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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Best Storytellers

Uggh! you say. Do I have to tell stories? Can’t I just read them out loud? Reading out loud is a great thing to do with your kids, and I am all for it, and I hope you have a good folktales/myths/legends etc. collection at home or at your public library (check out some of the book reviews and book suggestions on the bookshelf page). But you can’t read while taking a walk  or sitting by a lake or driving the car or fixing dinner or giving a kid a bath. Since those are ready-made moments when you can get your child’s attention, why not use them for telling stories that will help inspire the six types of courage?
 
Think you can’t tell a story? Look for a role model – we have great story tellers all around us who can teach us how to do it. 

First, consider your friends and family. Who among them always ends up holding court at picnics, dinner parties, and holiday feasts, keeping guests hushed with suspense or crying with laughter? Notice what they do that makes them so good at it. Is it dramatic presentation or with gestures and expressions? Lots of detail? Setting the scene? Exaggeration? Is it a tone of voice, or a vivid vocabulary? Is it pacing? Do they draw the audience in with questions? Do they employ eye contact or physical contact to keep listeners engaged? Have your most talkative friends over for dinner, and set the stage for story-telling – “how I met my husband/wife,” or “worst restaurant in the world,” or anything else that might get the stories flowing. Try to borrow some of the story-telling tricks you enjoy the most yourself.

Second, listen to some stand-up comics. Many of them are basically story tellers who go for the laughs. Of course their stories are intended to be funny, but the techniques they use can fit other sorts of stories, too. You can find videos on YouTube, or borrow CDs from the library or even go to a comedy club (if you can get a baby-sitter!) Very often, you will find that it’s not that the stories themselves are so funny; the brilliance is in the delivery.

Third, take the kids to a story-telling festival. In our town we are fortunate to have an annual music/dancing/story-telling shindig that lasts for an entire weekend in venues all over town. We also live near a nature education and Native American culture center run by a family of master story tellers (Joseph Bruchac and his sons). Their Scary Stories Night at Halloween time is a must for K. and her friends, and they host other story programs throughout the year. Many public libraries host story tellers, too. Aside from being a great place to pick up new stories, these festivals and events are also great places to learn some technique. 

Finally, listen to yourself. Begin to notice when you are telling stories, because I promise you already do it without realizing it or thinking of it that way. We all describe events and episodes of our day or our history, sometimes with a few brief sentences, sometimes with exhaustive detail. Which elements of your story telling grab your family’s attention most effectively? Play to your own strengths and embrace your inner story teller! Some people have a microphone and a spotlight; we have the attention of our children.  Embrace it!

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