Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Telling Stories

There will be a time when you need to be a story teller – when you’re stuck in traffic, when you’re at the doctors and you don’t want your child to touch a book which another child has coughed all over, when it’s midnight and you’re not turning on the light to read a “real book.” As I see it, there are two easy approaches to storytelling. The first is to simply tell stories from your life, funny events, how you met your husband (probably best to leave out the alcohol references), etc., that you’ve simplified for your child. Even how something "works" can be a story - I explained everything I knew about bobsledding (which I learned on TV) about 100 times last week. The other approach takes about 5 minutes more of pre-thought, but can be limitless in the possibilities. Here are some tips:

1. Create a character. A simple, everyday, profession-based character is easiest for me, fantasy-characters involve too much creativity for late-night stories! Describe what they look like, where they live, and what they do. It’s obviously ideal if you create a character around your child’s area of interest.

  • Fireman Pete
  • Policewoman Patty
  • Betsy Ballerina
  • Chef Charlie

2. Give your character a side-kick pet with a funny name. And I use “funny” loosely. For a two-year old, a “funny” name is one they can’t imagine for a pet. A dog by the name of Pizza will bring riotous laughter.

3. Construct a simple story structure that you can use time and time again – basically, just by swapping out some of the details.

  • Fireman Pete has a dog that always escapes and starts a fire, which must be put out.
    Policewoman Patty solves a simple mystery, for example, Billy’s lost blankie, by collecting three simple clues.
  • Betsy Ballerina always loses her shoes before her big performance and must visit three people, who don’t have her shoes, but give her other things that help her become her character (for example, a feather if she is going to be a bird for that show).
  • Chef Charlie never has the right ingredients so he makes odd substitutions and ends up making something delicious (or a terrible mess).

4. Add lots of irrelevant details. Engage your child by asking, “What color is Billy’s house?” even if it is not important for the plot. Or make connections to things your child knows, “Billy’s house is grey, just like grandma’s house.”

5. Don’t worry about a moral or a sophisticated plot. Feel free to “borrow” from other stories you’ve read or know. We’re not publishing anything yet!

6. Don’t worry about going slowly or repeating things (giving you time to think about the next step), your child will enjoy these stories more than any book.


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