Child’s Play – Performing for Children (Part Four)

I recently posted a 3-part blog with tips and tricks for performing for children. (Click here.) Mid-way through the process, @PattyJMurphy suggested that I extend the post and include other ‘performing’ author’s/illustrator’s tips. Thanks for the great idea, Patty! Here goes…

First published in Australian Author vol 42/ number 1/April 2010

To read more about these wonderful author/illustrators, click on their name, which will take you direct to their web site.

Illustrator Jo Thompson, kicks us off with her illustration of a performing seal. This particular seal is suffering from performance anxiety when presenting to adults, but I totally ‘get it’. Thanks Jo.

Claire Saxby:

Always take more material than you think you’ll need. Nothing worse than being caught with time on your hands and nothing prepared.

Be flexible. Every class is different, even in the same school. Be prepared to alter your presentation to fit THIS group.

Props can be handy, but only if they’re relevant to the age group. Otherwise they can do the opposite…and distract.

Relax and enjoy the kids. They’re awesome fun!

Oh – remember to moooo before your presentation!

(Kat says: Now, I think many of you are scratching your head and wondering about this ‘Mooooo’ business. In truth, it has nothing to do with ‘This is the Mud!’ – though you could be forgiven for thinking it has. 🙂 Claire, I’ve heard about this moooing – but can you give readers more info please?)

The rationale behind the moo is this. When you ‘moo’ you slow down your
breathing (which often accelerates when you are anxious). This is immediately calming. It also helps to warm up your voice. The other part of this exercise that is so helpful is that it is ridiculous! And if you’re mooing in the loo, it’s just absurd and very difficult not to giggle. This also helps break down the anxiety cycle. All of which help in preparing for any public speaking.

I’ve mooed in loos, mooed in the car. And it always works for me.

Meryl Harris:

When I was invited to a school by a teacher I knew, she organised the childrens’ questions in advance… and sent them through to me by email. This made question time a breeze and the kids were excited … when I got to their question, they’d shoot up their hand and say…”that’s my question!” I didn’t stick to the list exactly as other things would come up and new questions thought of… but I felt it stopped questions like ‘I’ve got a new dog’ etc. and there were no embarrassing silences.

Dee White:

Kids can perform too.

I find that kids always welcome the opportunity to perform too, so I generally have a script for a short skit which I get volunteers to perform (in costumes, with props). These skits either relate to the topic of the workshop eg Heroes and Villains or to the book I’m talking about.

I’m more of a workshop kind of person so I like to give the kids the opportunity to create, not just have to listen to me for the whole time. I often talk about where story ideas come from and props are really good for this. I have mystery boxes full of objects. I hand out one to each table and the kids get to write a story about one or more of the items in the box – the items can relate to a character, a place or a thing.

Another activity I do is take in magazine pics of people, places and objects and get the kids to make up a collage which they can use to decide characters, setting and plot for their story.

When working with kids, I find it’s all about fun and variety and trying to cater to the range of learning styles. To me, the aim of any author interaction is to inspire kids to create their own stories and explore the wonderful world of reading.

Katrina Germein:

One simple tip for author talks: Always plan more material than you think you’ll need.

Sometimes nervous energy can make us rush through a talk or even accidently skip large chunks of a presentation by mistake. If you have additional material ready it will save you from that horrible feeling of panic when there’s ten minutes still to go and you’re desperately trying to think of how to fill it. Having something extra up your sleeve also means that if you notice one part of your address is falling a little flat, or something is not really working well, then you can skip over it and use Plan B instead. Each group is different and sometimes you might strike a bunch of children who don’t seem to respond to things that have worked before; possibly their teacher hasn’t prepared them well and they might not ask many questions or join in with choral speaking activities for example. When that happens you need something further to stretch the session out. Always plan more material than you think you’ll need.

(I have another tip on a previous blog post, here.)

Patricia J. Murphy:

RE: Preparation:
Over the years, I’ve have made it a point to meet with anyone who will meet with me at the schools and libraries beforehand to see what their programs’ objectives and desired outcomes are. I strive to create programs that meet these objectives and outcomes so I can reinforce what’s being taught in the classrooms. This way, the time spent with me is valuable and rewarding for all. Everybody wins!

RE: Behavior Management: I state plainly (and sweetly) in my contract that I DO NOT discipline children so I will need some teachers and/or certified school personnel to attend my programs to insure that if/when any child misbehaves that this can be taken care of quickly (and positively) so it doesn’t interfere with our overall experience.

RE: An Unruly Child or Teacher: Thanks to a story in a past SCBWI Bulletin story, I learned this valuable tip: If/when a child or teacher begins to distract my program by talking, etc., I saunter over to the vicinity of the child or teacher hoping that this will discourage them from continuing. However, if this doesn’t work, I stop for a moment and say, “Is there a question?” This works every time. (Well, so far:)

RE: Q and As: Always make time for questions and answers. Kids LOVE to ask questions. They do. Some of the most precious moments of my author visits have come from these open-ended and unscripted moments. During my most recent author visit, one child raised his hand and asked me, “Do you like snakes?” You’ll have to read my blog entry on how I answered this slithery question. Whatever you do, you want the child to always feel valued. That should be our NUMBER ONE goal when visiting schools/ libraries and speaking with young readers and writers.

Wow! There was heaps of good stuff there. Thanks so much to Patty for the brainwave – and to everyone for willingly sharing your tips.

I am sure you’ll find more great reading on each of their websites – so do click on their names and go visiting. You can tell them I sent you! 😛

And if you missed Part One, Two and Three of Child’s Play – Perfoming for Children, click on the links below.

Part One – How to Establish Connection (Tuesday, 5 October)
Part Two – How to Maintain Interest (Tuesday, 12 October)
Part Three – Question Time (Tuesday, 19 October)

Got some tips or tricks to share? We’d all love to read them!


  1. Fantastic post, Kat and to the others as well. Love all your useful tips! Particularly the one about standing near the chatterers in the back row – they do stop. And usually respond if you ask them sweetly if they have a question.
    My funniest experience was in a small country school library – the teacher had warned me about a Yr 7 boy who could be a behaviour problem at times. I was telling the kids about my short story in the new ‘Short and Scary’ anthology that probably hadn’t reached the schools yet.
    Jeffrey put up his hand and waved it around wildly, calling out ‘Miss, Miss’. The teacher told him to behave. He kept waving, so I said, ‘Yes, Jeffrey?’ And he said, ‘We’ve got your book!’
    The teacher rolled her eyes. Then the librarian said, ‘Oh, yes, that’s on our pile of books to be catalogued.’ And there it was. Jeffrey grinned from ear to ear.


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  3. Great post, Kat. I must remember to “Moo”. And I like the idea to “ask a question” of any unruly members of the audience. I can well imagine it silences them fast, unless, of course, they have a question. Even better.


  4. Chris, Patty shared that tip during a recent #pblitchat discussion – and we were all quite taken with it!

    Mind you, thus far I’ve found teachers very involved and appreciative – and I’m thankful. Not just for my sake, but for the kids as well.


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