Making Reading and Story Telling to Children Fun
Whatever happened to reading and storytelling?
In my observation, reading to children and/or storytelling has become an activity of bygone days. Some children have never experienced having a story read or told to them. The kids have lots of books that sit on their shelf unused, or used only to look at pictures. And sadly, story time has been replaced by technological entertainment.
Why Has Storytelling Diminished?
Back in the 1980s when video recorders came into vogue, reading began to slowly be replaced by home video movies. To this day, most homes with small children have a vast library of children's movies, and only a handful of books. It is so easy to turn on a movie and allow Disney to entertain your children. Of course TV has done the same thing for decades, but the issue seems to have taken on a life of its own when video, and now DVD's cropped up.
Then video games and computers arrived. Once again, children were turned over to technological entertainment, while the books collected dust on the shelves. Technology addiction soon became a problem for children, teens, and even adults.
The thing about computers and video games, is that most often the child uses them alone. He does not interact with the family, most importantly with his parents, except for mom to holler "Jeffery, get off the computer/video game and get ready for bed." His mind and brain are stimulated from hours in front of the screen and can interfere with his sleep and his eyesight.
Having said all this, I think sitting down with your children and watching a family movie together is a healthy and enjoyable activity, perhaps even having a special family movie night. Letting your children watch a movie on their own on occasion is a great treat for them. And on special occasions, playing an age appropriate video game with your child can be a lot of fun. The point is to keep these things to a minimum. The more you indulge them with the movies and games, the more they will resist story time and reading on their own.
The Benefits to Reading of Storytelling to Our Children
Why is reading and storytelling to your children so important? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends reading to children every day, starting after they are first born," because "reading stimulates the development of the brain, language and a closer emotional relationship with a child.
But what is wrong with movies, TV, computers and video games?
Let me start with the latter. Watching movies, playing video games, and spending time on the computer, are not bad, in and of themselves. But, if the children are left to do these activities for hours on end, and to the exclusion of other activities that will promote better family communication, and deeper bonding in parent/child/sibling relationships, it becomes unhealthy and down right hazardous.
I grew up with a mother who read to me often. My teachers read stories, even up into high school (shakespear or other required reading). My maternal grandmother was an oral storyteller, as was my Aunt Jacque.
The benefits are immense. Let me list a few here:
- It fosters physical intimacy (cuddling up in a chair, on a lap, or everyone huddled on the bed)
- It gives children the opportunity to ask questions and learn more, and to further nurture and deepen the relationships as the reader/storyteller and the child discuss the story and pictures
- It fosters creativity
- It makes for interactive fun
- It helps children and parents, or whoever is reading, learn about each other; what we think, what we believe, how we percieve the world, how we deal with life issues.
- Gives children a lifetime love of books and learning
The Art of Reading Stories to Children
There is nothing quite like snuggling up with Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, or Grandpa for a bedtime story. It can quickly become addicting for everyone involved. I did this every night for years with my own four boys and I think it was one of the best activities we ever partook of together.
It's good to start reading with babies, or even while still in the womb. Of course with babies and really small toddlers picture books are best. My kids and grandkids loved the little farm animal books. Some books even have textures that little ones can touch. When I use these little books I say the name of the animal and their sounds and have the child repeat it. Soon, they will be able to identify the animals and noises without any prompting. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, they have learned something, and it was a time of fun and bonding.
Children love books on trucks, cars, planes, and such and you can do the same thing. Find books that will serve the interest of the child. If you get him/her a book showing plants, they will probably become bored within three seconds.
When reading a story to any age child, read with inflection of the appropriate emotion or situation, use fun voices, and even use motions. Nothing is more boring than reading a story in monotone. Reading should be fun and interesting.
Read at a cadence that the child can keep up with. Don't be in a hurry. You and the child will both benefit if you allow them to ask questions. After the story is over, you can discuss the story further. Perhaps you can explain a moral or some lesson to the story.
Read books with pictures. Images, just like the writing we all do on Hub Pages, enhance the story and reflect the meaning of the story more vividly.
Barbara Bush Reads to Sesame Street
Favorite Classic Books Enjoyed by My Family
Allow the Child to Participate in the Stortelling
A couple of years ago I gave my little grandson Max a book of Curious George stories. Curious George was a favorite for his father when he was a boy. They are adventurous, mischievous stories, simple to understand, and just plain fun. He was two then, and when I went to visit this last May the book was still untouched. So every night, I read him a Curious George story. I had him hooked in no time. How did I do it?
First of all, I taught him what the word "curious" meant. As I read the story, I would stop momentarily at a spot and say "Oh no, he's going to get in big trouble now, isn't he?" Or, "What do you think he's going to do now?" Sometimes I would simply say "Uh oh!" That drew him into the story with heightened curiosity. Sometimes he would wager a guess, then we read on and discovered together what happened to Curious George in his predicament.
