Storytelling with children

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I am very lucky to be married to an excellent public speaker. I think what makes him such a good public speaker is that he’s actually a natural storyteller. Our son loves listening to his stories, but so do other children. In fact, the other day we were at a little friend’s birthday party and just towards the end, at that time when the children start going wild, he pulled everyone in for a story and all went silent. Their faces were priceless…

So today I’m handing the blog over to him so he could tell you a bit about how he does it:

The other side of the story

I tell stories to Sprout 1, my 3 ½ year-old son, and he loves it!

I think telling stories is a great way to bond with my son, a special one-on-one time when we can be together just the two of us. It is also a good way to help him settle down and do something calmer (plus, I get to rest too!).

I want to share the way I do it and encourage every dad (editor’s note: or MOM!!) to give it a try. If you have another way to do it I would also like to hear about it in the comments.

The first thing is to decide what story to tell. I never tell a story that has been written by someone else like “the three little pigs” or “Cinderella”. For those, I prefer to read the book to him. The stories I tell I always make up. They are always different and new. Even when he asks me to tell the story again I always change it, simply because I would not be able to tell it the same way even if I wanted to. Sometimes I record the story on my wife’s phone and if he wants to hear the same story again, we can just play it back for him. And he does. A lot!

Sometimes I do not have to decide what story to tell because Sprout 1 does it for me or I simply ask him what kind of story he wants to hear.

When I have to decide I simply think of a topic like “pirates” or “super-heroes” or “walk in the park” and I build it from there.

I do not build a plot in advance. I make up the stories as I go along. I have realised that the interesting thing about the stories, for my son, is not the plot or the logical sequence of actions. Of course, it is important to have some logical sequence between what happens before and what happens next but not for the story as a whole. For example, I may say “there was a car that had wings and began to fly. It flew to the moon and back and when it got back, it had no place to park”. It is not logical but there is a logical link between the different parts. This way I can just say (almost) whatever comes to my mind.

My intention is not to write a children’s book but simply to entertain my son for 5-10 minutes per story. And, (believe me!), I’ve already spent an hour and a half telling these short stories and if I don’t say “this is the last one” he keeps asking for more.

The main elements that I believe make these stories interesting for my son are:

–          I make them personal. There are always things that relate to him and his own personal experiences. E.g. the characters are either his toys or a cartoon he knows or even himself. “This is the story of how Sprout 1 helped Santa Klaus”;

–          I make them short and simple (unlike this post) and I tell them in a simple way. Short, direct sentences with clear ideas;

–          I make them realistic; almost real: I use characters that exist (even if only in books or cartoons) and put them in real situations even if with fantastic twists;

–          I enact them. I modulate my voice, whispering when there is a moment of suspense or roaring like a big dinosaur, or simply acting silly.

On the contrary, there are things I try not to do:

–          I do not convey moral messages or try to preach a lesson. My stories are pure entertainment. They may contain ethical messages but that is not the purpose of me telling them;

–          I do not make them too realistic. I always try to make fantastic things happen in my stories but in a simple way like “the cat jumped over the house”.

This is MY recipe, my son loves it and that’s good enough for me. It is far from perfect! The other day Sprout 1 did not want to give me a goodnight kiss because he didn’t like the way the bedtime story ended. I let the pirates get away with the treasure and he wanted them to be caught by the police. Smart boy. What did I do? I retold the ending. He was pleased and I got my kiss.

Do you do storytelling with your children? We would love to hear what works for you!

5 thoughts on “Storytelling with children

  1. thanks for the inside info, rodrigo! i will give it a go one time, ari was certainly RIVETED by your storytelling at the b-day party! i was also amazed how you got all the other kiddos into rapt attention, especially coming from their previously WILD state. nia

  2. My husband used to tell stories to our son too – they both loved it. Usually he invited our son to name 3 things then he would make up a story around these 3 things (people, animals, objects, emotions….).

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