Once upon a time in a house high on a hill, there lived a new mother who set off on a journey to tell beautiful stories with her children. Not a fantastically well-read mother, she was armed only with a love of children’s books she had been given by her eldest sister and a desire to replace the endless stream of Thomas the Tank Engine books with something more wholesome…
Arguably many, including those in the Steiner movement would say that the opening quote should refer to stories more generally rather than just books, but very few would disagree that sharing stories with children can be a fun and often profound experience. Not only can telling stories to children provide a very bonding experience with that child (and reduce the impact of the TV), it also nurtures the tellers’ confidence, imagination, spontaneity and humour. Storytelling is as old an art form as there can be; stories told around the fire for entertainment or told to recount events, to warn, to retell elaborated and exaggerated accounts of heroic events and often to satirise or to inform. It not only helps us to make sense of our lives but adds value to it.
We see our lives as stories with heroes and villains, nasty bosses and helpful friends, weddings, funerals, first dates and driving tests! To bring some joy and anticipation to bedtime (and other) reading, I started buying, then later selling, the beautiful Barefoot Books, books that celebrated cultural differences and were comfortable with the often darker side of fairy tales. One of the company’s founders once said she felt that you could often get a sense of a child’s emotional state by their reaction to a story and I would agree with this insight.
I later went to the Westcountry Storytelling Festival, a brilliant and intimate festival in Totnes and have started to read whatever I can on the subject. I list some tips below but I think the main thing I would say is that, as with anything, there is no mystical process by which you gain the ability to tell a story, whether read from a book or told from the heart – everyone has a story in them or the ability to bring a story to life.
There is such a range of approaches; professional and often very dramatic storytellers, fireside yarns, animated tale telling with movements, puppets, yoga adventures, storytelling through costume etc.
- always start with a story you like, that you have some connection with, whether you're
reading from a book or telling it 'freestyle'.
– Give children a connection with their past – the best stories to start with are those about your life or their early days – their birth and when they were babies – these can be made into stories with them as the central character. These are a huge hit
– Try to be spontaneous, if a voice or accent comes to you while reading, use it, but don’t plan excessively whether the Little Red Hen has a Dorset accent or not!
– Create an atmosphere, distractions will draw attention from the story whereas subtle lighting, a few relevant props or a story hat / cloak / chair cover etc will add to your story
– make good use of repetition, most stories for children have phrases or situations which you’ll keep coming back to (and the billy goat went ‘trip trap, trip trap’)
– use instruments; drums for a heartbeat, thumb piano to call the ‘story fairies’, rainsticks for rain etc.
– always keep good eye contact whether telling a story to one or 30 children and use gestures, facial expressions, changes of tone and movement to bring the story to life
– children love magic; magic beans, magic dust, frogs becoming princes. Getting them to choose from a selection of ‘enchanted objects’ which each relate to a different story is a good way of them choosing their story
– have a strong beginning (“On the very highest mountain in the whole world lived an old man…”), use simple language, have a good climax then end the story.
– Stories can be about myths, nature, everyday life, children’s friends, historical characters, the circus, romances, animals, sports, folktales, space, the sea etc….
Barefoot Books visit www.mybarefootbooks.com/PaulaBrown for a huge range of lovely books to read to child of 0-10 or from which to draw stories and themes.
Tatty Bumpkin children’s yoga-inspired adventures with emphasis on stories http://www.paulabrown.tattybumpkin.com
Westcountry Storytelling Festival www.weststoryfest.co.uk/ and Beyond the Border Festival in Wales www.beyondtheborder.com