cognitive story research in his books “Story Proof” and “Story Smart.”

His studies indicate story structure is an information delivery system that is “evolutionarily hardwired” into our brains because of the human historical reliance on the story to communicate and remember essential information.

Holland believes in such research and has personally seen the results in her audiences.

“As I’ve worked with younger kids in storytelling, I’ve realized they can hear a story one time and then can tell it verbatim after that one time because they’re engaged face-to-face rather than behind a book,” she said.

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