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Storytelling: Why, How and the Secrets needed to Weave Magic :: Article 
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Storytelling: Why, How and the Secrets needed to Weave Magic

You don’t need anything to tell a story – just your voice, your imagination, your time and your undivided attention for your child.

Storytelling is a folk art that has been passed down from generation to generation. At its best storytelling can hold a village enthralled and can spark goose bumps in the most sceptical of adults. For all that we have gained from modern media we have lost something in our collective ability to tell tales and entertain each other using only our voices and our imagination. Nowhere is this loss sadder than in our relationship to the children closest to us. Children learn so much from being told stories and they develop skills that they will use throughout their lifetime. The following is just a short list of the benefits of telling stories to children:


1. Develops language skills.
2. Fosters an understanding of narrative.
3. Forges a special bond between the adult and the child (this is special time with your undivided attention and on one can tell this story just like you).
4. It fills time simply and enjoyably.
5. Teaches children that you don’t need ‘things’ to entertain yourself (a rare lesson in today’s consumer driven world).

You don’t need anything to tell a story – just your voice, your imagination, your time and your undivided attention for your child. All of these things are truly valuable are the reason why storytelling to children is such a beneficial activity. However, not everyone has the art. The best storytellers weave tales as if by magic, their art invisible to the listener who sits enthralled by the story as it unfolds. My father was an amazing storyteller and I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by stories of fantasy, history, comedy and even family folklore. This is an art I have attempted to pass on to my children and a skill that I think everyone would benefit from having.

In honour of National Storytelling Week I have unveiled some of the secrets of storytelling. These are a few snippets just for you. So lean forwards so I can whisper in your ear. Let me tell you the secrets and the tricks that others don’t know. Specially picked out to help you to spin your own yarns and weave your own tales for the children who are closest to you. Whether they be children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, pupils or friends - I can promise you this: Story time will never be the same again.

How to build a story – The basics


1. Include the children themselves.
2. Involve favourite teddies or pets.
3. Locate the story in places the children know well (home, park school) or exotic locations they have heard of (jungle, under the ocean, polar regions etc).
4. Re-work the children’s favourite books. This will use a known starting point that will engage your child immediately. Build on stories you have created before and expand them to new locations or introduce new characters.
5. Use lots of ‘sound effects’ – creaking doors, thumping footsteps and boinging springs are favourites in our house.
6. Use actions and gestures – knocking on doors, waving goodbye, clapping hands (bang!). This will keep your child active and interested.
7. Don’t over complicate it: Most stories involve large amounts of repetition and often include three of something (3 children, 3 locations). For a basic template think of the fairy tales we tell children when they are little.
8. Ask questions at key points to punctuate the story (e.g. ‘and how do you think he responded?’). Storytelling is an interactive medium – get your child involved.
9. Use voices for characters and use volume within the story. It’s always fun to whisper parts to make the children crane forward to hear what will happen next. Shouting boisterous parts will also ensure you keep their attention.
10. Use comedy: And remember what is likely to be considered funny for your audience. This is likely to be goo, pants, people falling over, adults looking silly and anything involving most bodily functions.


How to build a story – Master class

Once you have combined all the elements from the top ten list then you can begin to weave some true magic from this advanced list


1. Pretend you have finished the story. You can add flourishes like ‘you wouldn’t be interested in what happened next’ or ‘it’s so amazing I doubt if you’d believe me’. You can also pretend to forget what happens next. This allows the child to jump in and remind you. This is particularly effective if used just before the part of the story you know to be that child’s favourite.
2. You can make the storytelling process completely interactive by letting the child choose the key details of the story – e.g. “Once upon a time there was a .......... One sunny morning he got up and decided to go to......... He put together his things and then happily set off down the lane. At the crossroads he met........ who asked him........”  You have to be able to think on your feet for this technique but it pays real dividend with the amount of enjoyment your children get out of it. This particular method is especially useful during long waits where sitting still is necessary. The children are always more interested in the story they are creating than they are worried or bored by the doctor’s waiting room etc.
3. Help children deal with complex emotions or difficult situations. Storytelling can be a healing process that enables a child to take a difficult situation and resolve it. If you know your child is struggling with something (birth of a new sibling, falling behind at school, feeling ignored by friends etc) then consider building a story around this. You can design an ending that you think will make your child feel better. This might be realising they have one more person to love, or that while they struggle at school the important thing is to try their hardest and enjoy the things they are good at, or that sometimes it is better to have one true friend rather than a large group of mates. You can develop the story so that it has the ideal resolution for your child. The identification of an ideal solution can give a child the strength to stay positive even though that resolution seems unreachable at that time. Building the story with your child can externalise the problem, produce some perspective and may enable the child to create a solution they hadn’t seen before. Most importantly, it allows the child to be in control of the story, even if they are not in control of the situation. For a child this can be a positive outcome in itself.        

Sinéad O'Connor
Rose-Tinted World


National Storytelling Week (Sat 26th Jan - Sat 2nd Feb 2013) is organised by the Society for Storytelling


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