Story by Martha Attridge BuftonPhotos by Ainslie Coghill
“To an old library in Ottawa (land of lumber and lime), came eight little folks in one wriggly line. In one wriggly line, they walked and they looked, they rode up an elevator, they read a book.”1
These “eight little folks” attend the Colonel By Child Care Centre located at Carleton University. Last month, they made the trek from one side of campus to the other to join Carleton undergraduate Dilara Erver at the university library for an hour of interactive reading. This reading activity is part of a new community-based storytelling student placement — a hands-on academic experience that Dilara says helped her “unlock a new way of learning.”
Experiential learning is a strategic priority at Carleton. Academic staff across disciplines as well as teaching librarians and library subject specialists are committed to ensuring that students can engage in and reflect upon concrete activities, and then identify and apply what they’ve learned from these activities to issues and problems being addressed in their programs. Through this experiential cycle, students can “unlock” knowledge and skills that are transferable to both their professional and personal lives.
This community-based storytelling project is one of the experiential learning activities offered to undergrads enrolled in CHST 2001, Experiential Learning in Childhood and Youth Studies. CHST 2001 is a second-year undergraduate course offered in the Childhood and Youth Studies (CHST) program at Carleton. Julie Garlen believes that this course is essential to ensure that CHST students have both a theoretically grounded and practical undergraduate education. Julie is a professor of Childhood and Youth Studies and the director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies which houses the CHST program.
“This course was developed when we launched the new Childhood and Youth Studies program (formerly Child Studies),” she explains. “The purpose of the course is to make sure that every student has an opportunity for a meaningful interaction with children or youth early in their program of study that they can reflect and build upon.”
Those who opt for the storytelling activity partner with Carleton faculty and educators from Andrew Fleck Children’s Services to learn more about children’s literature as well as to engage in community outreach. The storytelling activity reflects the importance of children’s literature to a deep theoretical and practical understanding of childhood as a fundamental social experience. Since 2018, faculty in the CHST program have actively integrated the examination of children’s literature into their curricula as one strategy for encouraging students to think critically about the various ways that childhood is constructed and lived around the world.
As the librarian who supports the CHST program, I collaborate with CHST faculty and library colleagues to purchase contemporary children’s literature along a number of key themes. I proposed this placement because I hoped to encourage undergraduates to explore the collection in a way that would reinforce its relevance to their learning and their professional goals. Students are paired with a registered early childhood educator (RECE) from Andrew Fleck Children’s Services. These professionals mentor individual students through the process of choosing a book from our collection and then reading it to children attending the Colonel By daycare centre.
Rebecca Friend, a Carleton contract instructor, taught CHST 2001 in the Winter 2023 academic term. She is excited about this new addition to the learning activities available through the course.
According to Rebecca, “CHST2001 students who participated in the storytelling placement had the rare opportunity to see their campus library, their undergraduate coursework, and their interests in working with children all come together to perform as one.”
She thinks that the placement empowered students to interact with children in a familiar environment, all while getting a chance to learn more about the library and the invaluable offerings it provides students in their program along the way. In their reflections on the placement, Rebecca found that “CHST 2001 students emphasized how fruitful it was to see concepts we discussed throughout the course come alive, and how crucial the mentorship aspect of this placement was to their overall learning.”
Originally, five students signed up for the storytelling placement this past winter. Four were or are majoring in Childhood and Youth Studies, while Dilara took the course as an elective for her degree in Psychology. Kim Rogers (RECE) is the lead liaison from Andrew Fleck Children’s Services and a recent graduate of the CHST program. Along with colleagues Flora Morais (RECE) and April Young (RECE), Kim met weekly with students between late February and early April to discuss the storytelling process and finalize the students’ book choices.
Kim is very pleased with the placement for two reasons: one, she believes that storytelling is inclusive and contributes significantly to building psycho-social foundations for future learning skills; and two, she thinks that CHST students benefit from working with young children throughout their program. Kim found that the students she mentored were both enthusiastic and nervous. “I had good conversations with students and nervousness was prevalent in everything they said,” she explains. “I tried to encourage them to let things flow to alleviate their performance anxiety. Storytime is whatever you want it to be.”
Victoria Boisvert is majoring in Childhood and Youth Studies and hopes to become a primary school teacher. Victoria worked with Kim during her placement and appreciated the opportunity to work with a professional early childhood educator. She found Kim’s “passion and excitement around sharing literature with children contagious” and benefited from being able to issues such as monitoring her own ideas and biases.
“The best piece of advice Kim gave me around this concern was to allow the child to lead conversations around their own curiosities,” she says.
The original storytelling session with children from the Colonel By Child Care Centre was scheduled for early April. Due to a labour disruption, this event was postponed and most of the students did not complete this final stage of the placement. However, I reached out later in April to ask if any of the students would still like to share a story with children from the Colonel By Child Care Centre and Dilara answered “yes” right away.
Dilara chose Anna at the Art Museum, by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert to read with the children. Initially, she was worried but, as Kim observed, Dilara’s confidence grew over the hour she had with the children and, by the end, everyone was reading together.
“At first I was upset that the final storytelling might not go ahead … I was really excited from the beginning to work with children,” says Dilara. However, she found that being with the children was a “timeless” and powerfully creative experience. “Theories are important to learn [but] when I was in the moment with the kids … this is not the place for all the theories, just a time to be in the moment and was great to show me how children behave in my life.”
“Being in the moment” was a new way of learning for Dilara because she is used to thinking abstractly and theoretically about subjects. “While learning the theories played a part in my ability to do this [activity], I also learned that I can’t solely rely on them. I need the in-person experience to reflect on later.”
Feedback from other students on the initial stages of the placement were also positive and there is a consensus amongst Carleton faculty and Andrew Fleck educators that “Colonel By” should continue to come to the library. Not only does the placement meet student needs for experiential learning, it also contributes positively to engagement between Carleton faculty and students and the Ottawa broader community.
RECE Flora Morais works at the Colonel By centre and her experience captures the general sense that the project has been a success. She is “very happy to be involved in the process … I can already see a great partnership forming between Colonel By and Carleton. I hope to be involved in the future.”
Martha Attridge Bufton (MA, MLIS) is a Carleton graduate and the Interdisciplinary Studies Librarian at the Carleton University Library. She teaches information literacy for undergraduate and graduate students in a number of FASS programs, including Indigenous Studies, Canadian Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Childhood and Youth Studies.
1 The Madeleine series by Ludwig Bemelmans was a favourite of mine when I was young. This opening is inspired by Bemelamans’s “In an old house in Paris” start to his books.
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