“Three apples fell from heaven, one for the teller, one for the listener and one for the one who heads the tale.” Armenian Proverb
Everyone loves a good story, whether from a book, a spoken tale, or a movie. However, most people, children and adult alike, would say, “I can’t tell stories.” The truth is, everyone can tell a story, they just need to know how. Telling stories is relatively easy because you don’t repeat the story word-for-word. When memorizing a poem or Scripture each word must be correct. A story requires two abilities: memory and imagination. Both are skills children have in abundance. Why not harness that talent to teach your children writing?
If you want to see your children’s writing soar, teach them to be storytellers. Like reading or cooking or working cooperatively with others, storytelling is a life skill. When your child gets the knack of storytelling in everyday circumstances he will have a lasting legacy and write more expressively, be attuned to the beauty of language, give a listening ear to others telling a good story, recognize good writing, and think more imaginatively.
Using storytelling in your homeschool brings a great deal more than the enjoyment of stories. You are giving your children a foundation in orality. Just as literacy is the ability to read and write, orality is the ability to speak and listen. All four modes-reading, writing, speaking, and listening-make up human communication. Orality supports literacy. Storytelling is the highest form of orality.
Typically to help a child read better and write better we make him do more of both, usually with some resistance. The most effective way to improve literacy is to increase oral language experiences, like narration, recitation, play-acting, to name a few. Storytelling is the best form of oral language experience because the teller internalizes a set of relationships and structures that they can then map back onto experience. Think of a fairy tale you love. What does it show you? The value of being kind, the lowest often makes it to the top, the need for virtue and honesty, are just a few.
Orality takes the form of stories, rhymes, sayings, conversation, and songs. Using oral language experiences with preschool children is easy, since they are preliterate and in love with words. It is sheer fun to giggle with a toddler and say a nonsense rhyme.
Once children master reading, however, the focus tends to be on the printed word and sadly, speaking and listening begin to lag behind. To achieve their best in reading and writing, elementary students must continue to develop their oral skills of speaking and listening.
How can I bring a greater orality to my homeschool?
Here are a few simple, easy to do activities that require little or no preparation:
1. Read aloud to your children every day. Pick stories and books that have a strong plot and rich use of language. Avoid adaptations of well-known stories or books.
2. Use narration every day. Narration is the art of telling back in your own words a passage that is read.
3. Do simple nursery rhymes and finger-plays with your children. If you have older children, teach them so they can do finger-plays with the younger ones. You can find books of finger-plays and nursery rhymes at your library. A few well-know rhymes are: “Jack and Jill”, “Hey, Diddle Diddle, the Cat and Fiddle”, “Little Miss Muffet”, and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”
4. Make storytelling a special time during the day or week. Use folktale collections or picture books that are retellings of folktales and ask your elementary age children to learn to tell them.
5. Tell stories about your own life. All children love to hear about when their parents were little.
6. Tell simple, well-known stories such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Ten Little Monkeys.” See if your children can tell all or part of the story themselves.
What does all this have to do with writing?
If you want to help children improve their writing you have them write? Right? Wrong. When children are asked to do writing, they often struggle because they are asked to perform two very different developmental tasks-write and think spontaneously. One task at a time is usually no problem; but, both at once require a certain amount of maturity. Begin from a different point—try having your child tell rather than write the sentence, paragraph or story.
Here’s the process: compose orally, revise orally, then-and only then-write it down. At another time ask your child to check for accuracy in grammar and punctuation but definitely not when they are composing (orally or in writing). That’s it. It sounds simple and it is. However, to see results requires consistency and a light touch. Your child needs to become accustomed to thinking out loud. Be patient and praise all efforts. Be sure to offer guidelines at the start but do not prompt with answers. There are no wrong answers with this approach, only good, better and best. Let your child sometimes play turn-about and have you try the process.
If you’re ready to give the process a try, set aside the writing workbooks for a time (you can always come back to them later). The results will amaze you.
To Learn More
To learn more about how to tell stories, check your library for the following books:
The Storyteller’s Start-Up Book: Finding, Learning, Performing, and Using Folktales: Including Twelve Tellable Tales, Margaret Read MacDonald
This is an easy-to-understand handbook that gets you started telling.
The Way of the Storyteller, Ruth Sawyer
This is a classic of storytelling literature and one of my favorites that I go to for inspiration