It took Cheryl Thornton and business partner Matthew Giffin three weeks to shift from entertaining children in daycare centres and schools with their unique brand of storytelling, music and art to providing the same entertainment via Zoom technology.
“We’d been offering these in-person live classes every week in five different daycare centres in the Toronto area and suddenly it all dried up when they were forced to close because of COVID-19 restrictions,” explained Thornton, whose business is now based in Ridgetown.
“Matthew and I decided to provide the same storytelling and music sessions via Zoom with children linking in from home,” added Thornton. “We also decided to leave the link open for 10-15 minutes after each session so people could talk to each other and communicate as they would have done if we were still in a daycare setting.”
When they first launched the virtual sessions in early spring, Thornton and Giffin entertained between 100 and 150 families. The sessions were free and participating children ranged in age from two to four. Occasionally, older siblings would join in as well.
Matthew Giffin (left) and Cheryl Thornton have taken their company, StoryValues, online as a result of COVID-19
In the summer, they decided to monetize their programs and offer subscriptions for a series of options including Summer Story Camp, Autumn Story Club with a third series planned for the winter months.
Once schools reopened in September, Thornton and Giffin resumed their live sessions but also maintained contact with many children and their families through Zoom.
Leading into the Christmas break, they were entertaining children in as many as 30 schools across Lambton-Kent and the Greater Toronto Area in addition to family sessions on Saturdays, all via Zoom.
Thornton, who has a master’s degree in theatre arts from New York University, has been performing and telling her unique brand of stories for over 20 years to audiences of children in Canada, China and Australia.
Giffin, meanwhile, spent 15 years as art director at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and one year as art director for Paul McCartney in New York. He’s also a visual artist and musician.
And while both have ample experience in music and storytelling, they credit programs offered by WEtech Alliance including those led by female entrepreneurs and marketing mentors with helping lift their business to another level.
“They’ve been phenomenal and incredibly helpful,” said Giffin. “We’ve had access to an hour of marketing advice which has provided us with a great deal of support and helped us get our stories and music in front of new audiences.”
Matthew Giffin sings while kids work on their paintings during a recent session on Zoom
Thornton and Giffin will also be collaborating with WEtech on January 12 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. when they’ll be providing virtual kidsitting services during WEtech’s F5: Refresh & Reload virtual meetup for women entrepreneurs.
“We’ll be entertaining children by telling stories live on Facebook,” explained Thornton. “The fact that it’s live is so much more effective than providing entertainment by video.”
Thornton said her stories are unique versions of ancient myths, fairytales and folktales all told from a different perspective with interactive opportunities for their young audiences.
“The children interact with Matthew and I through words and gestures and they really seem to enjoy becoming part of the stories we tell and the songs we play,” said Thornton. “Offering these sessions via Zoom is very effective because the feedback and interactive opportunities are instant.”
Giffin said he and Thornton use their stories as a window through which children can explore and develop communication skills. It’s also a form of play through which children are learning skills and interacting with their classmates.
“Art programs are often among the first to be dropped because of finances but as time goes by, there is nothing more practical and important than helping children develop communication skills particularly if they are learning from home,” said Giffin.
All of the sessions follow the Ontario school curriculum and focus on four pillars – character, culture, creativity and communication.