I was recently asked to provide a storytelling program for Family Reading and Math Night at a Title One Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. The evening celebration proved to be a surprising and wonderful time for everyone involved. I hope other schools will seriously consider doing an interactive evening like this.  

Students and parents brought blankets to sit on and enjoy an informal, light picnic dinner in the school courtyard. My story program to complement the love of reading and the joy of problem solving through math was next. The schedule for the evening concluded with some creative, hands-on workshops.  

Prior to the event, I provided the teachers with a resource list and an outline of the stories I planned to tell. I also gave them some suggested workshop activities to consider.    

I encouraged the school librarian to set aside some books with stories similar to the tales I would be telling. By providing easy access to a variety of books, interested students could read these stories from different authors and see how folktales are creatively rewritten today. 

My story session started with an introduction to the Tangram, the ancient Chinese puzzle using seven geometric shapes to create recognizable figures and objects. I made a dog and a cat from these shapes as the audience watched. The students participated by identifying the seven shapes that make up a Tangram.

With the dog and cat shapes in place, I shared a traditional pourquoi tale, “Why Dogs and Cats Are No Longer Friends.”

The next story was “Counting the Donkeys,” a humorous middle eastern Nasrudin tale about the need to remember to count every donkey, even your own.   

I then told the story of “The Mice and the Elephants.” This one of my favorite tales from India because it reminds listeners about other stories featuring unlikely animals helping one another. For students who have had an introduction to world literature, the Aesop tale of the “Mouse and the Lion” is frequently mentioned as being similar to the mice and elephant story. 

I usually bring a puppet with me to storytelling sessions. For this event, I brought Scratcher the Mouse. Scratcher’s personality is child-like, and children usually love it when he appears. He told a short story from Mexico that he calls, “Grandma Mouse.” It is a tale about a mouse who barks like a dog to scare away a cat. The story ends with Grandma telling the little mice, “Sometimes it is a good idea if you know a second language.” Scratcher’s tale about the barking mouse is a great way to reinforce the value of being bilingual. 

I ended the set with a prop story I call “Sara.” My “Sara” story is really the well-known tailor story first recorded as a Jewish folksong from Russia. My rendition of the tale is from the point of view of the tailor’s daughter, and students seem to identify nicely with this approach.   

As the storytelling concluded, I reminded the audience to be sure to attend the family workshops before going home.  Following are the sessions the teachers developed that related to two of the stories I told.
(1) Making Tangram Puzzles and Shapes
(2) Making a Sequential Prop (to illustrate an original story) 
The positive feed-back I received after this school Family Reading and Math Night has been energizing for me. While I firmly believe stories and storytelling are essential to the learning process throughout life, it is not often I am able to experience first-hand such enthusiastic, intergenerational participation during and immediately following a show.  

If you are involved with organizing a family celebration at a school, I encourage you to try a Family Reading and Math Night. You will be well rewarded.