I believe in storytelling. I believe it’s powerful and rewarding and beautiful and entertaining and illuminating and therapeutic. And I believe it’s a skill that can be learned. Even those of us who found and fell in love with storytelling as kids have been practicing and refining and evolving ever since — and it’s a skill you can foster in your own kids. What better gift to give a child than the gift of curiosity and storytelling?
In my life as both a storyteller and a mom, I’ve found a few important things to be true and useful as I raise my own member of the next generation of storytellers. I hope you find these four tips a good place to start, and I welcome additional tips you have to share.
1. Give your kids a voice and let them use it.
Let your kids speak for themselves whenever possible. Let them introduce themselves when you meet new people, let them order their own food at restaurants, and let them decide things when it makes sense. Kids have opinions and ideas from a surprisingly young age — but we have to listen. Kids are often dismissed or rushed or we just speak for them instead because it’s all easier and more efficient that way.
Storytelling is about finding your voice and the more you literally speak for your kids, the longer it will take for them to find their voice. It may be clunky or rambling or shy at first — but that voice will get stronger with use.
2. Teach them the fundamentals.
Great stories happen to those who can tell them. –Ira Glass
Style and voice are things many storytellers refine over a lifetime, but the fundamentals are universal. Teach your kids to craft a story or find someone who can. For me, this meant speaking and leadership skills in 4-H as a child, and speech and drama classes as a teenager. I learned how to introduce a topic, unfold the story, then wrap it up with a conclusion. There are a million ways to do this for different settings and audiences and formats — and that’s what makes a great storyteller — but I’ve never forgotten the formula I learned rehearsing at a card table in my living room: tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em.
If you’re not the right person to teach these basics, find a writing workshop or tap into a storyteller in your kiddo’s life who can share her knowledge. Laying this foundation will be critical in the early stages.
3. Expose your kids to a craft. And then another one. And another.
Storytelling isn’t always writing and it’s not always speaking. Your storytelling medium could be photography or pottery or comedy or dance. Let your kids dabble in all of these things. Set up a YouTube channel to curate their stories. Let them pick out (or design their own!) journal. Set her up with a used camera. Encourage his sketching. It’s all storytelling, and you never know where the spark will be.
Indulge your child’s curiosity and expose him to mediums that allow him to explore what might be HIS storytelling venue.
4. Help them collect their own stories.
To be interesting, be interested. — Dale Carnegie
To be a storyteller you must have stories to tell, and the best thing you can do for a child is expose them to a life that will give them stories. Expose them to a variety of activities and experiences and people and foods and books. Don’t let every weekend look the same. Encourage them to dabble. Let them fail. Celebrate curiosity.
Every experience of a child’s life changes them and shapes them and becomes a building block in their story. Eventually, seeing life through the eyes of a storyteller will become second nature.