This weekend I have the pleasure of interviewing Graham Davidson and Emily S. Smith about their new, large-scale project, Storytime Lane, described as an ‘out-of-the-box, one-stop shop’ literacy resource for young children, their parents and educators.
Storytime Lane will be a multi-media approach to storytelling that encompasses a YouTube channel showing regular storytelling webisodes, a corresponding website with free resources and activities, and an online store where adults can purchase the stories found 'in the lane.'
In Part One of the interview, view a teaser of the project and find out how Emily and Graham met, what got them so interested in literacy, and what skills each of them brings to Storytime Lane.
Q. What exactly is a storytelling webisode? How is it different from a regular Youtube or TV episode?
EMILY: A Storytime Lane storytelling webisode will combine video of the character of Aunty Em reading the picture books [written and illustrated by Graham and Emily] in “real life” with full screen illustrations of the stories. These illustrations will include simple animated components and lip sync when characters speak. Throughout each webisode, Aunty Em breaks down the 4th wall by asking the viewers what they think of something that’s just happened, and pointing out different things in the story. The idea is to make the Storytime Lane videos more interactive for the children (and adults) watching.
Storytime Lane was created to be more than just YouTube videos or a TV episode. It is a multi-dimensional approach to storytelling, encompassing the YouTube channel, a corresponding website with free resources and activities that promote literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills, and an online store where adults can purchase the stories found “in the lane” to share with the children in their lives. In this way, what is seen in each webisode is only a small part of the overall learning that can occur. By using the resources, such as Storytelling Stones or puppets, in conjunction with watching the videos and having adults share the books “in real life”, children are able to engage with the stories in a multitude of ways. This is what makes Storytime Lane different to a regular YouTube webisode or a TV episode.
GRA: Children have shorter attention spans than most adults, so the traditional half hour program format has little appeal to them, and the rigid programming schedules of free to air television don’t fit with modern lifestyles.
Webisodes are becoming popular marketing tools as they give control to the viewer as opposed to the broadcaster.
The other big benefit is that it allows children the opportunity to watch an episode multiple times, which will help them learn to associate the words they’re hearing with the words on the page. When they get a hard copy of one of our books, their familiarity with the story will make it easier for them to read the book for themselves.
Q. I understand that you are going to have an Auslan interpreter signing some of the stories in each of the webisodes. That sounds really amazing. Why did you choose this over the option of subtitles and how will it work visually for those watching the webisode?
GRA: This is Emily’s great passion, which I think is brilliant. So, I’ll defer to her to answer this one.
EMILY: Thanks, Graham. We really wanted Storytime Lane to be accessible to as many children as possible. The age group we are targeting (2-5 year olds) generally aren’t able to read. Now for hearing children who are watching the webisodes, this isn’t an issue. But for a child who is deaf, following the story becomes a little more challenging. By including an Auslan interpreter signing the stories rather than having subtitles, children who are deaf are able to follow the story in a language that they know and understand, as well as being able to use the illustrations for information. This makes the stories far more accessible to a broader range of children. I personally also think it’s really important to expose young children to diversity from a very young age so it is familiar to them, and they are comfortable with it. In seeing an individual signing the story, it opens up the opportunity for discussions with young children about why they are signing and how there are many different ways of communicating.
Visually, each webisode will have the video of Aunty Em telling the story, and the full screen illustrations, with the Auslan interpreter presented in a small frame in one of the corners of the video. This way, the viewer, whether they be hearing impaired or not, is able to have access to the text as it is spoken and signed.
Q. What kind of free resources and activities can people expect to find on the website? Will you be creating all of these yourselves and how do you intend them to be used?
EMILY: The resources and activities that will be available on the website will all have links to each story presented in the videos in some way. These include literacy resources such as print-outs for masks, puppets, and story-stones, activities related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) such as simple coding algorithm games, matching card games, and “make your own” block puzzles, suggestions and instructions for art experiences, as well as physical movement games. The resources will be “make at home”, whereby parents, carers and educators can print off images and utilise easy-to-find items to create their own. All of the activities and resources will come with instructions and suggestions for how they can be used to encourage literacy and STEM understanding.
GRA: Between Emily’s experience with early childhood learning and my visual creative background, we’ve got the skill set to put together a broad range of these resources. They also give the kids a reason to keep coming back to the site and a sense of belonging by becoming members of the Storytime Lane kid’s club.
Q. At the online store adults can purchase the stories found ‘in the lane’. What does this mean? Will there be print versions of the webisodes available? How will these stories link in with the webisodes?
EMILY: The online store will provide links to online booksellers (such as Amazon, Booktopia and The Book Depository) where adults can purchase the picture books presented in the Storytime Lane webisodes, using a “print-on-demand” format. What this means is that parents, carers and educators can share the “real life”, hardcopy book with their children. Children can also use these books to “read along” with Aunty Em.
Q. When can we expect to see our first webisode and access the website and store?
GRA: We’ll be shooting the footage for the first five books on the same day, so we’ll be able to roll them out as quickly as I can get the illustrations and animation out. We’ll also be preparing a wide range of “how to” videos for the resources page.
The launch will be held at Wallsend Library on Saturday, January 27th at 11am. And of course, everyone who’s interested is welcome to attend.
We’ve been extremely lucky to have the support of the Hunter Writers Centre, who have provided the location for shoot, organised the launch venue, and given us tremendous ongoing support.
Thank you, Emily and Graham, for talking with me about your project. I look forward to visiting Storytime Lane!
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