Food for thought at the Story Café

It was my great pleasure to attend the Cheshire East Early Years Teacher Network meeting this week. We were welcomed into the New Life Nursery in Congleton to find out all about their Story Café.

Now, I’ve read about story cafés. They are an excellent parent partnership idea, where parents can come along with their children to share a story, in a relaxed, café style environment. Practitioners can support parent’s story telling, give ideas for sharing books at home and share knowledge about language development. Parents can get an insight into nursery life and spend time with their children, other parents and practitioners in an informal way.

There are a mountain of obvious benefits for parents, practitioners, children and the relationships between all of them. However, I had always thought that it sounded difficult to organise and resource, so I was really looking forward to finding out how it was achieved so successfully in Congleton.

Rachel explained how they held Story Cafés five times a year, each on a different day, and the cohort of children who would normally attend on that morning had a Story Café instead of their usual session (which answered my first question – how do you fit it into a busy schedule). These are structured so children have a stay and play session first including a drink and snack, followed by the story being read in the ‘snug’, which is a small, quiet, but welcoming area, just off the main room. This really makes it a special ‘event’ as everyone snuggles in to share the story and appropriate props (which answered my second question – how do you differentiate it from a simple story reading session).

After the story reading the parents, practitioners and children make props to take home, ingeniously presented in a paper bag, which can also be decorated and personalised. Then everyone goes back to the snug to hear the story again, where children can use their own props, after which it is home time.

By doing using the regular session time as the Story Café and by keeping the craft session simple and pre-prepared, the practitioners have been able to concentrate on engaging with parents and support the children’s love of books. Unsurprisingly, it has proved very popular, with the vast majority of invited parents attending the Story Café sessions.

Rachel and her colleagues, Toni and Sarah, explained how they had also chosen to gift a copy of the book to each family who attended the sessions. Although this was an additional outlay, the cost was met by a local company who supported the community. Representatives from the company were then invited to the final session to meet the families who had benefited from the Story Café and hear how the books had made a difference to the children’s lives. Needless to say, this was a very well received meeting!

Reflecting after our Network meeting, I felt that any setting could set up a Story Café in this way, simply by replacing a morning session and having a special area to hear the story. It obviously takes a disproportionate amount of preparation, such as choosing the book and activities, preparing the activity bags, getting refreshments ready and sending out letters. You will have to make a few decisions about things like who takes children to the toilets, especially if there are other children using the setting, and use of mobile phones/cameras, but these should be easily resolved.

The incredibly positive outcomes from the Story Café massively outweigh the extra set up time and any minor adjustments you need to put in place. Practitioners have an opportunity to talk to parents and give appropriate support for their needs; parents get to ‘see behind the curtain’ of nursery life, as well as learn about children’s language development (and the incredible power of sharing stories together).

All in all, I would encourage anyone to consider having a Story Café as part of their setting’s long term planning.

Useful information

For a ton of story book ideas, along with their activites, go to the blogspot ‘itsallaboutstories’ here

And an enormous THANK YOU to the New Life Nursery, Congleton for hosting such a great meeting. Visit their website here

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