In the Curious George stories, there always comes a point where George, the mischievous monkey, would see something that intrigued him and the line "and George was curious," would follow. It was always there that I would say, "and George was..." and Max would answer with a resounding "CURIOUS!" He loved it when I stopped and said "and the man with..." and he would answer "the yellow hat," (who was George's caretaker). You can do this with any story that your child frequently wants you to read. It makes it fun and includes them in the story telling.
You can also do this when telling a story. I have a story I tell to all the little kids in my life. I learned it from my aunt when I was a kid. It requires hand movements and sounds. Some of you may have heard it. It's called The Bear Hunt. There are many variations, here is mine.
To start, have kids sit cross legged on the floor.
Once upon a time, there was a little Indian boy named One Feather (Put one finger sticking up from your head for them to copy.) Why was his name One Feather? (Children say "because he had one feather on his head"). One Feather's father was a mighty hunter and often brought home bear, deer, and elk meat for the family to eat. One day, One Feather decided he wanted to be like his father and hunt a bear for dinner.
One Feather gathered all the things he needed to go on the bear hunt. First, he got his bow and quiver and put them on his back (kids follow your motion of putting the bow and quiver on their back). Then he filled the quiver with arrows (motion of putting in arrows). Then, he grabbed the lunch is mother made him and put it in his sack. (Motion this). Then, One Feather kissed his mother goodbye (Blow kiss), and set off down the path (pat open palms on on thighs in steady cadence and say "going on a bear hunt, going on a bear hunt." The kids will join right in with gusto). Soon, One Feather came to a field of grass (rub your palms together to make swishing sound like grass). Soon, they are back on the path (palms on thighs, going on a bear hunt).
Then One Feather came to a river. He had no other way to go, so he dove in a swam the river (make swimming motions). He was halfway across the river, and he saw a crocodile coming right his way, so he started to swim fast and furious (swimming motions fast and furious. This will get the kids laughing with excitement). Finally, he came to the shore and began walking down the path again (palms on thighs, going on a bear hunt). Suddenly, One Feather came to a gravel road (make crunching noises with hand motions). And finally, he entered the dark forest. He began to look for a bear. He looked this way (look to the left) and he looked that way (look to the right) and all of a sudden, he saw a big black bear scratching his back on a tree.
One Feather pulled off his bow (grab bow off back) and pulled out an arrow (pull out arrow) and took aim (aim arrow at bear) and let the arrow go. OH NO! The arrow hit the black bear right in the behind. And the bear looked at his behind, then stood on his hind legs and roared at little One Feather (roar like a bear). So One Feather turned and ran for his life. (Use racing hand motions as you go back through the crunching gravel, down the path, through the lake, down the path, through the grass, and down the path).
One Feather opened the door to his Tepee (open the door) and he's panting and panting (pant) and fell down on the floor with his tongue hanging out (tongue out). His mother asked him "One Feather, where is the bear for our dinner?" I make a different response to this every time I tell the story. Sometimes One Feather will say, "I dropped him in the river." or I decided I wanted grilled cheese and tomato soup. Be creative. The End
As the children get more excited about story time, whether they are reading stories, or made up stories, you can begin to encourage your child to tell or read the story. Perhaps even make up their own story. When they begin learning to read in school, you can have them read parts of the story. I had one granddaughter who was never read to at home. She was not open to me reading her a story, but she always asked if she could read to me. After she read the story we talked about it and had a great time.
Book series for older kids
Acting Out Stories
Other Tips to Make Stories More Fun
Children love to hear the same stories over and over. They develop favorites and soon learn the stories well. Sometimes, really young ones have short attention spans. So I pull a little rabbit out of my hat, so to speak. What I like to do is when I come to a part where a character is supposed to do a certain thing and I will change what the certain thing is. Here's an example:
The Story of David and Goliath
David was a little shepherd boy. He took care of the Flamingos for his father Jesse. They will laugh and protest that it was sheep not flamingos. David had many big brothers who went to war against the New York Giant. The kids will cry out, "No Nana. It wasn't the New York Giant." I will say, "NO? Who was it?" And they will say, "The Philistines." And I will say, "Oh, that's right, I forgot."
When it comes time in the story for David to meet Goliath, I might call Goliath Big Bird. They laugh and protest and correct me by saying it was Goliath. Then I will say that David killed Golaith by throwing a water balloon at him.
On and on it goes, and it keeps their attention, makes it more fun and interesting, and gets them involved in the story.
Telling stories with accents is fun for you and for the child. I used to tell my children cowboy stories in a Texas accent. I had all kinds of accents. British, Australian, German, Chinese, New York (one of my favorites) and others. The accents usually went with the setting of the story. I think I had more fun with this than they did, but still they loved it and learned to do it themselves.
Be creative. Make it fun.
Famous Quotes on Reading
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” ~ Dr. Seuss
"You may have tangible wealth untold. / Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. / Richer than I you can never be – / I had a mother who read to me." ~ Strickland Gillilan
"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." ~ Emilie Buchwald
Places to Tell or Read Stories
We already talked about snuggling up in a chair, couch, or in a bed, but there are many other places to tell stories. Here are a few ideas:
- Pitch a tent in the house, the backyard, or on a camping trip and tell a story with great drama.
