How to Master Storytelling for Your Kids

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Once upon a time, storytelling was the only form of entertainment that existed. This was before the Internet, before television, before movies, and even before books were available for popular reading.

The Tradition of Storytelling

There are still some remote areas in parts of the world where storytelling is the only form of entertainment. Moreover, some native people of first nations consider the art of storytelling to be the best way to preserve ancient culture. In those tribes, story tellers often tell stories full of prophecies of things still to come. One prophecy is about the Rainbow Warriors who come to save the Earth from environmental disaster. We hope they come soon!

Shakespeare is revered in modern times for his proficiency and genius in creating great plays. During the time when Shakespeare was alive, these plays were public storytelling made available for the masses to enjoy. As reported in the BBC News, a survey by the Royal Shakespeare Company found that Shakespeare’s plays were the equivalent in his time of television sitcoms or daytime television dramas today. They were bawdy, explored the weaknesses of the human condition, and even served as political commentary about what happens among the rich and in royal courts.

The ancient Greeks also had comedies and dramas that they performed in public, with annual competitions for the best stories. Some of the best storytelling from the theater of Ancient Greece is still performed today, over 2,000 years later.

Cowboys who conquered the Wild West of America told many a “yarn” (another word for story) while sitting around a campfire emulating a very ancient tradition of oral storytelling, which has been in existence since humans first learned to speak.

Beside the traditional kind of oral storytelling, adults love stories in the form of books, television series, and movies. Kids worldwide still love story time.

Storytelling Techniques for Parents with Children

Parents are often called upon to tell a story to their kids. Even modern kids with all the high tech gadgets and media over-saturation want to hear a bedtime story by their parents.

When it is time for a bedtime story, parents can really relax. The best part is that, even if the telling of the story is in a monotone voice and drones on in boredom, it may even put the kids to sleep faster. It is more fun though to put some energy into the storytelling for kids.

Here are a few tips on how to make storytelling more interesting:

  • Vocal Tone – Use various voice intonations to represent different characters as a simple way to improve your storytelling technique. Even little kids can follow the story when there are different tones used for the characters. A great example where this works very well and is very easy to do is the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The three bears are Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear. It is easy to use different voices for them. Use a low bass voice for Papa Bear, a medium baritone or alto voice for Mama Bear and a high-pitched soprano voice for Baby Bear. Little kids love this.
  • Use Pauses – Pause intentionally on a favorite part of a story, especially if it has been told to the children more than once. The pause gives them a chance to fill in what they remember happens in the story at that point. Fake confusion, as if you lost your place. Let them jump in with the thing that happens next. They will giggle with delight when they upstage Daddy or Mommy in the storytelling.
  • Build Tempo – As the story nears its climatic moment, speed up the delivery, read it faster, make it get louder, and create the rush to the explosive end, like when the Red Riding Hood wolf gets killed by the hunter, or the Hansel and Gretel witch is thrown into the oven.
  • Cool Down – Because many children’s stories have these dramatic endings, it is possible to over-excite the children and make it even more difficult for them to fall asleep. Many children ask for the story to be read again or that another one is read because of their excitement. When a parent really wants the kids to go to sleep, here is a simple and effective technique that really works. At the end of any story, just add a new part, where the main characters are so happy and everything is so peaceful that they go for a walk, sit by a babbling brook, lean back on a tree, and with the birds chirping softly fall gently to sleep. It is amazing how effective this is, especially after an exciting story. It is almost hypnotic and the children feel safe, secure, and peaceful as they fall asleep in their imagination along with the main characters in the story.

Fairy Tales and Made up Tales

Good storytellers do not have to read from a book. They tell the story from memory. There is no need to get every detail perfect, however the main plot lines of stories that the children are familiar with need to be followed (remember to ask kids for help if you are stuck, as this is part of the game).

Advanced storytellers make up brand new stories on the spot with the children participating. The way to do this is to use the rules of the improvisation. Following simple rules of improv works, like making statements that have a fill-in-the-blank spot and that any “mistakes” made are “gifts” that take the story in new directions. For those who find the idea exciting, in the USA there are BATS schools that have classes in improvisation. The BATS-style is used for working on stage with a partner, but a simplified version can be used to create on-the-spot stories with the help of your kids.

The technique is really fun and easy. The way it works is to pause at key moments in the story and let the kids fill in the blank with a suggestion. Since the story is brand new every time, they can say virtually anything. The objective is to keep going, telling more story no matter how outlandish it starts to get.

Here is an example:

Parent: One day an elephant was walking down the sidewalk and she stepped on a ___________.

Kids: Pizza
(if more than one child either alternate or choose the funniest one of the responses)

Parent: The elephant noticed that when she stepped on the pizza, some of the tomato sauce ran onto the sidewalk where an ant was eating it. The ant had a ___________.

Kids: Helicopter

Parent: It was a tiny, ant-sized helicopter. The ant started _________.

Kids: Dancing

Parent: There he was, scooping up pizza sauce by the armloads and dancing around while he loaded up his helicopter with the sauce to take some back to the ant hill.

To be continued …

The idea of this style is to let the kids guide the story in whatever direction it takes. The successful telling of a story created using this improv technique is made by incorporating what was just said before and trying to get as many of the pieces of the story to work together in a funny but seemingly logical way. If an ant had a helicopter, he might indeed fill it up with spilled pizza sauce to take it back to the ant hill and be so happy with his good fortune that he danced because of it.

There is no end to these stories and there is also no need to feel forced to continue, so at any time the parent can say this … and the ant was so happy he went for a walk. As he walked down the lane, when he came to a babbling brook, he sat down by a tree. As he sat there, he heard the soft sweet voices of birds singing. He leaned back onto the big tree and fell asleep.

The effect of the ending “cool down” paragraph is enhanced when the voice gets softer, the words are said slower, then slower still, and even the parent can fake getting drowsy, eyes almost shutting, and like magic, the kids go to sleep.

Good night all. Sweet dreams.

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