Mommy, Tell Me a Story!
Storytelling brings rewards for both your kids and you. Here''s how to give it a try.By Jill U. Adams
Storytelling entered our family''s life by happenstance, though I''d like to say it was by design. Wanting to escape the tedium of reading the same books to our kids over and over, my husband and I began making up stories. We invented tales on the spot and got requests for repeats. Suddenly, our kids were eager to crawl into bed.
I didn''t realize what a good example we''d set until one rainy day when, in a fit of laziness, I asked my kids to tell me a story. Even my 3 year old partook, spinning a yarn that opened with "On'' a ''pon a time," and featured a wolf in the wild woods. Her older brother widened his eyes in mock terror, which told me that he was as charmed as I.
The Benefits of Storytelling
Learning to invent stories develops literacy, stimulates imagination, and enhances family relationships. "By providing a more ''storied'' home, you''ll become a more creative, communicative family," writes Lisa Lipkin, author of Bringing the Story Home: The Complete Guide to Storytelling for Parents. "Storytelling is the perfect rebuttal to a culture that increasingly relies on external devices to entertain."
When you tell stories in the context of a loving parent-child relationship, you''re making the experience joyful, says Sharna Olfman, a Pittsburgh-based psychologist and the editor of a book series called Childhood in America. "It sets the stage for a future love of reading."
Further, by engaging your child''s imagination, you develop her ability to think outside the box. Olfman says creative thinking is a skill that''s missing in current school curriculums, which emphasize early academics and standardized testing. "What children really need to cope and to succeed in the world is the ability to think creatively."
Hearing stories about the time you got spanked for cutting the curtains or threw up on your 2nd grade teacher makes it okay for kids to feel negative emotions, says Susanna Holstein, a storyteller known as Granny Sue. "Children so often think that they''re the only ones that feel this way," she says. "It makes you more human in their eyes."
Exploring fear, in particular, is a function of the classic fairy tales. "People will say, they''re very dark, they''re very scary," Olfman says. "But children have those fears." Through stories, children can explore their worst fears and then feel reassured.
"You''re telling them it''s okay to imagine, it''s okay to have fun, it''s okay to dream. You''re literally fueling their imaginations which will arm them for life," Lipkin says. "Storytelling is not only fun — it''s a problem solver. It''s fuel for life."
How to Get Started
Chances are you''ve already improvised stories to your kids without thinking about it. When you change the words while reading, either substituting a word they''ll understand or editing phrases that they''re not ready to face (think guns or death), you are tailoring a story to your child. And that''s the essence of storytelling, making it up as you go along.
Wondering how to begin with your very own story? In his book Pete Seeger''s Storytelling Book, written with Paul DuBois Jacobs, Seeger advises: "Start with the question ‘What would happen if . . . ?'' Then take off on any fanciful flight and follow it through to an illogical conclusion."
Storytelling differs from reading books in that it''s more like a conversation. You''re taking feedback and editing on the fly. Holstein says it''s a huge advantage. "By reading body language and eye contact, you''re reading that person constantly to make sure they''re with you," she explains. "Tell the story in your own words and in words that the child can understand."
Try these starters:
Stories from youries. Tell about playing as a child, Lipkin says, "because memories of play are always positive, even if your upbringing wasn''t a happy one. Kids will be riveted." Holstein agrees: "I tell stories about times I got in trouble when I was young. Kids love those." And family stories strengthen family connections. "You''re connecting kids to their history and to their roots," says Holstein.
Stories everyone knows (best for preschoolers). "Start out with something that you''re very comfortable with," says Holstein — like Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks — and tell it in your own words.
Stories on the spot (great for grade-schoolers). Lipkin advocates storytelling in everyday situations, like during meals. Ask your kids, "If you were going to be an object on this dinner table, what would you be? Tell me about it." Then ask questions. "The more specific questions you ask, the more detailed and fantastic responses you''ll get, and the more you''ll draw them out" says Lipkin. If your child has picked the salt shaker, ask them what kind of foods they''d want to sit on, and so forth.