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Storyteller Ria Butler Dives into the Magical Realm of Storytelling for the Under-Fives

The first book I remember was a bedtime story read to me by my dad. It was called, ‘The Adventures of Uncle Lubin’.  It was quite a dark and twisted story about a curious adventurer called Uncle Lubin, who flew around in a hot air balloon on a quest to rescue his nephew who had been snatched by a ‘Bagbird’. I remember it being both scary and intriguing. Even though the details of the book are now lost to me, it still left an indelible imprint in my mind, and I can perfectly recall the illustration on the cover. My brother and I loved it and still talk about it! Can you remember your first book? 
As a mother of two, the books that I read to my children were probably a little less scary! We spent many evenings after bath time reading ‘The Gruffalo’ or ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ by Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson. We’d turn the stories into songs and put on funny voices. There was also, Dr Suess, Pippi Longstocking and who doesn’t love a bit of ‘Charlie & Lola’?  My point is that Story Time was special. It was about bonding, it was about routine and ritual, fun, creativity, and imagination. The learning benefits were not laboured, but they were inevitable.
My name is Ria, I am an actor and facilitator with over 25 yrs of experience working in Theatre in Education and Children’s Theatre. I am a member of the Board at The Boathouse Studios and have been a creative collaborator of Carole, the Artistic Director for many years. I am a storyteller, a Forest School Leader, and an acting coach for child actors on TV and Film sets, often helping them to build confidence and rapport with cast members, so that when the director calls action, they can embody whatever story they are required to conjure. 
As you can tell, stories form a large part of my life. It is with this foundation that I am delighted to be delivering our Storytelling project in partnership with Early Years and Childcare Service for Barking and Dagenham. The project has been designed to support nursery teachers and teaching assistants in developing and sharing their storytelling skills – to bring books to life.
Stories are recognised as an important part of child development, but it can be wrongly assumed that storytelling is a natural talent, rather than a skill that needs to be learned and can be taught. The project aligns with early years outcomes in communication and language, physical, personal, social and emotional development and literacy. 
In getting Early Years passionate about books and stories we are setting them up at a direct advantage in terms of their educational futures. With statistics that show that 1 in 5 children in the UK do not have any books in their homes, Nursery settings provide vital time for children to  fall in love with stories and reading. 
The project was piloted last summer in 10 nursery settings across the borough. It is now being rolled out across 20 more nurseries during this Spring and Summer Term. The sessions explore experiential learning activities and story telling techniques. 
By the end of this academic year, our objective is to have equipped 20 nursery settings in Barking and Dagenham with a designated and trained Lead Storyteller in their team, who will be responsible for disseminating skills and sharing their passion for reading. Generating a ripple effect felt by over 600 children. 
I am immensely grateful to be part of such a vital and inspiring project. On my way to work yesterday, I listened to a programme discussing the Get Reading Campaign. One of the radio presenters made the comment, ‘Children need books as much as they need breakfast.’ I couldn’t agree more!

Ria Butler - Board of Management

(Ria is currently visiting early years and childcare settings in Barking and Dagenham in partnership with the Early Years and Childcare Service. Special Thanks to RIkke Damsgaard and Alison Carter. This project is part of the Boathouse Studios Creative Outreach Programme). 

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