I guess I have to change the way I measure how engaged the kids are when I’m storytelling or presenting.

I’ve always looked at how much they move.

If I can hold them completely spellbound, where they forget to even move, so they all start stretching when the last word is said, then I thought I’d completely engaged them.

And while that still happens a lot, I had a few incidences this week that showed me that even when they squirm around a bit, they might still be completely engaged.

Schools sure have changed since I was growing up! We were made to sit for long stretches at a time, expecting not to move and to LISTEN!

More often than not, we daydreamed, but still, we were quiet and externally, at least, we looked like we were listening.

But I do remember being in the living room when my dad was talking to the uncles about politics or other things, I’d be completely immersed in whatever little game I was playing and yet I had an ear out to what they were saying too.

Well…with the introduction of so many special  needs children into the classrooms, presenting to groups has really changed!

It took me a while to get used to some of the whoops and hollers of some of the autistic kids at the back. It wasn’t until I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time that it occurred to me that maybe the teachers were right. Maybe the other kids had learned to tune out those noises and concentrate, nevertheless.

And…what’s really important, is that you just can’t tell how much of the presentation those autistic kids are absorbing and gaining from the presentation.

When I was at the Singapore American School I remember the moment the librarian informed me that during my exercise on sentence structure and syntax, the autistic kids had been leaning in, enthralled when I talked about the focus of a sentence. She’d been worried about them being disruptive! (I hadn’t even known they were there!)

Well this week was interesting. I did a skype visit for a school in Connecticut. King for a Day is up for the Connecticut Nutmeg award. Skype visits are a whole other animal! They’re extremely hard for a presenter! To do them properly you have to kind of ‘amplify’ yourself without looking like an idiot. It’s not easy. And because your focus should be on the camera, not the screen, you only ever see the audience out of your periphery, so gauging their reaction is difficult. Half the time it feels like you’re overcompensating. And yet the feedback has been excellent! The teacher emailed me and told me how excited the kids were and how much they had enjoyed it! And here I’d thought I hadn’t done such a good job.

And yesterday I visited a school as part of my Artist in the Library residency. It’s just up the road from the library but because of the job action the teachers can’t walk the kids to the library so I went there.

I got there early, I was supposed to start at 10:30, so I offered to do a little program for the kindergarteners as well because I felt bad that they’d be excluded from the assembly.

Well! When we got into the kindergarten room and the teacher informed them of this change in plans, the looks on the teachers’ faces were not pleased. Apparently the kids had just had a lot of ‘sit down’ time, and one little kid even said, “Awww!” when told he had to return to the carpet.

Well, I just looked at the teacher who’d escorted me and said, “We don’t have to do this.” And she cheerfully agreed, so we walked right out again.

My husband’s always telling me that I shouldn’t be pushing myself forward like that. And I always tell him that I just want the kids to benefit. And he’ll say something like, “Do you want to work that hard? Get over yourself!”

And he’s right.

I was doing the rest of the student body in the gymnasium, grades 1-5. I did my A New Life/Coming to Canada presentation, that’s always a good bet for such a diverse group.

There were about a hundred and forty kids. My ideal number is less than a hundred, but I had wanted to do the whole school.

Those extra forty kids really make a huge difference! I think it would have been better and even easier to do two smaller presentations even though the time commitment would have been double!

It’s hard to include so many kids into the presentation if you know what I mean. Basically a presenter needs to reach out and bring all the listeners into the fold and it’s just hard when there are so many.

And it seemed that some of the kids had problems sitting still.

Like I said, this seems to be more the norm these days.

I don’t make an issue out of it any more. Usually if the teachers aren’t stopping them, there’s a reason for it.

It’s really hard to present to kids who are so rambunctious and my first assumption is it’s me. I’m doing a terrible job. So what do I do? I try to amplify myself. I go BIGGER!

But it doesn’t always work.

What should have clued me in though, was how at key moments in the presentation, the children did get quiet. They paused, waiting to find out what would happen next in my narrative.

I wrapped things up to very good applause, and then I gathered up my stuff to leave and then what happens if the kids have been engaged, I get little stragglers. A little boy who’d been thrusting up his hand at several points to answer my questions, came up to me to tell me some connection he had to one of my stories. And a couple of the other kids too, came up to me, and just stood there in front of me with shy smiles, but not really saying anything. Really cute!

So I asked them if they liked the presentation and they nodded emphatically, and then their teachers called them or something and they had to go.

And as I was leaving the school, pulling my case behind me, trying to get through a line of kids, several of them greeted me, and called out how much they’d enjoyed it.

At 1:00 at the library I had my seniors memoir writing program and the ladies said something that made me almost blush! They said that I was so encouraging, so helpful that they really enjoyed  coming and that I’d been able to raise them to new heights of creativity!

And then later, as I was leaving after the last of my workshops, some of the kids who’d been at the school approached me in the foyer smiling and saying, “You came to our school!”

There were four of them. Two little girls and two little boys. And again it was like the shy stragglers at the assembly, and I realized right then that they really had been engaged! And this was them finding me ‘cool’ and wanting to be around me so that some of my ‘coolness’ would rub off on them, kind of, I think. (Just like I did with my grade five teacher Mr. Harrison.)

And I smiled and thought to myself, “Cool!”