Storytelling is a great skill to teach to kids. It helps improve their language skills, instills a love of reading and stirs their imagination. Here are seven ways to teach your kids how to tell stories.
Instill the love of storytelling
Research suggests that the fear of speaking in public is the second greatest fear that adults have. Getting kids comfortable with speaking in front of audiences at an early age is just one benefit of teaching kids how to tell stories, says Christine French Cully, editor-in-chief of Highlights. Other benefits of teaching children the art of storytelling include building their confidence, improving their writing skills and instilling a love of reading, she says.
Here are seven ways you can teach your kids the art of storytelling.
Expose them to good storytelling
Local libraries often bring in storytellers.
“Many professional storytellers make and sell recordings, and they often appear at festivals and other cultural events,” Cully says. “Some areas also offer classes.”
Let them choose their story
Expose kids to a great number of short books and magazine short stories, and let them choose to learn to tell the one they love the most, Cully says.
“They won’t give it their all if they don’t really get a kick out of the story,” she says.
If you’re going to have children memorize the text, Cully suggests that you look for stories that don’t rely on illustrations to fill in the gaps.
“Stories that are cumulative or include a repetitive refrain, which invites audience participation, work well,” she says. “The stories should also be complete — with a beginning, middle and end — and they should make the audience laugh, cry or feel fear or sadness.”
Have fun with “string-a-long stories”
Practicing telling stories in any form is helpful, and the more fun you have while practicing, the more effective it will likely be for learning. So says Dr. Alice Wilder, chief content officer for Speakaboos. One fun activity is telling a string-a-long story, which can be done with any number of people.
“The story starter can be, ‘Once upon a time…,’ but just be sure that the person whose turn it is to tell the next part of the story says something that connects to the line before,” Wilder says. “Telling string-a-long stories, like Mad Libs, helps you understand various parts of stories and makes you use your imagination and think about what might come next.”
Help kids see the need to throw their whole body into storytelling.
“Good storytelling uses body language, expression in their voices, varying volume — yes, they have permission to be loud — a sense of pacing and eye contact with their listeners,” Cully says. “Some teachers I know have their children practice staring into one another’s eyes to get comfortable making eye contact.”
Try wordless books
A blank piece of paper can be intimidating, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
“The value of a wordless picture book is that it provides a setting, characters and some visual cues to inspire the imagination,” Wilder says.
Practice, practice, practice
Children will become more comfortable with storytelling by practicing in front of a mirror or videotaping themselves telling their stories.
“Practice in front of a few other kids or family is helpful, too, particularly if the audience can be coached to give gentle, constructive feedback,” Cully says.
Practice makes memorization of the story easier, too, she says.
“But practice doesn’t always make perfect, and that’s OK,” she says.
Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so Cully says you should reassure the children that if they forget a part or get a little tongue-tied, it’s all right.
Take a class
Check your local community to see whether acting, writing or illustration classes are available for kids. Many municipalities, libraries and art-education groups will offer classes that not only teach kids about how to tell an interesting story but also help them step out of their comfort zone to expand their imagination.