Introducing Storytents

Storytents was developed as a means of providing literacy access and support where these might not otherwise appear.

What is a storytent?  A storytent consists of:
  • one or more canopies (10’ x 10’ recommended)
  • blankets and ground sheets (tarps)
  • a variety of popular books for children and adults:
  • board and picture books
  • fiction and non-fiction books
  • comic books and graphic novels
  • chapter books and magazines for kids, teens and adults
  • two to three adults

What goes on in a storytent?  What happens at a storytent depends on the intentions and interests of both hosts (workers) and visitors (participants). In our tents, the primary activity is reading:
  • adults read to children
  • adults read to themselves
  • children read to children
  • children read to adults
  • children read to themselves.
 Other storytent and storytent-related activities might include:
  • borrowing and returning books
  • storytelling
  • letter and/or story writing
  • drawing and colouring
  • clapping and singing games
  • skipping to songs and rhymes
  • using sidewalk chalk
  • conversation and relationship building

How can you use a storytent?  A storytent can be offered at an event or as a program.

At an event, a storytent can enhance a community fair, a school festival, an organization’s summer picnic, and so on.  Effective event tents can promote a reading culture.  They demonstrate that reading can happen anywhere.  They encourage children and families to keep reading in their quality pictures of a fun outing.  As well, they provide a way to promote or outreach additional services; or to gauge interest in new programming.

As a program, a storytent can be made available at the same place and time over a period of weeks and can enhance the literacy or similar resources available to a community.  Here, outcomes will vary and depend on the organizational purpose and focus of the tent.  However, quality tents can provide effective temporary programming in unexplored spaces, overcoming some of the barriers brick and mortar programs face.

What gives a storytent quality?  Many ingredients go into producing a quality storytent, including
  • attending to the relationship guides in Choice Theory
  • competent and interested storytent workers
  • a variety of very good resources
  • as few rules and little bureaucracy as possible
  • a location that is easy to access
  • community participation at multiple levels
  • persistence in the face of challenges.
In return, Storytents offers a program that is:
  • economical
  • flexible
  • portable
  • effective.

Why do we run a storytent program?  We learned that our literacy-focused Quality Storytent program had a positive impact on the reading and learning culture of children, families and communities.  We conducted research in the summers of 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2009 using multiple methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative, including reading level assessments of a group of children early and late in the summer.  We also surveyed partners and parents for their insights and observations.  This research consistently demonstrated that our program helped children
  • improve their reading skills
  • increase the frequency of reading in their lives
  • develop positive self-attitudes around reading
  • build positive social relationships in a healthy, learning environment.

Two caveats. First, we are literacy workers.  For us, the purpose and focus of Storytents is scaffolding family literacy.  In our work - and in our writings - we have tied the program in with a variety of other neighbourhood-based literacy projects and efforts.  However, we are aware that the framework of the program can be adapted to other ends.  A simple, fun reading tent program staffed by thoughtful, approachable summer students can have wonderful outcomes without producing anything as dramatic as increased individual reading levels or a neighbourhood-wide shift in reading culture.  Results may differ: that's okay.

Second, our Storytent program grew as it did, over a decade, in a specific social and physical context.  Other groups working in different circumstances have learned that they need to organize their storytent programs differently.  In some cases, we and others have learned that a storytent program is not the best way to use summertime resources or outreach effective support.  We offer a record of our experiences and learning to date.  Your experiences and needs may differ: that's okay.

  - adapted from  The Manual