Monday, February 1, 2010

Celebrate Storytelling Week

Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms. I like to imagine cavemen sitting around a flickering fire, while shadows loom on the walls behind a gesticulating storyteller. What sort of stories were they do you suppose? "Draw your rocks closer to the fire, while I, Grunk, tell you the tale of the mastodon that got away..."

The UK has
National Storytelling Week each year in the first week of February. According to the Society for Storytelling (UK), "Storytelling is at the root of every art form: we think in story form, make sense of our world in narrative - from something we’ve seen - from last night’s television, to what family and folk stories we remember and retell."

I think storytelling is a great way to develop literacy skills, but it's not something we think of immediately when we think of literacy. Yet children love to hear stories - "Tell us about the olden days, when you were young, Mum." They also love to tell them - "Dad, wait until you hear about what happened at soccer practice today!"

When kids listen to stories, they are developing their imagination by creating mind pictures of characters, settings and scenes. The repetition of a story strengthens the neural pathways, enabling them to internalise language, and master its nuances. This all has a kind of cumulative effect, so that the more kids listen to stories, the more they want to hear them, and the more they want to tell their own.

Much of children's storytelling is re-telling, and often that re-telling will be of literature either heard or read. So here instantly is a link with reading. Re-telling is a great way for kids to sort out story sequence, and helps them develop a mind map of the story structure. By encouraging our kids with questions like "What happened after the three pigs built their houses?", we are helping them focus on narrative as a sequence of events, and that will pay dividends in their own writing. It will also contribute to their understanding of their own world if we encourage them to make links between the stories and their own experiences.

I love stories, whether they be in the form of books, ballads, or bards sharing songs, and I know that children love them too. I also love improvisation and taught it for many years as a drama teacher. I believe that storytelling combines elements of my great love for story, and brings in the element of spontaneity that is improvisation. By encouraging our kids to listen to, and to tell stories, we are giving them a great preparation for their future, where imagination, spontaneity and creativity will be highly prized.

Even if we don't live in the UK, we can still put a special emphasis on storytelling this week. Let's celebrate!
  • If you've never taken your children to a storytelling performance, and would like to introduce them to this wonderful art form, check your local entertainment guide, or see if your library has guest storytellers. If you live in Australia, click on your state at Australian Storytelling to be taken to more information.
  • Can't make a live performance? Consider checking out one of the many CDs for kids put out by storytellers, like this one from US singer/storyteller, Francie Dillon. Scroll down to "preview all songs" so you can listen to this energetic and talented performer, who will be a guest here at The Book Chook during March's Blog Literacy Tour.
  • If you'd like to find out more about storytelling and how you can incorporate it into your own family life, visit Australian storyteller, Helen Evan's site. She describes her methods with feltboard, dolls, toys, puppets and dramatisation. Helen will also be a special guest on my blog during March's Share a Story - Shape a Future Blog Tour.
  • The Society for Storytelling (UK) has links to sites where children can listen to tales told by professional storytellers and others.
  • Australia's Indigenous people have a long history of storytelling, and you can share it at The Australian Museum's web site. There are also delightful animated videos to watch of traditional tales like Min-na-wee (Why the crocodile rolls).

Here's
a quote to ponder, before you race away to get started on your own storytelling:

Storytelling is an act of love. Sharing stories connects us to each other. When I tell my story, it connects to your story.
~Njoki McElroy, teacher and storyteller

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