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Stories from the heart. (For Parents Particularly).

Once upon a time ...

Those time-honored words are the doorway to another world, a land long ago and far away, where princesses still live and animals still talk. In a time when television, video games, movies, and other activities consume much of our leisure time, storytelling might have drifted into a forgotten corner of our memories. In spite of those distractions, however, storytelling remains a vibrant piece of most societies. Oral storytelling is a tradition that has been with humankind since the advent of language. Stories exist in every culture in every part of the world, and are a tool for teaching children about life, culture, imagination, and everything in between. In many cultures, the storyteller is the most revered and respected person in the community, an honored teacher.

Parents are their children's first teachers, playing a critical role in laying the foundation for children's future educational success. As a result, parents often ask, "What can I do to help my child to be successful in school?" The answer, of course, is "Many things!" One of the easiest and most effective strategy is reading aloud to your child. Research thoroughly documents the importance of reading aloud to children from birth and on well into their school years. Book reading is not the only way to build literacy, however. Just as important is the art of oral storytelling ... the stories we tell our children and that they tell us. After all, "once upon a time" happened long before the first book was ever published!

Oral language development begins well before a child is ready to read. This development can be nurtured and enhanced through games, songs, and stories in face-to-face time with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. A child's receptive vocabulary--words he or she can understand far exceeds his/her expressive vocabulary--words he or she can speak. By talking to our children, we build that receptive vocabulary, which in turn enhances their expressive vocabulary. Parents instinctively talk to their children from the moment of birth, and storytelling is a natural outgrowth of that talk. Telling and sharing stories enhances the connection between parents and children. As they listen to imaginary stories, stories from our families, and traditional stories from our cultural backgrounds, children develop a rich foundation of language and experiences.

Many of the same positive outcomes associated with reading aloud to children also apply to oral storytelling. Storytelling builds vocabulary, enhances imaginative abilities, increases story understanding, and builds comprehension. Stories are the containers of our lives, allowing us to pass our culture, values, and beliefs from one generation to the next. Storytelling allows us to connect with one an other, and to make sense of the world in which we live. Research on brain development reveals that the human brain stores and recalls information best in story form. Stories offer multiple connections that the brain can "grab" in order to absorb information, thus allowing more rapid retrieval and longer staying power.

Now that you are convinced of the power of storytelling, you might be wondering, "But how do I do it?" That is the easy part. As you talk to your child, begin sharing bits of your own childhood. Tell your child about your own childhood experiences: the first day of school, the time you lost your tooth in the school cafeteria, or your first trip away from home. Share stories about moving, your favorite Christmas present, or even your most embarrassing moment. Tell your child about Grandma and Grandpa, and about favorite family traditions. Think back to your favorite childhood songs and stories and share those. Pull out old fairy tales--not the Disney stories, but the traditional stories handed down from generation to generation.

Here are some specific ideas for opening the door to storytelling:

* Me Stories: Make up stories about the little girl who made friends with the monster under the bed, or the little boy who discovered a whole world of make-believe creatures who lived in his shoe. Weave your child's name, interests, and friends' names into the stories ... your child will be delighted to be the hero who vanquishes the wicked witch.

* Story Starters: Ask your child to name three objects in her bedroom; then you (and she) can make up a story that incorporates all three of the objects.

* Nursery Rhymes: These mini-stories have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, but many young people today are not as familiar with them. Refresh your memory, then share the rhymes with your child. Some have hand gestures to accompany them, adding to your child's enjoyment. All have the rhythm and rhyme patterns that are so appealing to young children, and that nurture oral language development and lay the foundations for development of reading skills.

* Books: Use literature as a jumping-off point for sharing stories. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is the story of a little boy who, by sharing his memories, helps an elderly friend rediscover hers. Create a memory box of your own to hold meaningful objects and photographs. Let your child open the box and select an object; you then share the personal story behind the object. For older children, help them create their own memory boxes to share.

* Cooking: Even young children can be involved in helping prepare dishes for mealtime. As you work together in the kitchen, share family stories associated with holidays, specific foods, or even with the dishes and silverware. One of my children's favorite stories is about the time their frazzled and somewhat forgetful grandmother put a dish of sauerkraut in the cabinet instead of the microwave while preparing a harvest dinner. The meal was half over before she realized what she'd done. Years later, our family still laughs at that story!

* Make-Believe: You and your child can make up your own stories by starting with simple questions such as "What if ...?," "Why?" or "How?" Why are butterflies so colorful? How did the owl get his large eyes? What if you were Cinderella? All of these questions can stimulate creative storytelling, and may even lead to exploration of "scientific" answers to some of your questions!

* Resources: Many fabulous storytellers from around the world have made CDs, tapes, and videos of their performances. Check with your local library or video store to get more information. The library is also a wonderful resource for finding collections of traditional folklore, and many offer weekly storytime sessions for young children.

* Make It FUN: Most of all, remember to have fun with storytelling. It is not an activity with a test at the end, but rather an enjoyable experience to be shared with all members of the family.

The journey to literacy begins at birth, and stories are the guideposts along the way. Every one of us has stories within us that are worth sharing with our friends and family. Children are eager listeners and avid storytellers themselves. By tapping into this natural literacy, the adults in their lives can enhance their skills, build their knowledge, and enrich their lives in a tradition that has been carried on for centuries. And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Copyright [c] 2003 by the Association for Childhood Education International. Permission to reproduce this column intact is not required. It is hoped that readers will distribute copies to parents, colleagues, and others who work with children.

Jennifer Geringer is Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:storytelling
Author:Geringer, Jennifer
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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