“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named M and a little boy named S. They were playing with cars when they heard a ghastly moaning noise. ‘What that be?’ said S and his sister replied, ‘I don’t know.’”
This is how one of the first fiction stories I ever told my two children started. It continues to be a favorite. My habit of oral storytelling was largely born out of need and embarrassment. We were in a small UPS store. My two-year-old had just broken a snow globe they had on the counter for decoration. My husband had to set up a business address and we were going to be in the store for a little while. So, I asked the two of them to sit down and I told them a 20-minute story which kept them entranced (and they didn’t break anything else in the store).
The Benefits to Children
Oral storytelling is a part of our human history and we have likely been doing it for as long as we have had language. The benefits to children are numerous. When I am telling a story orally, my children are seated close to me and we are making eye contact. I love reading books to my children, but I believe oral storytelling has some advantages. My children are required to use their budding attention skills to listen closely without the aid of illustrations. They must use their creativity to create a picture in their mind’s eye. I am able to tell stories that emphasize the values I want to instill in my children.
Recently, my daughter was required to complete a pre-kindergarten assessment (don’t even get me started). They noted that she was above average in her listening comprehension. They told the children a story and then asked them questions about it. She was able to answer all the questions easily. I attribute this to our habit of oral storytelling.
Research suggests that oral storytelling may build young children’s vocabulary. A study of live oral storytelling showed that storytelling supports the improvement of critical thinking skills, creativity, active engagement in learning, narrative thinking abilities, and interpersonal skills. Oral storytelling can be utilized as a way build early literacy skills, long before book-reading can be (or should be) introduced.
For the reasons enumerated above and many more, early childhood educators have long acknowledged the benefits of oral storytelling. Waldorf teachers focus on oral storytelling for young children, allowing the child to develop their imagination, increase their vocabulary, improve their listening skills, and teach important concepts.
How to Become a Storyteller for Your Children
I have slowly found an identity as a story teller for my children. It is much, much easier than it sounds. Here are some ways I incorporate story-telling into our daily routine. Hopefully, it helps you think about how you can become a story teller for your children.
1. Recognize You Are Already a Story-Teller
Storytelling is a part of human nature. You likely tell your partner several stories about your day. You may tell your child about the day she was born or where you used to live. Don’t make it more complicated than it is.
Since she was about two-years-old, my daughter has given me her rapt attention when I ask her if she wants to hear about the day she was born. It is a two-minute story that includes my playing Uno with her dad and crying when she was born. This was probably the first story that regularly made it into our routine. It’s not hard. Tell your child about what you know.
2. Tell Stories about Everyday Routines and Things
My son began wanting me to read books to him at night while he nursed. But, the logistics of that were challenging. I only had one free hand to hold the book and turn the pages. It was difficult to hold it in a spot where he could see the pictures and I could read. Plus, I wanted dim lighting to get him ready for bed.
So, one night instead of telling him a story, I told him what has become lovingly referred to as “About Day.” I simply told him a twenty-minute story about everything we did that day, from waking up, what we ate, who we spoke to, what we played. It was a long narrative account of our day.
I was onto something. He has asked for “About Day” every night since then and as soon as his sister became aware of what we were doing, she started joining us as well. I make a point to highlight things they did well during the day, accomplishments they made, challenges they faced and how they ultimately handled them. Occasionally, screen-free dad will even cuddle up in the room to hear “About Day” too.
3. Tell Stories about Your Child’s Interests
My children want nothing but scary stories. I now have about 5 “scary” stories that I tell my children, often when we are walking. I come up with new ones all the time because my daughter will ask, “Tell me a new scary story.”
The stories are all about the things that scare my children: ghosts, monsters, strange noises, missing parents, swimming, and witches.
I simply think of a scary situation (parents go missing) and then immediately make my two children the heroes of the stories. The stories always involve them working together to solve a problem utilizing their creativity, intelligence and kindness. They always get to conquer their fears in the story. The monsters or witches are usually not bad people after all. This ensures your scary stories don’t prompt nightmares.
When I am lacking creativity, I tell them we have to trade stories and they must tell me one first. This works on a whole additional set of skills and gives me some time to quickly brainstorm. I never know how the story is going to end when I start it.
4. Go with the Classics
If you are really feeling like you cannot make up a story, tell them a story you already know like The Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks. There are several books that my daughter had me read so many times that I memorized them. I will sometimes revert to telling these stories when I am lacking creativity. I currently have Curious George Goes to the Hospital, The Three Little Pigs, Curious George Takes a Job and The Little Blue Truck memorized and available for oral storytelling, in case anyone is looking for that skill.
Make it Up as You Go Along
The number one question a screen-free or screen-limiting parent gets asked is “What do you do with your kids when X?” X typically includes some variation of waiting in line, driving in the car, making dinner or getting ready in the morning. The real answer to that question is I do a lot of different things, from sensory bins to reading a book to telling my kids to simply go play (because they can figure it out on their own). I should also add oral storytelling to the list. It’s a great screen-free activity with huge potential benefits for your children. It requires no props or pre-planning, just your brain. You can do it while you make dinner, wait in a restaurant or if you are like me, while you embarrassingly distract your children whilst the UPS staff cleans up a broken snow globe.