Teaching your children the art of storytelling

2012-02-23 00:00

AS far back as we can trace human existence, storytelling has formed an integral backbone in all cultures. Storytellers have not only passed down history mixed with legend but they also brought news, taught valuable lessons through narrative text and shared fundamental pieces of their culture with generation after generation.

Yet, once again in our technological, communicative age we’ve lost the need for storytelling. Yes, many of us enjoy reading a good book, but as the years go by so the standard of the books being produced is generally dwindling.

Not growing up among storytellers, or great books, our children now need to be trained to tell a good story. Many preschoolers and primary school children battle to tell their news about what they did during the holidays or over a weekend. Yet, they can all tell great tales about one another’s misdemeanours. When describing another’s disobedience or a dangerous feat, their faces become alive and their voices animated. Is this because adults look up and pay attention when children bring tall tales, but seldom acknowledge their speech when told about finding a tortoise in their garden?

As soon as your child can string sentences together and recall an event, write it down, praise them, show them where you wrote it and then read it to someone else in front of your child. If your children are not yet competent writers ask them to tell a story verbally while you write it for them. Too often we expect children to write down their thoughts before they are able to write competently. This results in them having to concentrate exceptionally hard to form their letters correctly and worry about spelling and capital letters, during which time they lose the storyline. We then expect them to read their scrawled words to try to rediscover where they were. We could compare this to expecting a fireman to perform a heart operation, while reading the manual on how to do it. Instead, let’s help our children as best we can. When their faces are beaming and the story is flowing, grab a pen and write it for them.

To help encourage storytelling within your daily life allow your children to read their stories onto tape or video themselves. On holiday, recall the day’s events around a camp fire, encourage animation and expression. At the dinner table talk about your daily experiences. Let this happen in such a way that your children want to be involved in the conversation and share their stories too. Above all listen to your children and show interest in whatever it is they want to tell you.

Reading together from birth cannot be overemphasised. A few generations back only a few people in each community could read. This meant that story time was an event and everyone would gather around to listen to the story being read. Through listening to the storyteller’s voice and watching his or her facial animations others would have been able to recount what they had heard. Too often we think once children can read they no longer need to be read to. On the contrary, they are now ready to learn how to read with expression and retell their own stories, which is learnt through watching and listening to others read to them.

Storytelling is an art that needs to be practised and honed. Let us make our homes encouraging and safe places for our children to develop this fundamental skill.


• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting and educational consultant. Inquiries: www.susaparentcentre. com


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