It’s all in how you tell it

Storytelling camps foster creative expression in unconventional ways

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Storytelling camps help children tap into their creativity, sometimes by going on adventures outside or playing dress up.
Ximena Leyte

From carving images onto rocks to improvisation and theatrics, storytelling has historically let people make sense of the world. The art of narration not only allows communication, but it fosters the expression of creativity that is both healing and freeing. As today’s world becomes more technology driven, children are bombarded with endless distractions. For many, the simple act of writing and expression becomes difficult to perform, particularly inside a traditional classroom setting. To help kids become passionate storytellers, several summer camps offer creative methods.

Miriam Darnell developed Creative Writing Solutions in 1990 in an effort to get reluctant writers to put words down on paper. The idea came after Darnell, who was working as an assistant teacher and private mentor at the time, noticed her students starring longingly outside during her writing lessons. She committed herself to creating an unconventional way to water the seeds of her student’s imaginations. Darnell decided to turn the writing process into an interactive game called Druidawn, a fantasy role-playing game where points are granted for each word written.  These points are then converted into fake money children can use to buy castles, a pet dragon or whatever their imagination desires. At the Druidawn Summer Fantasy Camp, Darnell and co-director Cara Allen enable kids to discover their creativity by going on adventures outside, making tools their characters can use in their fantasy world, as well as dressing up and doing verbal narrations.

“When you make learning fun you tap into the creative potential,” Darnell says. “The sky is the limit.”

Although Darnell and Allen have years of teaching experience, it wasn’t until they left public education that they realized the mechanics of writing are independent from expression.

“I found that when I separate the two things, students are free to say what they need to say without worrying about structure and feeling choked up because they don’t understand all of the specifics of writing but they can tell a story — a good story,” Darnell says.

At the Druidawn Summer Fantasy Camp, all a child needs to be a storyteller is their vibrant imagination. The program has resonated so well with children that Darnell and Allen have allowed the work of some of their students to get published in several Druidawn volumes.

Another option for imaginative campers is Storycraft Boulder, which harnesses the full sensory experience of young storytellers by making a classroom of the outdoors. Katherine Millersdaughter and Ellie Haberl implement the wisdom they’ve acquired from teaching to motivate children to use storytelling as a form of healing and connection. Millersdaughter and Haberl take advantage of their platform while engaging with children to promote health and environmental stewardship. One of the first activities they do at their yearly summer camp is create their own book from scratch. Both teachers and students will use what they stumble upon at the park or at Pearl Street Mall to decorate the book they’ll use to record their ideas. Through emphasizing where the materials in the book come from, and then sharing the creativity in its pages, the storytellers at Storycraft develop a sense of connectedness to the planet, their peers and themselves.

“I think the best art is made in collaboration and connection,” Haberl says, “and not just making art but making friendships, relationships and mentoring one another.”

Every day during the four-week summer camp, students and teachers engage in show-and-tell to stimulate the art of descriptive language. The mission of Storycraft is to help develop the ability to convey a story and find a sense of self in the process.

The counselors, artists, writers and teachers at the Boulder Writing Studio agree that exercising storytelling is a way to be empathetic and understand things outside of our own perspective. Chris Thomas, camp director at the Boulder Writing Studio, recognizes that conventional schooling often impedes creativity because children are expected to let their ideas flourish in a structured setting.

“The point is to let them be creative and for them to know that not only is creativity fun, but creativity is a process, not a gift,” she says.

With experience in e-learning and instructional design, Thomas keeps in mind that most children are kinetic, meaning they cannot sit still and must feel free to let their creativity cultivate through play. At the Boulder Writing Studio’s summer camp, children are allowed to be limitless in their movement and use different crafts to engage their imagination. Children feel open to explore the various forms of narrative and engage in a range of activities such as singing, dancing and drawing to enhance their expression.

Storytelling camps are designed to intensify the imagination all children posses.  Channeling inspiration from the outdoors, music and fantasy games are all unconventional ways of letting a child’s inner narrator blossom.