Commentary: 6 Simple Ways to Use Storytelling as a Teaching Tool for Your Children

Stories are spectacularly successful learning tools. Children whose parents tell and/or read stories to them from an early age turn out to be better readers and students later on.

Furthermore, you are more than 20 times more likely to remember information if you learn it in a story than if you simply memorize it as data. In part, the more stories we encounter, the more effectively our brains learn to work within the structure that most stories follow. We not only absorb the stories’ contents; at the same time, our brains get used to organizing what we learn into a usable form. We learn how to learn through stories.

As a professional author and storyteller, a father, and the husband of an award-winning schoolteacher and counselor, I can attest firsthand that one of the most effective and engaging ways to teach and to learn is through stories. Here are a few tips to help integrate storytelling into your child’s daily routine:

1 Start with picture books when your child is very young. Reading to children not only offers the value of the book’s contents but also demonstrates that you value books, which reinforces your child’s interest in reading. Read aloud to your child, or try telling a story you already know in your own words as you turn the pages. This allows you to keep eye contact with your child, while offering you the security of having the book to refer to if you feel you’ve lost your way.

2 Introduce stories about historical or fictional people who do what they love. There are endless resources: books and websites that tell stories of famous artists, composers, engineers, athletes, scientists, etc. You never know which one will resonate with your child and open up a lifetime passion, so offer a variety. I’ve had many people tell me, “I’m a scientist/artist/author now because I listened to your recording about scientists, etc.”

3 In addition to telling stories to your child, try to tell with her or him. First, tell an old favorite together. It gives the child a sense of mastery, particularly if every so often you ask, “What did she do then?” Next, try creating a new version by asking, “What if Cinderella hadn’t dropped the glass slipper? Can we think of another way she and the prince might have found one another?” If you reach a dead end, go back to an earlier moment of decision in the story, have the character make a different choice, and go on from there.

4 Another form of storytelling is family stories. Sharing incidents from your life, or those of your ancestors, gives the message to your child that s/he is important enough to share in this family history, and imbues your child with a sense of his or her own roots and identity.

5 Always consider to whom you are telling the story, and think of yourself as “translating” the intent of the story onto a level this person can understand. You can tell a story differently at different developmental stages. Think about what you most want the child to remember. Start simply with what you know, and tell it in your own words. If you make a mistake, say, “I forgot to tell you that…” and go on; kids find that endearing. Another way to handle having left out a part is to say, “Now, what Aunt Joan didn’t know yet was that Uncle Bill had already bought the tickets.” This presents the information you forgot as a dramatic element of the tale.

6 One powerfully positive element of storytelling is that it fosters a strong bond between parent and child. Through our stories, and the manner in which we tell them, families and entire societies pass on what matters most to them. Children come to recognize that you are sharing your true self, not through a lecture but through a story. Kids may not retain into adulthood every single detail, but they always will remember that mom or dad loved them enough to share what they thought really mattered the most.

If you are fortunate, there will come a day when you see your own child, now grown up, carry on this story tradition with his or her child. It all starts and ends with love — and a good story.

Jim Weiss is an award-winning author and storyteller with more than 58 recordings now available at WellTrainedMind.com.

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