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Top Storytelling Tips When Reading To Your Child

National Storytelling Week is coming up and runs from 1st to the 8th of February.

Man reading to a child

My mother used to make up her own stories and this was always a delight for my younger sister at bedtime.

I preferred reading to myself but have always enjoyed telling stories either making them up as my mother did or using a book.

Here are some top tips for anyone wishing to read to their children from former primary school teacher Becky Cranham, founder of PlanBee.

Storytelling is an in-built human trait and one that has existed since humans first roamed the Earth. Being able to tell your children stories is not only a great bonding experience but also a fantastic way to develop their early literacy and emotional skills.

As well as reading stories from books, making up your own stories to tell your little ones can be a really fun and fulfilling experience, although not everyone feel confident telling stories ‘off the cuff’. So here are our top storytelling tips for parents, carers and anyone else who wants to share the magic of stories with the children in their lives.

Use your voice and intonation

Whatever story you’re telling, your tone of voice is crucial both in helping your children to understand the story and in keeping them engaged. Use your voice to convey emotions in the story. You can do this by:

  • Slowing or quickening your voice
  • Changing the volume of your voice
  • Changing the pitch of voice (making it higher or lower).

Another good idea is to use different voices for different characters within your story. This will help your children to differentiate between all the different people and can also help them visualise the characters more effectively.

Ask and answer questions

Stopping to ask your child questions as you are reading or telling a story can help keep them engaged and ensure that they are following the plot. Encourage them to answer questions both about what is happening and how they feel about what is happening throughout the story.

Children will often stop and comment or question events for themselves. As frustrating as this can be for the storyteller, it’s a good idea to encourage this so that children feel engaged and included in the storytelling process.

Include repeated phrases

Another great way to help your children feel involved in the storytelling process is to tell them stories that include repeated phrases or rhymes that they can join in with. (Think of the Three Little Pigs: “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”.)

You can, of course, create your own repeated phrases if you’re telling your own story, but some other great examples include:

  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Traditional)
  • Not Now, Bernard (David McKee)
  • Green Eggs and Ham (Dr Seuss)
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen)
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Eric Carle and Bill Martin, Jr)
  • The Napping House (Audrey Wood, Don Wood)
  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes (Eric Litwin and James Dean)

Build on traditional stories

If you want to tell your own stories but are lacking in inspiration, you can start with familiar stories as the basis and change details to further engage your children. Try adding your child’s name as a character in stories like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid or even Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob the Builder.

Or take a traditional tale and change the setting and/or characters to give it a fresh twist. Why not turn Snow White into a cat who has to run away from the evil cat queen and finds herself living with a group of seven friendly squirrels?

Don’t be concerned about the literary quality of your stories – the more ridiculous the better (at least, according to most kids!).

Draw on your own experiences

Don’t limit yourself to fiction. Your own childhood or pre-children life can be a great source of inspiration for stories that your children will love hearing. You may, of course, embellish or leave certain details out but don’t underestimate the power of your own stories.

You could also try telling your children stories about when they were babies or very young children. Most children love hearing funny stories about themselves. Again, you don’t have to limit yourself to the absolute truth – start with a funny event and embellish it.

Use story prompts as a starting point

After a long day at work, the last thing your brain wants to do is conjure up intricate plots and fascinating characters for a bedtime story. Instead, why not try some story prompts to get you started. There are tons of story-generation tools and resources online. Ask your child to roll the dice to generate the basic plot for that evening’s story.

Use wordless picture books

There are tons of fantastic wordless picture books out there that are perfect to encourage storytelling. Use the pictures to tell the story and encourage your children to get involved too. Describe the setting and the characters, and make up what you think the characters are saying.  Do they agree with your version of what is happening? Can they come up with their own version?

Some great examples of wordless picture books include:

  • Flotsam (David Wiesner)
  • Flora and the Flamingo (Molly Idle)
  • The Snowman (Raymond Briggs)
  • Owl Bat Bat Owl (Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick)
  • Clown (Quentin Blake)
  • Mirror (Jeannie Baker)
  • Journey (Aaron Becker)

 Tell stories everywhere

Storytime does not have to be reserved for the ten minutes before bed. Get into the habit of telling a story on the way to school, waiting in the dentist’s office, while you’re eating dinner. The more you incorporate storytelling into your children’s daily lives, the more beneficial it will be.

A quick story can be as simple as picking out someone from the crowd and telling your children all the fantastical things they did they day, or spotting a caterpillar and telling the story of how it will soon become a beautiful butterfly. You don’t need to make time for those grand, sweeping epics every day (although I would recommend them once in a while) – a good tall tale or quick five minute yarn will work just as well!

And you cannot get much better than this:

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