Storytelling: Engaging Ways To Tell Stories To Your Kids

Want to become an expert in storytelling to keep your child engaged and entertained? Here are some valuable tips to help you out.

By S Seshadri  • 12 min read

Storytelling: Engaging Ways To Tell Stories To Your Kids

Which kid doesn't love to listen to stories? And, which parent bids goodnight to their tiny tot without a storytelling session? Kids' storytelling weaves a magical spell on both the storyteller as well as the young listener. So, if you want to sharpen your skills in storytelling for children, and keep your child hooked on to your stories, here are some storytelling tips.

Storytelling

The National Storytelling Network (NSN), US, defines the process as, 'an ancient art form and a valuable form of human expression.' It also goes on to explain that to most of us, 'Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.' And, we should also remember that storytelling for children can be a great tool for parents to connect with their little ones.

Why you should tell stories to your child

Popular Hollywood director Robert Redford once said, “Storytellers broaden our minds, engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” It is quite true. Storytelling is an art which can be entertaining as well as educative.

Storytelling for children is not only a great way to keep them engaged, but also one which benefits them in many ways, such as promoting their cognitive development and improving their language skills. In an article published in the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), in 2016, Prof Denise E Agosto outlines the literacy benefits of storytelling. So, bear in mind that kids' storytelling not only provides pleasure to children but also helps develop skills.

Types of stories you can tell your child

Your child’s age is one major factor that decides the type of stories you can tell him. For, kids' storytelling can be effective only if the choice of story appeals to the little ones. If your child is a toddler or preschooler, he will love stories that involve animals, birds or insects. Folk tales and fairy tales will also fascinate him a lot. If your child is in primary school, you can tell him stories that teach morals and values, preferably from the Panchatantra Tales or Aesop’s Fables. For preteens and teens, the stories should be filled with adventure, romance or drama. So, whether it is short storytelling for kids or long narrative tales for older children, you can pick and choose from various genre.

How stories can alter your child’s life

Stories not only keep your child engaged and entertained, but also offer innumerable benefits which play a great role in her learning and overall development. They include:

  • Improving vocabulary and language skills
  • Fostering creativity and imagination
  • Enhancing listening and comprehension skills
  • Developing concentration and focus
  • Understanding culture and tradition
  • Nurturing good habits and values
  • Building positivity and self-confidence
  • Keeping her relaxed and stress-free

How to tell your child a story

If you want to make the storytelling session with your child more interesting, here are a few things you need to focus on:

1. Narration: Proper presentation of a story is important to capture your child’s interest. A simple story with familiar elements is good for narration. Read through the story several times to familiarise yourself so that you can comfortably make eye contact with your child while narrating or reading the story. As you narrate the story, learn to modulate your voice, depending on the character. If a story is complex, having many important personalities, you can even dramatise it to the best of your ability.

2. Allow interruptions: Allow your child the freedom to interrupt and share her thoughts, queries and excitement after each important sequence in the story. This will encourage creativity. Sometimes, your child will even draw parallels between your story and something she had listened to earlier. It shows that she is paying attention to what you are saying.

3. Visualise the stories: Pictures speak a thousand words. Even unfamiliar elements and complex stories can be tackled through visual aids. They avoid distraction among children during narration. Puppets, comic strips and flannel boards are helpful when story sequence, movement and relationships are important.

4. Digitised storytelling: This works if you are a comfortable techie and have the patience to weave various elements of the virtual and the real world with the help of your digital gadgets into your presentation. Digitised storytelling involves static and moving images, and sound. Non-linear and interactive narratives are the new faces of story-telling. Avoid too many videos in a tale as they hamper imagination in a child. This form of storytelling will be appreciated by children who are at least 11 years old, and who will find it ‘cool’.

5. Participation: The following formats work best with short simple tales and simple plots:

  • Active participation: With stories that have action elements, get your child active as he does during a game or a physical activity. As you narrate – he can jump, hop or laugh like the character. Keep him engaged through conversations.
  • ‘Acting it out’: After telling the story briefly, let your child become one of the characters and ‘act it out’. Usually, children will want to take turns to be certain characters. It works best with younger school children.
  • Choral, chants and 'echo stories': When stories contain repetitive elements, encourage your child to join in with her chants or sound effects - do so first with a pause, then with an eye contact in anticipation, and follow it up with gestures and body language. Continue to ‘cue’ her accordingly, building and varying the intensity and rhythm appropriately.
  • Role-playing: Role-playing is different from acting out a story or dramatising it. It allows us to redo a scene under different conditions. In role-playing, a child takes on various roles, but the outcome of the story will depend on him, and not on a script. These are helpful for exploring “What if…?” and preparing for real life situations. A discussion should follow the role-play.

Useful storytelling tips

Here are some useful tips that will help you make the storytelling session interesting:

  • Choose an interesting, age-appropriate story
  • Start with an intriguing scene
  • Use a clean, simple and straightforward narration
  • Show dramatic facial expressions and body language
  • Mimic your voice differently for each character
  • Keep the whole session interactive by asking questions
  • Give a good conclusion with a strong takeaway
  • Always try to narrate positive stories with morals and values

Alternative storytelling methods you can follow

Storytelling need not be always one-dimensional. With advanced technology at your disposal, you can bring in a lot of innovation by trying alternative storytelling methods using the following:

  • Narrating graphic novels or comic strips
  • Using a magnetic board or felt board
  • Displaying illustrations or images using a smart phone
  • Running an audio story and adding your narration
  • Making use of dolls and toys for narration
  • Creating puppets using available materials

Introducing your child to storytelling competitions

Although most of us think that only adults can tell stories, nothing can be further from the truth. Even children can become accomplished storytellers. To help your child sharpen her storytelling skills, you can encourage her to participate in storytelling competitions.

How to prepare your child for a storytelling competition

Preparation matters a lot when your child wants to participate in storytelling competitions. Here’s how you can help him equip himself:

  • The art of storytelling is learnt through experience. So, tell your child a lot of stories and also buy him books with good stories to read.
  • Encourage your child to choose the story that she wants to tell. Ask her to read the story a few times for better comprehension.
  • Make him practise telling the story in front of a mirror, with the expressions and gestures.
  • If you think your child is good at storytelling, you can also enrol her in classes where they teach how to tell a story.
  • Finally, make your child practise the art as much as possible. But, ensure that it doesn't become a chore.

Best stories for storytelling competitions for preschoolers

If your preschooler is participating in a storytelling competition, choose a story that she is comfortable with. The story should be simple, interesting, easy to narrate, and filled with values and morals. Most importantly, teach your little one how to narrate the story beautifully in her own charming style.

To sum up, a good storyteller is one who gives life to the stories he narrates. The way he emotes should draw the listeners into the story and keep them spellbound. Being a parent, your expertise in storytelling will make your child have a wonderful experience. And who knows, she might also learn the art from you and become a great storyteller herself!  

About the author:

Written by S Seshadri on 15 November 2016; updated on 14 July 2020

S Seshadri is a retired education consultant. Read The Art of Story Telling by the same author.

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

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