It’s National Storytelling Week from 1st to 8th February and all over the UK community groups and venues are holding events where adults and children can come together to hear, learn and share stories, new and old.
We human beings seemed to be hard-wired for storytelling. In any given day we tell dozens of stories – from relating the everyday events of our lives to retelling the myths, legends and sacred tales of our culture. Stories give us a way to see, describe and understand the world. We never grow out of stories, but there is a very special magic to sharing a story with a child.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a venue or centre running events with professional storyteller-performers, taking little ones along can be a fantastic day out. Visit www.sfs.org.uk/national-storytelling-week/events for a list of events running during the week. And don’t forget to check out your local library for more frequent storytelling activities – almost all libraries run sessions for parents, babies and young children.
Professional storyteller-performers are part of an oral tradition – they tell their stories without written prompts. Storytellers in libraries often base their sessions around books. As a parent, you can do a bit of both.
Tell your children stories about your childhood, your family and adventures you’ve had, and ask grandparents or other older relatives to do the same. Old photos can be a good prompt – look together at your childhood home or the clothes and toys you had, and share the stories behind the photographs. At various stages children enjoy hearing stories about their younger selves and, again, photos can be a great prompt.
If you can remember the bones of fairy tales like Snow White or Cinderella, tell your children your own version. As they learn the story they can begin to take part – stop to let them fill in ‘fee-fi-fo-fum’, or take on a character, or help you make sound effects like heavy footsteps or knocks at the door.
Sharing picture books with your child from babyhood will help develop language and a host of other skills, and sets the foundation for learning to read later on. Find a quiet space to snuggle up, turn off the TV and other background noise, and take your time over the story. Discuss the pictures and point out detail. Set challenges like spotting a particular character or animal on each page. Encourage your child to turn the pages and to join in with rhymes, repetition, animal noises and so on.
Try to make sure dads and other male relatives get involved in reading with children – older boys can be reluctant to read in part because they perceive reading as a ‘female’ activity.
Children learn through repetition and will often demand the same story over and over again – if it gets boring, you can have fun with your audience by getting an important detail ‘wrong’. The resulting indignation can be very entertaining, especially if you continue to make the ‘mistake’.
Don’t for a moment feel that in order to tell a story you have to be an amazing performer like a professional storyteller or as good a reader as the professional actors who read audiobooks for a living. The magic is in the story itself, in your undivided attention and in the connection only you share with your child.
In March, Barrington Stoke publishes two very special picture books: these have dyslexia-friendly features in order to ensure that parents who aren’t confident in their reading or language skills can also share the books with their children. Michael Morpurgo – author of War Horse – has written the first of these. Michael says ‘It’s only by loving stories ourselves and by passing on that love that we create readers. I was immediately taken with the idea of Red Squirrel books, a picture book list that dyslexic parents and less confident readers can read with their children.’
The ‘Red Squirrel’ books are suitable for anyone, though, so please do keep an eye out in your local bookshop come March. All together now: ‘Once upon a time…’