Madison Story Project, A Community-Wide Digital Storytelling Project, Gives Kids A Voice

by Anne Helke
| May 22, 2015

Photo: WPT

If you ask Ellie from Madison to talk about her life, she’s going to tell you a story about her dog:

“I rescued my dog from the shelter and her name is Flicka and she’s a toy poodle.”

“She had her name Flicka already but I made her first name be ‘Happy’ and her second name be ‘Flicka’ and her third name be my last name.”

Everyone has a story. For Ellie, her dog Flicka is an important part of her own story about what being a kid living in Wisconsin is like. And for one Wisconsin-based storytelling project, Ellie’s story about her own life as a kid is just as important to hear as the life stories of adults.

Since 2014 Madison Public Library has partnered with Madison Children’s Museum to create the Madison Story Project, a community-wide digital storytelling project that’s all about giving kids a voice.

The project was conceived as a way to fill a rather large gap observed by both organizations when attempting to curate exhibits and collections based on kids’ lives. According to Kia Karlen of the Madison Children’s Museum, when working on historical exhibits for the Museum, they discovered “it’s really difficult to find first-person accounts of childhood that are contributed by children while they are still kids. Often we find adults reminiscing about childhood and we don’t very often have in-the-moment, first-person accounts from kids.”

This year the Madison Story Project has organized “A Day in a Kid’s Life,” a day-long event that gives kids throughout the city a chance to tell their own stories about what daily life is like for them living in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Through different projects and programs, such as puppet-making, drawing, music lessons, creative writing, and stop motion animation workshops, kids are able to take control and tell the stories that matter to them.

Karlen observes that the stories told “give a good snapshot of all the different lives kids are living here in Madison…so even though we think of many common experiences on a school day for instance, getting up and going to school, it’s not the same for all kids and it’s nice to see the wide variety of experiences kids are having and it’s also very interesting to see what kids choose to document about their day.”

So, what stories are kids telling? For some, it is their story about joining the swim team, of getting to play outside with an older sibling, of losing a pet, of an upcoming birthday, of imagining themselves as a superhero, and (when the teacher is in earshot) about how much they like being in second grade. Kids are talking about the places they go every day, the people they spend time with, and the things they do that are meaningful to them.

The Madison Story Project seeks to open a space where kids’ stories are collected, shared, and made a meaningful part of the wider story of life in Madison and Wisconsin. Krissy Wick, Youth Services Manager for Madison Public Library, hopes that the ongoing programming will “give kids a voice and let them know that what they have to say, their point of view is important and it’s valuable and it’s something that not just parents but all of us need to hear. Especially when we talk about building a community in Madison, kids’ voices are a part of that and we just want to give kids a voice and let them be heard.”

Tags: Madison Story Project / kids / life stories / Madison Public Library / Madison Children's Museum

Anne Helke is the online content producer for the "Wisconsin Life" project who grew up on a lone draft horse farm in the midst of dairy farms in north-central Wisconsin, which was great until she realized you can’t get string cheese from draft horses.