Reading aloud to children is a very enjoyable experience that many families enjoy. Storytelling can also be a powerful learning tool. There are few things that a child enjoys more than watching and listening to a parent who can tell a story with exaggerated animation and creativity.
These experiences can lead to profound discussions with your child about various important concepts, problems, and issues. Almost every culture has powerful storytelling traditions.
Done with a little forethought, stories can create a safe environment for the child where these topics can be discussed without fear or hesitation. Animal characters are the perfect safe substitutes to represent children in stories and children identify with them quickly.
Stories can be read from a book or you can make up your own. I still remember the wonderful times that I had as a child with my grandfather who would often tell me exiting and funny stories that we would then later discuss. His stories usually featured a mischievous cat named “Puss” who was always getting himself into difficult and funny situations.
If you decide to select a book, you can choose one to read “just for fun” - or you can select one that contains a specific subject that you would like to discuss later. My series of Seamus the Sheltie books for children with parental discussion guides were specifically designed to accomplish that goal ( www.seamusthesheltie.com).
Whatever you select, read it and practice it a bit first. If you make up your own stories, practice telling them also.When you are comfortable with the story, read or tell it in front of a mirror or into a tape recorder.
When you tell the story to your child, tell it with as much enthusiasm and gusto as you can. Change your voice with the characters, use exaggerated facial expressions and hand movements, and perform with as much dramatic flair as possible.
Relax and have some fun with this yourself. Your enjoyment and fun will be contagious. Whenever possible, involve the child in the story. You can provide statements that they can repeat or gestures that they can imitate.
If you plan on discussing the story when you are finished, prepare the child for a more active role as you tell the story. You can stop at an exciting point in the story and ask questions like; “Wow – what do you think will happen next?” – Or - “That dog sure is smart isn’t he?” Engaging the child with questions like these will help set the stage and get the child comfortable with continuing the discussions about the story or animals when you are finished reading.
Unfortunately, story telling is rapidly becoming a lost art in our society. It remains however a powerful tool that can facilitate meaningful learning and discussions with your child. As is the case with me, these childhood memories last a lifetime.