The Art of Storytelling When you cast your mind back to your childhood, what are some of the most enduring memories you have? The majority of us look back and remember the things that made us smile, feel secure, or had a big impact upon us, and one of the main ways most of us were entertained as children was through stories. Having a parent read a bedtime story to us was a way of sectioning the day in to two parts – waking and sleeping – acting as a transitional activity in to the evening. Why children respond to stories Because so many of us have enjoyed the act of listening to stories, it’s unsurprising that every human being responds brilliantly to this activity. From four or five months old, we take an interest in books, and reading to children even at this age can have a profound effect upon their positive cognitive development. From simple, repetitive tales focusing on shapes and colors right though to more complex novels, stories have the power to captivate the imagination, enhance our creative skills and support us with language acquisition. There is another benefit to the simple art of storytelling – it engages children and helps them to express, articulate and discuss feelings, issues and thoughts which they may not always be able to share through everyday language. If you are finding it difficult to get a child to open up, one of the best things you can do is make the discussion in to a game and encourage open conversation through the art of storytelling. Supporting children to express difficult feelings The beauty of telling stories is that they start in a familiar way – everyone relaxes in to the opening lines of ‘Once upon a time…’ and children are particularly responsive to the familiar formula of storytelling. Starting out a discussion in this way, and inviting the child to add in parts of the story is a well-proven and effective tactic for encouraging frank communication, enabling the child to join in the weaving of the tale without feeling self-conscious, shy or embarrassed. This can be particularly effective when encouraging kids to discuss sensitive or difficult subjects such as bullying, as you can work with them to explore thoughts and feelings through the narrative of a character, encouraging them to apply their own views and experiences to the story. Using storytelling to tackle tough subjects In storytelling, the child has the opportunity to open up to new ways of thinking, safe in the knowledge that every tale we know from childhood has a happy ending. This can really support safe exploration of tough subjects, which may be too raw to handle firsthand without the ‘comfort blanket’ of the storytelling pattern and formula. You can start out by setting the scene for the child, for example by placing the narrative in context (‘Once upon a time, there was a boy called x, and he was getting ready for school last week when x happened…’) and then inviting the child to give input and embellish the story, painting a picture of what took place. Fusing the fictional and the real together enables you to support an open conversation, where the child is able to resort to fictional events to change a story to achieve a positive outcome, or use the safety of imagination to detract from issues which are tough to approach head-on. By using the art of storytelling with children, we encourage new and positive ways of viewing situations, requesting input to develop alternative outcomes and showing a willingness and openness to discuss difficult subjects and empower the child to narrate events with confidence and security.
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