Parents often say to me, I want to tell my children more stories but I don't feel confident enough to do it, you make it look so easy; what type of story should I tell?' Where do I find them? What kind of story is best for my child?' My answer is always the same; that everyone is a storyteller some are just more practiced than others. As I've shown the thousands of people who have attended my storytelling training sessions and seminars; some people may have a natural aptitude for storytelling but everyone can do it and the more you do it the better you'll get and there are so many stories out there to choose from that you're spoilt for choice. On this note I then ask them to tell me story that sticks in their mind from their childhood and usually right away they have something; then I ask 'have you ever told your children that tale?' The answer is usually 'no', followed by something like 'they wouldn't be interested.' The truth is children would be interested, they are interested in any good story; particularly one that you have enjoyed or even better one about the younger you.
Why tell stories?
Because they have the ability to not only strengthen children's understanding of language but help children to expand their imagination and vocabulary; develop their understanding of the world; help them communicate with more confidence; improve listening skills, learn their family history and do better at school, I could go on! In fact it could be argued that of all the activities to support your child in literacy, sharing stories is the most beneficial
Sharing stories is a lot of fun but let's not forget there are benefits for the teller too, not just in sharing unique and quality time with the child, but as many parents and grandparents have also told me, their increased storytelling skills have come in very useful at work too, especially for presentations.
How do I start telling stories?
Choose a story you are comfortable with and that you and the child both like, there is bound to be some out there that fit the bill, you just have to look. Make sure that you have enough time and you're not waiting for a phone call or a timer to go off somewhere, so you can relax and start sharing that story. New, old, self-made or exploits of parents and grandparents all make great stories which children will enjoy and it will allow them to have a deeper understanding of their own family history too.
The famous catchphrase 'it's the way I tell em!' should also be applied to storytelling because it's absolutely paramount. An ordinary story told well will always be better than a fabulous story told badly. For younger children the story of 'The three little pigs' can be a 'cutesy-wutesy' story about finding a new home and being safe, or for older children quite a gruesome tale about the downside of being lazy. Read something out loud if you like and then change it to suit you and your voice.
And when it comes to the voices, go for it! You know you want to and the child will love it. In fact, I had a child at one of my book readings say to me afterwards 'you did the granny voice wrong my mum does it higher and with a proper accent.'
Which I think is brilliant because that Mum is really connecting with her child through storytelling. Letting your personality come out is very freeing and creates a really special and unique shared experience and is a perfect opportunity for your child to see you in a new light too.
Use technology, if you're a parent or guardian who lives away or works away from home or gets home after the children are asleep, you can always record a story on a phone or a tablet and the child can watch it and you can both catch up on the sharing bit later.
Family and local history stories are a great way of getting your child to have a greater understanding of where they live and find out that their village or city is just as exciting as anywhere else in the world once you get to know its history.
So let's get storytelling with my 5 top tips
Find the right story for you and the child, is it a bedtime story? An inspirational story, a motivational story, a scary story?
Make sure that it's a story that you both like.
Make sure you have enough time to relax and tell your story properly.
Use different voices for different characters, make noises, use facial expressions.
Be yourself, let your personality come out in your stories and most importantly, have fun!
Richard O'Neill is an award winning storyteller, children's author and national literacy hero. He tells stories and delivers storytelling training sessions all over the UK, in schools, theatres, libraries and museums.
He is passionate about stories and the power they have to educate, inform and entertain. He's currently working on his tenth novel for children.