by Danielle Schapaugh, Public Relations Coordinator
The act of storytelling is a big part of what makes us human. Nigerian writer Chris Abani told a TED audience “What we know about who we are comes from stories.” We share knowledge from generations past, explore meaning, delve into our own psyches, and generally figure out this thing called life by telling stories to each other. Stories are nothing less than essential.
I’m not telling you this in order to add pressure to your evening storytime routine, but I do hope to add some weight to it. Becoming a good storyteller is worth the effort and can add meaning and understanding to your child’s life. By reading and telling stories to your kids, you’re not only helping them learn to read, but also helping them learn to solve problems and develop empathy. Reading and telling stories makes us better people.
So, what does it take to be a good storyteller? Here are a few tips from WikiHow, the 6 by 6 Ready to Read program developed by the State Library of Kansas, and the story-telling experts in the children’s department at the Manhattan Public Library.
First, choose a story that will interest your child. Does your daughter love trucks? She will probably enjoy a picture book with trucks in it and having fun is important. In fact, fun is a serious part of this process. Log your fun on a nightly fun meter and track the enjoyment quotient over time to determine the success of your storytelling skills. (Just kidding. See, fun can hide anywhere!) For older children, select a chapter book and read one chapter each evening. Librarians can help if you need ideas and recommendations. We love recommending books; it’s one of our favorite things to do. Please never hesitate to ask.
Next, remember to read the story to yourself before you read it aloud. Think of it like reading a script. An actor can’t build drama in a scene if he doesn’t know where the story is going, right? Building anticipation for the next page will help keep your child interested. Knowing the story also helps you relax, which helps your child relax. And what if you’ve accidentally picked up a scary story, or one that doesn’t fit your parenting style? Take a few minutes to read the book first, to make sure things go smoothly.
Asking questions is also a good way to hold your child’s interest during the story. During library storytime, the storyteller will ask questions, such as “What does a frog sound like?” “Have you ever been to a lake?” “Do any of you like carrots?” You can ask questions about the action in the story, or ask your child to count objects on the page or look for colors.
As you’re reading, use your finger to follow along so your child can start associating print with sound and meaning. Point out the first letter in a word, sound it out, spell it, or ask your child to tell you a word that rhymes. This has more to do with the mechanics of reading, and starting early is a good idea. It isn’t necessary for you to sound out every word, just sprinkle in the learning when it feels right.
The library can help you identify the six skills your child should have by age six, so he is ready to start school. Just ask us the next time you visit, or check out the 6 by 6 Ready to Read resources on the KS State Library’s website www.kslib.info. You will find tips, plus links to fun rhymes and songs. Don’t worry: fun is always going to be part of the process.
Last, but certainly not least, use inflection and play with the sounds of the words anytime you tell a story. In essence, “do the voices.” Come up with character voices whenever possible. It will make all the difference. What does the frog sound like when he speaks? Give it your best shot, without a trace of self-consciousness, and you will do just fine.
However, as you well know, stories aren’t always about reading. Children love to hear stories from your own childhood. Tell tales of your adventures, real or imagined. Talk about your parents, siblings, and friends. Tell your child the story of her birth (kids never got tired of that one), and how you felt the first time you held her in your arms. Form your story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then ask your child to tell a story of her own. Help her along by asking questions when she struggles, and let the magic unfold.