Beaming little faces, big hugs, lots of laughter, high fives and the occasional tears. That sums up my experience with school visits. No joke, there have been tears shed and not by me.
I've tipped toed around school visits over the years doing a few here and there, but as my book list grows so does the need for me to get out there. It's what I have preached to my CKT members for the past six years. Now I need to take my own advice.
Firstly, I need to make a confession. I write for children…but don't like them. I can hear the gasps now. Let me clarify. I don't dislike children; I am just scared of them. In fact, they scare the hell out of me. Why? You can't fool children. They can see right through you. They sniff out inconsistencies in your story and they know if you are faking it. Believe me, they know.
Put me in a room of adults and I am relaxed, I can talk, but put me in a room full of kids and I am one big barrel of butterflies.So the only way to overcome my fear was to jump right in.
I signed with an organisation that specialises in school visits. This has helped get me into schools outside my local area. I recently participated in Kinderfest with two other author friends. It was great! With all of us promoting it through social media, it helps to get our names out there with different contacts.
Next, I needed to fine tune my presentation. I already had one that I had been using in my 'older kids' presentation. I organised a couple of freebie sessions at my daughter's school to test out my presentation for kinders. Success! Here is what I have learned.
Kindergarten - 2
You don't know how much exposure they have had to books. Sadly, some don't have books in their homes for whatever reason. They might not know what an author or an illustrator brings to the process of picture book making. This is an excellent opportunity for you to share with them your love of books and how they are made.
Have the book on the screen – this is very helpful, as not all the little eyes in the room can see if you are sitting on the floor flipping through pages. Having my story as a Powerpoint presentation has been an excellent way of keeping my presentation together and professional.
Remember to know your story – when reading try not to turn to the screen all the time.
Be animated, be excited and read slowly, leaving ample pauses to allow them to absorb it.
An interactive presentation is great. Dress-ups, a song, a dance, even encourage them to make the sounds of your characters. When reading my Lulu story, the kids love pretending to be squawking seagulls or make seal sounds. If you just remember to keep it fun and simple, they won't get bored. Entertaining is the key.
Break your presentation down into parts. For example: if you are doing a 45-minute presentation it's guaranteed they are not going to sit still for that long. Make story time a song/dance or something interactive, then you could follow it up with a craft activity such as colouring, mask making etc.
Question time is great. It's also a good opportunity to let out some more fidgets if they are getting a little wriggly.
Even though they are kinders, they still want to learn about being a writer. Here's your opportunity to tell them about you. Where do you like to write? This one always has my classes in hysterics as I have a slide showing all the great places to write – sitting in a tree at the beach, a scuba diver writing under water, writing on a train or the classic picture of Snoopy sitting on his dog house with his typewriter. I make sure to tell my classes not to try sitting on their roof at home to write. I then open for questions on where they think I might like to write. No-one ever guesses my favourite writing place is the shower. I take along my waterproof notepad and pencil to show them. Cue the hysterics.
To each visit, I drag along my gorgeous butterfly suitcase, a gift from my family. It's packed full with pink tutus, Lulu headbands, a polar bear hand puppet, my faux fur mats I use as icebergs for the kids to sit on, keeping in with my Lulu story. I also have giveaways for the kids.
With kinders to year 2 remember if you are doing back to back sessions at the same school allow for five minutes either side of your presentation for kids to vacate and the next class to settle in. A 30-minute presentation should have a 40-minute timeslot.
If you are working with other authors, by the time your session comes around the kids are a bit fidgety. Get them to stand up and shake, wriggle or wobble out their fidgets.It's fun, its movement and it does help settle them.
Teachers want their students to be inspired to read and write. You can help do this.
Kindy kids are so much fun. They hang off every word, they love to give cuddles and they have the cutest unrelated things to say at question time. There may be one or two who excitedly raise their hands when I ask for volunteers at dress-up time that simply melt into tears when they are standing up before their classmates. It's vital at their impressionable young age to reassure them it's ok if their butterflies are doing back flips they can sit back down if they wish.
In my next blog post I talk about my sessions with older kids.