Storytelling has been a part of human life as long as we have inhabited the planet. It’s how we entertain ourselves and share knowledge. From the books we read, to the ‘reality’ television we watch, we love to lose ourselves in narratives. They can educate us, and they can force us to ask questions about the way we think.
Stories are a much-loved part of childhood, and oftentimes they carry messages that bring great value to young minds. No-one understands this as much as children’s author, Cathy Domoney.
© Cathy Domoney/Facebook
The following are suggestions by Domoney, of how you can make storytelling a fun and creative bonding experience for you and your little ones.
If you're familiar with the TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, then you're already aware of improvisation and the hilarity it can bring. The basis of ‘Improv’ is to create a story out of thin air. If the thought fills you with dread, fret not, a little practice and a willingness to make a fool of yourself will go a long way.
Sit with your child, and write words on pieces of paper. What you’re looking to do is have them think up things like:
Grab a few bowls, and put the pieces of paper in the corresponding bowl. For example; Bob the Cat, Grandma, and Postman Bill would all go in one bowl, and School, Planet Zlerb, and the North Pole would go in another.
Now the fun begins. You may well feel ridiculous to start with, but give yourself in to the moment as fully as you can, and watch the delight on your child’s face as you construct a narrative based on WHATEVER they pull out of a bowl. You can fold up the pieces of paper before they go into the bowls for an added element of surprise. Ask them to pick a piece of paper from two bowls to give you a location and a character to start the story off.
As the character, describe the location, who you are, and why you’re at the location. Your child then pulls out more pieces to feed you more stimuli. If they choose something that doesn’t really make sense, it doesn’t matter; your job is to make it work. So, if you’re a baker in a headmaster’s office, and Spot the dog walks in and gives you a banana, take the banana and try to do your homework with it. If you get stuck, ask them to give you an object to use, or ask them to bring in another person. Ask them for help. You can take turns in acting out, or do it together by telling each other when to take from a bowl.
Learn about the world
Schools aren’t always able to give information to kids in a way that they are fully able to understand, and some children feel shy about asking for extra help in front of their peers. If there’s a subject that’s challenging them, or even something that they're just curious about, do some research together and create a story.
You could get a map or a globe to teach them about other countries and cultures. Have them pick a country, and then spend time together to learn all about it. You could use the Internet, or if you are trying to limit screen-time, take them to a store to choose a book on the subject. You could take them to a second hand/charity shop, and let them pick out a book about a topic they want to know more about.
They could create a story about a day in the life of a little boy called Kaito who lives in Japan, or Rosa, the young lady who lives in Mexico. Explore the city that the person would live in, what the weather is like, and what food they would eat. What words would they use to say “Hello” and “Goodbye”? How would they say “I love you”?
As adults, we worry that children won’t understand a concept or lifestyle. But kids are more able to grasp these issues than we give them credit for. Conversations about race, sexuality, inequality, whilst daunting, are often much simpler than we build them up to be. More and more books are written with children in mind, and they do a great job of giving information in a safe and playful way. But instead of relying on the words of others, you could try to explain things yourself. For example, to explain discrimination, you could group their toys together by type (dolls, teddy bears, cars etc.) and use the groupings to illustrate how one group wants power over another. Tough questions likely will arise, and it’s okay to say “I don’t know why people think this way.” But you could add; “Those people may have learned lessons from their parents, and by educating them and showing them compassion, we can help them change their minds.”
Role playing can be really useful here, as helping your little one figure out how they would act in a hypothetical scenario gives them a controlled environment to try out different approaches. You're there to soothe any upset, and they can check in with you to see how they are doing. Stay away from “No, that’s bad,” or “You can’t say that!” Give explanations when correcting them, and be sure to give positive encouragement throughout.
If you’re looking for a quick idea for a new story, grab a few different books, and read them all together. Start by reading one, and let your child tell you when to switch to a different one. For example, you could read four paragraphs from the first, and then pick up the next book and read from the fifth paragraph. It probably won’t make any sense at all, but this silliness can be great fun if boredom/over familiarity is setting in.