It is my pleasure to introduce Australian Storyteller, Helen Evans to The Book Chook. Helen has wonderful and practical tips on incorporating the magic of storytelling into family life.
The Magic of Storytelling
"Aahh, pretty flower, Maria. Look at the pretty red flower.” Maria is four months old and can already enjoy a simple story about her environment. She is looking, listening, touching and smelling. She is concentrating and learning by using her senses. Babies are very sensory beings and stories are all around them, waiting for you to tell. It won’t be long before she knows that when I show her a flower, I’ll tell her a little story about it and she’ll join in saying “aahh.”
A baby is never too young to hear stories. Even before birth parents can establish a bedtime story telling or book reading routine. Baby will respond to the rhythm of the words, and the expression in your voice. Maria is already enjoying books and sits excitedly reaching out to touch the pictures and to turn the pages. She is on the way to literacy. Literacy involves listening, looking, remembering, speaking, and understanding as well as reading, writing and spelling. It is vitally important in our society, and we owe it to our children to give them the best possible start.
One of the best things about telling stories is that they can be told at any time and made for individual children about people and events in their own lives. You don’t have to be a writer to tell a toddler a story about the day’s trip to the supermarket. You don’t have to wait until bedtime; you can tell the story as you drive home or while the toddler is in the bath or eating dinner. Toddlers like to hear about familiar experiences and people. Recounting events from the day helps develop memory and vocabulary, as well as many concepts such as time, colour, and number. With storytelling your child is learning as well as enjoying your company.
Adults often think that it takes a special skill to tell stories and worry that they don’t know any stories to tell. But take a cue from the children themselves. As they grow, children use toys in make believe ways, feeding and talking to them and carrying out routines that are familiar in the home. These games can be the basis for your stories. Toys help to develop the imagination and humour is easily added. Teddy bear can hide or get stuck in a box, or not want his dinner. Toy cars can run out of petrol or can’t find a parking spot. You don’t even need toys. Cardboard rolls or spoons can be used as people. Sticks and stones can be used as animals. Pieces of fruit of vegetable can jump about, talk, and have adventures. Once you start you will find story possibilities all around you.
Nursery rhymes are also a source of inspiration. Change them about so that Humpty Dumpty sits on Miss Muffet’s tuffet and eats her food, while she climbs on the wall and has a great fall, or you could tell Miss Muffet’s story from the spider’s point of view. Nursery rhymes can set everyone thinking. Why did Jack and Jill go for water? Who would the pussycat meet if she went to Paris or Sydney instead of London? What will the little boy do with his bag full of Baa Baa Black Sheep’s wool? You can ask the children a question and incorporate their suggestions into the story.
Children love to be involved in storytelling and at early childhood centres I visit, I aim to involve the children in some way. Children love the characters to be named after kids in the group. Other ways to involve them is by asking them to make the sound of the rain and thunder, or to take a surprise out of a bag. My story bag always contains some items that are relevant to the story and are often used in the game that follows. The game sometimes takes the form of a re-enactment of the story, sometimes it is a memory game in which something is hidden and the children must recall what is missing. Sometimes it is a chance for children to handle the story aids, taking turns to turn on a torch or to smell honey or to feel the softness of feathers, or to hold a shell to their ears. The important thing for the children in the group is to have a turn at something so that each one feels that the story belongs to them.
When making stories, choose something that is appropriate for the child’s age and stage of development. The younger the child, the shorter the story and the simpler the words. Four year olds may like scary stories but the wolf chasing the pigs may be too scary for a toddler. Find something that interests your child and remember that they like repetition. If you are making the story up on the spur of the moment, it can be a test of your memory too if you’ve forgotten the details, when your child demands the story again. The child or children will usually tell you where you’ve gone wrong and help you to remember.
Encourage the children to help you tell stories. Traditional stories often have repeated refrains like, ‘I’ll huff and puff, and blow your house down.' ( The Three Little Pigs). Knowing the refrains will help your child to recognize the words when he/she sees them in a book. If you find a new word in a book, put it into a story of your making. This will help your child to understand the meaning and to expand vocabulary. Reading and telling stories should be a partnership with both being part of literacy.
Once children are at school they become more and more aware of the written word but telling stories as well as reading from books is still important. Encourage your children to tell you about their games, what happened at school, about their friends and about their thoughts. You will be helping them to develop conversation skills as well as showing them that their thoughts and activities are important. Discussions about the news of the day can give you and the children new ideas for stories. Dust storms, rain, flood, drought, taking a pet to the Vet, are all parts of life for many people. Blocks and small plastic animals can be used to create mini environments that can engage the whole family in storytelling. Get the children used to those magic words ‘what if…’ to get their imaginations working. ‘What if a bull escaped from the rodeo and got into the concert at the Country Music Festival? What if a possum or a monkey got into the supermarket? What would you do if Mum fainted?' A real situation such as a possible emergency is well worth while exploring in storytelling, as one never knows when there might be an actual emergency and a child will need to know what to do.
Here are some tips for storytelling:
- Be enthusiastic.
- Remember that kids learn through their senses, so use things they can see, touch, smell, listen to or even taste.
- Choose stories that are appropriate for the age/stage of the child.
- Use toys or other story aids that will grab the child’s attention.
- Young children need short stories as their attention span is short.
- There are many ways to tell a story. Explore different ways e.g. felt board, puppets, dress-ups.
- Introduce music into your story with songs or instruments e.g. a drum a shaker, a bell.
- If telling a story to a group, make sure everyone can see what’s happening.
- Change your voice and expression for different characters.
- Involve the children in some way in the story.
Storytelling can be fun for the whole family. At my storytelling website, you will find more resources, and links to the books I have written about storytelling.
[Thanks, Helen! This post is part of the Share a Story - Shape a Future 2010 blog tour. Read more posts according to the Day 2 theme, Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way, or catch the first day's articles.]