One year of high school I spent several different weekends telling stories to a group of people, and they in turn told me stories back. We had them memorized, and we animated them, doing voices, and dramatic pauses, all while sitting in a chair. And we not only had one story memorized, but five eight minute stories. This was the art of storytelling as part of my High School Forensics speech competitions. It was at times stressful, trying to recall each of the five stories at the drop of a hat, but it was fun!
Since having my own children, I have come to appreciate the seemingly lost art of storytelling even more. There is something magical about being able to bring a story to life with just your voice and your body. There’s something special about captivating your audience, having them beg for what happens next.
I fondly remember my father telling me stories as a child before bed. I loved them! He would captivate my sister and I.. We would ask questions, make demands, or correct him if he messed up a classic fairytale. We eagerly anticipated his next storytelling session with us, wondering what crazy adventure he’d take us on next.
The thing about stories is that you remember them. Even some of the crazy bedtime stories my father told me long ago, I remember bits and pieces of. Stories create images in your mind. Stories live on, especially when told from the heart, told from someone you admire. Stories are easier to remember than facts: lessons and morals easier to identify, because we can recall the events that happened to someone in a story. Storytelling is an extremely powerful teaching tool.
Jesus Christ himself taught his disciples not by lectures or diagrams, but by easy to remember, and think upon, stories called parables. In fact, all of scripture is essential one story after another, one long saga. But, it makes it easy to remember, easy to ponder upon, easy to retell. Because to tell a story is to chronicle events, and the burden of the storyteller to chronicle those events in a coherent, unified, clear, and interesting manner. It’s often why Sunday School lessons are full of personal stories of prophets, modern-day people, Saints, pioneers, and others. We remember those stories. And the hope is, by remembering we are schooled in the way of morals and spirituality.
Storytelling is much more than just facts and numbers and statistics. When you think back on your childhood, it is tremendously easier to remember events that happened in your life than it is to remember textbooks and workbooks you read in school or even the number of times you shot a three-pointer.
This principle is why families continue to share “family stories” and relive childhood memories – they are memorable! It’s even true about things you hear on the news. We don’t usually remember the number of tornadoes that touched down in a year, the current court house bill number, or how many soldiers were killed in war, unless it takes on the form of a story. Why do you think news stations love sharing details about victims and criminals? They tell a story, usually a compelling one, one that we can’t forget, even though some of us would like to forget some of them.
I enjoy reading books from the library to my children. However, I have a slight problem with library story time: it’s just a person sitting up there reading a book to a group of kids where the books aren’t always super awesome, nor are the reading/acting skills of the library personnel running the show. I would love for story time at the library to actually be storytelling time, where a person sits and tells a story from memory, from heart, from life, and captivated my child’s attention and enthusiasm through oral tales. That’s something I cannot always do amazingly by myself at home because true storytelling is an art form that some are naturally gifted at doing.
I don’t care if my child doesn’t see the pictures on the pages correlating to the story. I don’t want my child relying so strongly on pictures instead of words (though as an artist, I’m still a fan of pictures and art, but maybe not to the extent children’s books use them). Nor do I want the text to be severely lacking as a descriptive narrative, like many beginner readers (which prompted my post on what is the best way to teach a child to read?). Part of me believes that it is the oral telling of stories, the fact that you are reading out loud to your child, rather than the simple fact of your reading books, that is the important aspect of reading to young children. It is part of why I enjoy reading things like our regular, non-children’s version, of the Bible and Book of Mormon to my children. They have to listen to stories without any pictures, and will hear advanced language and concepts.
My husband and I have been trying to do some storytelling with our preschoolers and have been delighted by their rapt attention, focus, and love of storytelling! They like our simple, straightforward little stories. They like the drama, the action. I even more enjoy having them tell me a stories in return. They love to taking turns storytelling. It’s been hilarious the stories they have shared and interesting to see which ones they liked more of the ones we tell, especially as most are just made up on the spot.
Here are some videos of our daughters telling us bedtime stories (sorry for any breaks, they were filmed on the iPad and had to be segmented to email them):
A favorite story lately was one I told about Barbie and her friend Kelly getting ready for a date, going through their closets and picking what dress, shoes, makeup, and jewelry to wear, where each article of clothing presented two choices, and my daughters got to guess which ones she would pick, even though ultimately the storyteller decided who wore what.
I really wish I had more stories memorized! Sometimes I share stories from my own life (using alternative names) or stories from the Bible, including the parables of Jesus. I have found the best thing you can do is make it yours, to tell it in your own words, with your own inflection. I guess I need to go back to my high school year of Forensics storytelling and memorize more stories, but this time to share with my family, and not a judge.
Do you do storytelling with kids? Do you think it’s important? Are you a good storyteller yourself or know someone who is?
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