Last week I talked about why we tell stories, and why children need us to tell them stories.
This morning, I took a few moments to think about where I told stories this week. At the preschool where I assist a few mornings a week, the children were telling their scariest stories, which mostly involved older siblings shooing away ghosts. I shared some little tales to help redirect play, and later in the day, visited one of my tutoring students. Together she and I explored the stories of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, contrasting their storytelling styles, and finding that we both preferred Ibn Battuta’s easy narrative to Polo’s constant reminders of how strange and foreign everything is! And then, with my son, this week brought chances to share stories of how he’s grown, and of how hard school was for me when I was a little younger than he is now.
In many ways, storytelling is so woven into the fabric of my daily life that I hardly notice it any more, but I still remember panicking the night before starting a new lesson block, wondering how I would remember the next day’s story. Over time, I have learned some wonderfully easy ways of getting stories into my head and heart, and I look forward to sharing them with you in these posts.
Just getting started with storytelling, though, when you don’t think you know how, can be daunting in itself. Forget teaching content — how do we even begin? Here are three easy ways to dip your toes into the river of story. Be careful, though — once you start telling stories to your children, they are unlikely to let you stop!
1. When I was little . . . (Also known as, “When your grandpa was a little girl…”)
My mother’s family are born storytellers. And then, when you take a storyteller and surround her with storytellers, there is no end to the tales that come spilling out at family gatherings. My grandmother, a short, auburn-haired woman with a love of green onion sandwiches, used to start stories about my grandfather’s childhood with a twinkle in her eye and the words, “When your grandpa was a little girl…” which provoked gales of laughter right from the start. What are your family stories? Try telling one in the car or over a meal tonight. Children love to hear about themselves and about their loved ones — try telling about something your child did as an infant or toddler, or about a time when you had a similar experience to one they’re having now. It needn’t be an epic saga. A few sentences will do.
Pay attention to sensory details, if you can recall them — what did it look like, smell like, sound like, taste like? These family stories are ones you don’t have to learn; you already know them by heart. They are in your bones.
2. Nature Stories
Quick! What’s going on outside right now? What is the weather like? How strong is the wind? The name “Nature Stories” encompasses a wide range of story types and styles. Let’s start with something really simple, especially if you have children under 7. Pick an animal or plant you see every day. If you are in the Midwest of the United States, that might be a squirrel or a rabbit; maybe a goldenrod plant or a dandelion. In the heart of London? Perhaps it’s a pigeon or a swan in the park, or even a simple tree. Living on a sheep station out in western Australia? Well, sheep are easy, but maybe a wombat has been digging out your gardens. Give your child a peek into that creature’s day. Animals eat and sleep each day, just like your child.
There doesn’t need to be a big dramatic event, just the events of their day, told like you might tell your child what you did yourself that day.
“Well, Flopsy rabbit woke up, and she hopped out of her burrow. She saw the sun would rise soon, and she used her paws to clean her face. Then, she found a tasty clover flower to nibble.” Again, sensory details are key. Don’t worry about giving the animal or tree a strong personality. Just take us along for a day in their life.
3. Tried and true
Why do some stories seem to get told year after year, in form after form? Because they work! There are plenty of deep reasons why preschoolers love, “The Gingerbread Man,” and older elementary kids beg for a spooky story around the campfire. Pick one you already know, one with a painfully easy plot, little to no character development, and plenty of repetition. Tell it to yourself first — in the shower, while washing dishes, as you mow the lawn, in the car — until you feel like you have a good sense for the sequence of events. Then, tell away! If you are feeling especially ambitious, you could make a little puppet play with toys your child has already.
A word to the wise: if your child is especially young — under 4 or 5 — or has never had stories told without a book before, it may take a while for them to learn to be listeners. For littles, make the stories very short and simple. You can let older kids know you are trying something new and need their help. They might like to find toys or objects to help you act out the story, or to draw as they listen. Mealtime is a great time to start a storytelling practice. It gives talkative youngsters a chance to practice listening, and to actually get some food in their bellies! Sharing a story at the table also serves to invite deeper conversation, and to give children who are more shy a chance to relax and enjoy the company around the table without the pressure of having to answer questions.
The most important piece of advice for how to get started, is to start! And then start again! Don’t be afraid to tell the same story over and over, but if a story just isn’t working, chuck it out the window and try something new. Remember, it's important. I actually think storytelling can save the world, and it’s up to all of us to tell and to listen.
(all photos: Sara Renee Logan)
Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to anyone who would listen since she was seven. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, to the water cycle, to the life of Joan of Arc. She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara has a home on the web at sarareneelogan.com where she shares stories of her life, tips, and ideas for parents and other storytellers. Sara offers coaching services and the Story/Reading process of story-based biography exploration that guides seekers to look deeply into their own life stories through the lens of traditional tales. Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets.