Storytelling is an art form that engages both children and adults and expands children’s knowledge of literacy, language, and love of learning. It can involve all the senses and create a joyful environment for the child to learn. Storytelling can begin simply with reading stories and lead to elaborate creations if the storyteller desires. The more a reader and child practices, the easier and more enjoyable storytelling becomes.
Reciting and performing stories can create lifelong learners and speakers by allowing the storytellers to become fully immersed in what they are presenting. Storytelling also produces avid readers, confident writers and creates speakers who have a commanding presence and strong oral language skills. Storytelling is multisensory and can be customized to appeal to different age levels or diverse audiences. The open-ended nature of storytelling not only allows for intimacy and audience participation and creates an opportunity for flexibility depending on who is on the receiving end.
How can you as a parent or teacher encourage children to become storytellers? Here are some examples on how to get started using nursery rhymes, poetry, and cumulative well-known tales.
1.) Start simple, read often to children and find a nursery rhyme or fairy tale that the children find exciting and joyful to hear. Let’s use a nursery rhyme that every adult should know such as Mary Had a Little Lamb. Read and sing this many times to the children.
2.) Encourage the children to recite Mary Had a Little Lamb with you as well as alone. Allow them to retell this rhyme from a standing position and recreate hand or body movements that strengthen the story.
3.) Work on changing the volume of your voices as well as the inflection of your voices. It is difficult for a listener to stay engaged if a storyteller’s voice is monotone.
4.) Partner up with the children to rewrite the story or rhyme into a parody that works for them. For example, a child could change the names, characters, and setting in Mary Had a Little Lamb. An example could be “Helen Had a Little Horse.”
When children retell stories that are personal to them, the benefits are immense. Children’s memorization skills will be improved. The ability to present their personal story is more exciting to them and helps them use stronger speaking skills. Children will become more creative, and strengthen their skills at extemporaneous speaking.
Many of us remember timeless nursery rhymes that were recited to us as children time and again. Today, many children entering preschool have not been exposed to these simple rhymes. Because of their perceived simplistic nature, parents and schools may neglect to include them on their reading lists, but that simplistic nature is what allows babies, toddlers, and children to fully comprehend them and learn from them. The cadence is appealing to youngsters and the easy rhyme scheme; makes for easy repetition. Children learn phonemic awareness and phonics through these rhymes and repeating these often, increases language development in the areas of vocabulary, comprehension, and memorization skills. By reinforcing the rhymes with songs by artists such as Jack Hartman, the children will be drawing in knowledge without realizing all that they are learning.
Parents can offer the above strategies at home. Make time for your child to tell a story about their day at the dinner table. Help them embellish it and describe it using different actions and voices. Consider assisting a teacher in creating a storytelling club or an exhibition so that your child and others can showcase their abilities. Parents may not have control over worksheets or book reports that may come home from school, but they can create a positive learning environment for their child. If your child needs to write a book report, have him first perform what he read. Can he retell the book and describe what he read through roleplaying? Can he use various voices to play different characters? After performing the story, writing it in a book report will come easier for your child and definitely be more enjoyable. Seek out and find YouTube storytellers who recreate well-loved stories in a digital manner. There are many superstar storytellers who quickly engage children in their videos.
One example of how children can start to get involved in storytelling in a safe environment is by participating in retelling stories in a group. By also using props, children feel more comfortable being in front of people. A favorite book of my prekindergarten students is, “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” by Linda Williams. By using simple items found in an average household, children at home or in the classroom can ease into becoming storytelling participants. In “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything,” a woman is being chased down by various pieces of clothing while walking through the woods. Props to use would be: a pair of big shoes, a pair of pants, a shirt, pair of white gloves, a black hat, and a plastic pumpkin head. While the adult is reading the story, children can act out the parts of the clothing going stomp, stomp, or shake, shake or nod, nod. Because this is a cumulative tale, it is easy for the children to remember the basics of the story as it builds on previous pages. Children could recreate this story by finding other props that could be following them through the woods. It would be exciting for a child to be in the starring role of a “spooky” drama. The title could include their name, “The Little Boy Julian Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.”
Another option for creating a deeper understanding of this story would be watching YouTube videos that are short films of the book or storytelling by the author or other speakers. In one video, the creator used various instruments to create sound effects. He played a wooden xylophone to replicate the woman walking and other items such as egg shakers and woodblocks for the clothing.
It is important for teachers and parents to place significance on storytelling and performance literacy. The quality of education greatly improves when children are allowed to become a part of what they are learning. Understanding that there are a variety of resources out there including old-fashioned nursery rhymes, digital media, and our own creativity is imperative for those who may feel at a loss for incorporating storytelling into daily life.
Celebrating the written word through storytelling is a great method for bringing joy to children and allowing them to share the joy with others. The multisensory approach to reciting stories creates an environment in which both the storyteller and the listener benefit educationally. Parents and teachers alike can incorporate storytelling into daily life and lessons. Never underestimate the power of performing literary works. An anonymous quote I came across speaks volumes about the importance of parents and educators spreading this joy. “Hold The Book. Make the Faces. Do the Voices. Feel the Feels. Share the Joy. Talk the Stories.”