Reading and telling stories or fairy tales to a child helps them to improve their communication, presentation and storytelling skills, as well as increasing their understanding, attention span and emotional intelligence. Becoming a good storyteller is an exciting challenge for parents to take up in order to help their child’s development, while creating wonderful memories that the child will never forget. Here are a few tips:
- First and foremost, make reading a ritual. Spare at least 15 minutes each day for reading. Regularity is very important for a child.
- Choose a stable place to use as your regular reading spot, keeping in mind that this ought to be somewhere that is comfortable for the child. As a bonus activity besides regular reading sessions, you could sometimes choose to read in an ‘unusual’ place such as in the bath, on the trampoline, in their parents’ bed, under the table, on the balcony, in the woods or in a tent.
- Read with a ‘clear head’, giving reading with your child 100% of your attention. It’s often not easy to stop thinking about problems at work, to forget about an argument with a partner or to get rid of ‘intrusive’ thoughts, but children have a highly developed emotional radar, and they subconsciously sense changes in your mood. Try to be fully-focused on your child and reading for those few minutes. Pause the outside world for a moment and immerse yourself in the story with your child.
- Use your vocal capacity to the fullest, shifting at opportune moments from loud to quiet, whispered, hoarse, rough, thin, smiling, sneezing, coughing, animal sounds, etc. Change your speed, tempo, melody, intonation and accent to keep pace with the story.
- You can also make use of body, hand, foot and head movements when reading. Connect with the activities in the story – when your characters are running, move your feet; clap when they are clapping; if they are hiding, hide under the duvet etc.
- Breathe in the soul of the character. You have a huge level of influence over how your child perceives characters from fairy tales. It’s up to you whether and how you bring them to life. In addition to your voice, consider the use of non-verbal storytelling and personification techniques. Change your posture or use props to really become the characters you are reading about.
- Children love it when they become the main character in a story. Try replacing the character's name with your child's name, especially in the most popular fairy tales. Perhaps your child becomes a long-haired beauty trapped in a tower, or a brave prince who kills a twelve-headed dragon. Or adjust the story to a situation your child is currently experiencing, which will draw them more intensely into the story and make it more personalised and significant for your child.
- Another technique is to ask your child open questions such as: What should the character do now? What do you think will happen next? Why do you think she did that? What would you do? Why do you like this character? The story thus becomes more personal for the child and at the same time you support their development and build a habit of asking questions and analysing the text together.
- Point to the pictures as you read (and don’t forget that this also works for older children). Children love pictures, and while the story hurtles ever onward through the pages, it is the pictures that tend to attract the most attention. Ask your child open questions about the pictures, again, focusing on the details.
- Try to create tension by finishing the evening’s reading at the most exciting moment of the story – building anticipation for the subsequent pages.
- Do not forbid the child from doing activities when reading, whether they are jumping on the bed, running around, playing with toys, rolling in bed, catching up with siblings etc.
- Take time mid-story to offer the fairy tale character such as a small bite to eat, or a glass of milk and a chocolate chip cookie, then after the character has had some, offer it to the child. You might feel silly doing this, but you will see and almost certainly enjoy the child's reaction.
- Create a good atmosphere for reading fairy tales by preparing an ideal reading environment. You could dim the lights, arrange soft pillows on the bed, arrange plush toys around the room, pull the curtains, or open them depending on the time of day, use a flashlight to read scary stories, turn on a diffuser with a pleasant scent – anything that will aid in keeping your child engaged and in good spirits.
- Dramatize your reading further by using props, toys, puppets, music, singing or rhymes.
- Have a wide range of books available based on your child’s mood and interests. Let them choose a book they would like you to read. Explore different types of books such as fiction, poetry, world record books, profiles of famous people and sports heroes, sci-fi, fantasy or science. Even an encyclopaedia can be fun to read, it's just up to you to make it so.
- For more advanced readers, you can use the ‘two lies and one truth’ technique. This is where you provide your child with three options of what might happen next – two of these will be lies, and one will be the truth – and your child then chooses one of the options. This supports the development of creative and critical thinking.
- To increase a child's attention span, agree at the beginning of the story that whenever they hear a certain word, your child will applaud, give the parent a kiss, say a silly word, or cover their eyes with their hands. Similarly, when reading one book repeatedly, agree with the child that they should do something similar when you change a word, sentence or part of the story.
- At the end of the fairy tale or section of the book, ask the child to summarise the story. Summarising helps your child to develop reading comprehension and logical sequence comprehension skills.
- Create your own tradition for celebrating the beginning and end of a fairy tale. Whether it is a sentence that announces the commencement of a new tale, a little verse, a knock on a book or the ringing of a bell.
- While reading, take a mini-break to hug, kiss, or play with your child.
Be creative. Make reading fairy tales and stories an unforgettable life experience.
King, R. 2019. Start Your Story with Oxytocin. Side Bar Stories Journal, 2019. https://www.sidebarstories.org/post/start-your-story-with-oxytocin
Wilkinson, K. 2019. What makes a good storyteller? 2019, December 10. https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2019/december/what-makes-a-good-storyteller/
Stephenson, S. 2016. Storytelling With Children. 2016. Marjorie Ingall. Harmony, Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House LLC. https://www.scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/storytelling-children.html
Improving Your Storytelling Skills. https://www.kaplanco.com/ii/improving-your-storytelling-skills
Tips You Need to Become a Great Storyteller https://mythreereaders.com/storytelling-make-books-come-alive-to-your-children/