- Have children sit in a circle on the floor or grass or beach
- Tell a story on a car trip
- Tell a story while going on a walk
- Tell a story while your child is taking a bath
- Tell a story while swinging in the backyard or park
Again, be creative. Children need and want variety.
Using Images to Create Stories
Have the Children Make Up Stories of Their Own
When I was in elementary school I had two teachers who encouraged us in creative writing and story telling. One of the ways in which they did this was to put up a poster or photograph of something interesting, and ask the kids to build a story around it. I always found this challenging but an extremely fun way to create a story.
Another way to get us started on writing our own story was to give us the first sentence or two. For example, the teacher might give this sentence: "Jimmy sat down on his bed and examined his dirty feet. What a day it had been..." The children would then build a story, most likely about how Max got his feet dirty that day.
Another way is to simply ask the kids to pick their favorite person, place, or thing, and create a story out of it. Or perhaps a holiday theme.
The opportunity to use or increase the use of the imagination while creating a story is the most important benefit in this kind of activity. And it's so much fun, not only in the writing, but for the teacher, or parent who gets to read the results.
We can teach children to make us a story. You can lay out on the grass, snuggle up in bed, or drive down the road and help your child make up and tell his story. A beginning topic or theme or character can be suggested. The younger children will need lots of prompts and input from you either by throwing out a question like "And what did Fido do when he lost his bone?" If the child gets stuck, make a suggestion, but try to encourage him to do as much of the creating as possible. Have Fun!
What Not to do When Reading or Telling a Story
There are many ways to cause the child to lose interest. Remember, they have short attention spans, and need stories they can relate to. They need stories to comfort, entertain, and teach them. In my life as a mother, Nana, and worker with children in a variety of settings, I have learned a few no no's.
- Don't tell scary stories at bedtime. Small children are easily frightened, and even older children, especially when out camping in the woods or somewhere where it's dark.
- Read or tell stories that have a positive message and where the characters don't make disparaging or disrespectful remarks or behavior unless the story tells a lesson that those things are bad.
- Keep the stories short. If you go on and on and on, their eyes will glaze over, they will get antsy, and misbehave.
- Don't read stories only you like. You may not always enjoy the same stories. Story time is not primarily for you, although it is important that you both enjoy it. Let the child choose the story. No child wants to be forced to listen to a story he's not relating to. Give him the choice.
- Children love to interject questions and comments during a story. Go with the flow. What's important is not that you finish the story on time so you can return to the TV, or even that you finish it at all, but that you and your child enjoy your time together, and learn about life and one another.
- Don't force the child to read to tell a part of the story if they don't want to.
- If the child gets antsy or starts misbehaving a lot, try to figure out why. Are they just too wound up? Are you rushing the story? Are you reading a story they are tired of? Are they too sleepy? Sometimes you can ask them if they would like to hear something else, or if they would rather have story time at another time.
- Stay away from the old fairy tales that actually can be quite violent and scary. The Little Red Riding Hood always scared me half to death. Nursery Rhymes of old can be quite unsettling as well.
- Read to the child in quiet settings. No TV or other racket close by.
Encourage Older Kids to Tell Stories to the Younger Ones
Siblings often quarrel and get on each others nerves. Encourage the older kids to read or tell stories to the younger kids. What a bond they will forge if they do this often. If Mom or Dad have something really important they have to do and cannot work story time in one day. having an older sibling handle the storytelling will be beneficial to everyone involved. The younger will look up to and feel closer to the older child, and the older will be a positive example to the little one.
The Investment of Time
As I stated in the beginning, in our world today, technology has taken over for learning, and communication. Strong family bonds cannot be established this way. If we are to be good parents, and create quality family time, story telling and reading to our children is one of the best ways we can do it. It requires something of us that many do not wish to give in this day and age, and that is time. Time is a gift to any and all relationships. If you would rather chat on the phone, watch TV, or spend all evening surfing the web and set your kids up with Disney or a video game, something is wrong. This would be a good time to stop and think about what priority your children take in your life. What are your goals for them and for your relationships? Are the goals to keep them quiet and entertained? To be seen and not hear? To allow them to learn technological expertise and communication exclusively? I am not saying that if you don't read to your children you are a bad parent. But reading and storytelling with your children can enrich your family life a hundred fold than the current way that society has gone.
Ten Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Read
- Model reading by reading yourself
- Read to your child daily from birth
- Take your child to the library often
- Talk often about what you and/or your child have read
- If a child is inquiring about something in life, encourage him to find a book on it
- Turn off the cable service, throw out the DVD player, and prohibit non-educational video games
- Create a family library with the whole family involved
- Have your older children read to the younger children
- Make story time the highlight of the day
- Every family member have a summer reading list
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