The magic of storytelling

We all tell stories all the time. It is an important part of how we get along with other people. We tell jokes, talk about what we’ve been up to, and make up stories to entertain others. ‘Personal narrative’, in which children tell stories about their own experiences, is an important part of personal identity. The ability to tell stories also helps children with their literacy development and academic learning. So it’s a good skill to promote, even in young children!

At the tender age of 3, children are not expected to be great storytellers. They live mostly in the moment and need help along the way so they can remember things that have happened to them. Parents can help promote storytelling skills through:

1. Parent responses. For example, if your 3-year-old says, “We went to Paris,” you might say, “Yeah, we went to Paris and went up the tower. That was fun. Do you remember going up the tower? There were a lot of steps. We were so high up! !… What was seen from above?In this way, you are helping him to remember the experience.

2. Shared storytelling. For example:

You start by saying “Tom, wasn’t it fun to go swimming?”

I took nodes.

He adds: “You loved the water, didn’t you?”

Tom says: “I got splashed”

You reply, “Yeah, that’s right. You got splashed a lot, right? There was a big splash. But you were fine.”

Tom adds more: “I wore my hat.”

Explain again what you said. “Oh yeah, you had the swim cap on. You were wearing the blue swim cap.”

At this point, father and son are building a story in turns. The parent actively listens to what the child has said and builds on the child’s response.

3. Props: The use of props, such as photos, train tickets, ice cream wrappers, pebbles, leaves, etc. They help anchor the memory. You can look at them, feel them, smell them, stick them in a scrapbook, and use them as sensory reminders of where you were and what happened.

4. Focus ~ try to make a mental note of what your child finds most interesting on any trip, rather than what you as a parent find most interesting. For example, if the train is the most interesting part of a trip for your child, pay attention to everything your child says about the train, such as “it’s loud!” When you’re recounting the experience together, you can look at the picture you took of the train and say, “Oh look. We went on that train. Remember how loud it was?”

These may sound like little things, but if you do them regularly, making them part of the daily experience, they will support a child’s narrative development. Remember that it is very possible that you are talking more than your child. Remember to balance comments with questions too – it’s better to use more comments and fewer questions. When you ask questions, try to think of a few that you know your child will be able to answer. If you don’t immediately respond to a question, give it some time and then try ‘sentence completion’. For example, you could say “We took the train to…”, then you can add “Paris!” Your child will gain a sense of accomplishment and involvement by completing the prize and contributing to the story.

5. Share books ~ share picture books that your child likes, about characters and themes that he finds interesting. Involve your child in the storytelling by asking easy questions and using ‘sentence completion’. For example, you could say “Oh look. It turned into a…” and the child can complete the sentence.

6. ‘Model’ narrative ~ modeling is when you provide the stories and your child can listen, participate and learn. You can comment and beautify the game as it happens. Stories can be very short! For example, during gameplay you might say “Oooh, it’s going down! Uh oh. It’s down.” Or you can create longer stories about toys. Children love stories about everyday experiences, like cooking and going to the park, as well as stories about monsters and other fantastic tales.

Storytelling is magical, so whatever you do, help your child participate!

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