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Family Storytelling

Although it may be obvious, the key to successful storytelling is to tell stories kids want to hear. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to create compelling stories. But one of the best is to put your kids at the center of a story they are sure to like — making friends with a dinosaur, traveling to outer space, driving a garbage truck, and more! Even swimming with mermaids, or setting up a hospital to rescue sick monkeys — it makes little difference as long as you, in your role of storyteller, have created a world your little listeners want to enter. And your story will be even more successful if your listeners closely identify with a key character – ideally, so closely that they imagine that they are that character.

Bedtime is a common time for family storytelling – for example, you might set aside 20 minutes before lights out to tell stories. Since your goal is obviously to prepare children for sleep, it’s best to create storytelling rituals that encourage this. Get busy things done first (like teeth brushing and school clothes laid out) before snuggling in bed, a big chair or a comfy sofa at the same time each storytelling evening. Then dim the lights and begin each session with the same comfortable phrase. “It was a long time ago in a strange and distant land… ” or ” Once upon a time when… ” or “Come with me into the magic time machine.”

But bedtime isn’t the only time for family storytelling, especially if you want to encourage your youngsters to be storytellers. Telling stories at meals or family time can work brilliantly, as long as you eliminate electronic distractions. Again, this works best if you carve out your family story times in advance. For example, you might create a Saturday morning story time just after breakfast and before the days activities take on a life of their own.

And storytelling doesn’t need to take place at home. Driving in the car (especially on long trips) or eating at your favorite restaurant can also be good storytelling opportunities, and have their own sources of inspiration (the giant truck you pass on the freeway, the Chinese fortune cookie). Camping trips are also great for storytelling. There’s nothing like a campfire to make any story loads better. You can also make storytelling a regular part of extended family gatherings or vacations. Often it works well to do this around themes – “The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me”, for example imagine how exciting it is for a six year old to hear her 86-year-old grandmother tell an embarrassing story from 80 years ago.

The best way to help your kids catch the storytelling bug, is simply to tell them lots of stories. While you obviously want to tailor your tales to your audience, as storyteller, you still have a huge pallet of fascinating possibilities – exciting sports, talking animals, super-kids who change history, weird kids who turn into regular kids and of course, the old standbys – dinosaurs, ghosts, pirates, princesses, space explorers.

How you tell a story is also crucial. Using different voices for key characters and making your stories speed up and slow down so as to create excitement can make a huge difference in holding the listeners attention. For example, if Jackie, your story’s eight-year-old heroine climbs up a twisty stairs to a dark attic to find the source of a weird scratchy noise, you’ll want to slow your delivery way down – and change the tone of your voice – so that every creak and crack becomes mega-scary. And when Jackie finally open the squeaking attic door, you’ll want to slow things down even more so that finally, when she hears a meowing noise and find a kitten behind the trunk in the corner, your little listeners will breathe  a huge sigh of relief.

You’ll know your stories are being appreciated when your children ask to have their own turn as storyteller. Don’t be surprised (and do be flattered) if they begin their storytelling career by retelling slightly modified versions of your tales. Or their stories may be based on something they recently heard in school, read in a book, saw on TV, online, or in a movie. By praising these first derivative efforts and keeping your own stories coming, you’ll likely be surprised at how quickly your children pass through the mimicry stage and begin to get in deeper touch with their own imaginations. Your children’s stories will become longer, richer, better focussed and more creative and best of all, you can be the one to sit back and listen to a great story.

Listen to all of the Jake’s Tales stories for free here.