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2013 Dec

The Gift of Storytelling

No matter what holiday your family celebrates, your vision for the season likely includes a clean, festively decorated home, gifts purchased in advance and perfectly wrapped, quality family time and a special, perfect dinner with engaging conversation. The reality may be slightly different, thanks to hectic holiday schedules on top of general life obligations. So, how are you supposed to engage your young child and sit down for twenty minutes to read a book when you might not have twenty minutes to sit down yourself?

You can weave storytelling throughout your schedule any time, even without a book. Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. It’s a great way to engage your child, help him or her develop literacy skills, and build a bond without having to designate a specific timeframe. You may already be using storytelling techniques without realizing it.

When most people think of storytelling, they think of elaborate fables, myths, and legends. Before books existed, people told stories to pass on important lessons and morals or preserve history. Yet storytelling can be much simpler and is relatively easy.

Narrative skills are what give your child the ability to describe things, talk about actions and events, and tell stories. This includes your child’s ability to put events in sequence: “First this happens, then that happens.” You can use everyday experiences to help your child develop this essential literacy skill and create a shared experience, even during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.           

When you are out with your child, shopping for gifts at the mall, relay your actions as they unfold: “Today we are at the mall because we need to buy a hat and scarf for Grandma as Christmas presents.” Ask your child to repeat the items you’ve mentioned; then, continue the discussion: What color hat will you buy? What’s Grandma’s favorite color and why? In this way, you are also helping develop another essential literacy skill: vocabulary. The more you describe items and discuss how and what you’re doing, the more new words your child will learn. Be sure to give your child time to respond, as it takes her brain more time to process things than it does for you.

You don’t have to be a poet or children’s book author to create fun stories that your child will love. As the parent, you know your child best, so include elements that will interest her so she will become an active listener and participant. Additionally, your child will be engaging in imaginative play, which is an essential practice for being able to think abstractly and understand concepts as she grows.

After you’ve built some basic narrative skills, your storytelling can progress to the next level. While you’re cooking your holiday dinner, create a story together about all the items you will add to the meal. Perhaps these ingredients have magical qualities. What might they be? Maybe you are entertaining an imaginary guest such as a princess or a dinosaur who has special dietary needs. When the family sits down for the holiday meal, ask each person to talk about favorite foods or a special holiday happening. Create your own family traditions through storytelling.

A final element you might add to your storytelling is writing. You don’t have to write down every story you and your child create. However, perhaps during bath time, the two of you spin an amazing yarn about fish that live in bathtubs. Afterwards, have your child draw pictures of what these fish might look like, what kind of houses they may live in at the bottom of the tub. This helps your child develop fine motor skills and practice for learning to write in the future.

All these activities are wonderful substitutes for busy times when reading a traditional book may not be feasible. You’ll create fond memories and help foster a love of storytelling in your child as she asks to hear more stories. And by the way, books make excellent holiday gifts for children of all ages.

Kaitlin Connors earned a bachelor’s degree in English/secondary education from James Madison University and a master’s in library and information science from the University of South Carolina. She is the youth librarian at Virginia Beach Public Library’s Kempsville location. She has her own storytelling aspirations and hopes to write a novel one day.

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