When my grandmother died a couple of years back, my niece gave a beautiful eulogy. She told the story of when my grandmother was a young woman and she was learning to use a typewriter. Remember in those days, there was no backspace or spell check; If you made a mistake, you put in a new piece of paper and started over. Gram would get so frustrated when she messed up a word. Her father would make her go outside and take a lap around the house before coming back in to try again. Gram wanted to give up, but the lap calmed her down and brought back her focus so she could finish.

That’s a great story, right? Well, it was one I had never heard before. I realized in that sad, wonderful moment that there was so much more for this woman to tell me. I knew a lot of her stories. But my gram lived 92 adventurous years.  I’m sure there were many stories I missed. Now that I have my own child, I want to make sure she is hearing all my stories as well as those of her own grandparents and great-grandparents. We had all lived pretty long and interesting lives by the time Zoey came on the scene. It’s up to us to keep those memories alive by sharing them with her.

Storytelling has been a way to pass along family history and the lessons that have been learned along the way for centuries. No matter what culture, generation or part of the world you hail from, I’m going to bet that you heard stories growing up. My husband and I are firm believers in storytelling. My daughter has been hearing us tell our tales since she was born. One of the best tricks I ever learned from my husband was the art of the cliff hanger in a story to get her to eat her dinner when she was 3-years old. “Take another bite and I’ll tell you what happened next.” Pure genius.

The benefits of storytelling are countless for both you and your child. Here are just a few:

  • Storytelling lets children exercise their imaginations. When you’re weaving a tale, their minds are making the pictures. They can “see” the story however they choose. The more animated you are, the more their imagination soars.
  • It also gives children practice at listening, a skill that takes time to develop. When you tell a child a story, you have the ability to mesmerize them with your words; you become sort of a wizard in their eyes.
  • Storytelling is flexible and never boring. You never have to tell the same story twice like you do when you read a book (over and over again) because you’re the one making it up.
  • By telling a story to your child, without a book in hand, you’re creating a bond with your child. You’re looking at each other and connecting with each other.  An opportunity to connect in this crazy busy world?  Yes, please!
  • Storytelling teaches children language skills and lays the foundation for reading and writing.  They hear your tone of voice and your pace of speech.  Trust me, they’ll  learn to mimic it later.
Gram meets Zoey for the first time.  Can you believe they were both born premature?  Yeah, I tell Zoey that story all the time. Photo: K. Stevenson

Gram meets Zoey for the first time.
Can you believe they were both born premature? Yeah, I tell Zoey that story all the time.
Photo: K. Stevenson

The first time my daughter asked me to tell her a story, I was intimidated. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be creative enough or that my story wasn’t going to be interesting. I was wrong. She’s a new kid on the block, so to speak. She’s never heard any of this stuff before. It was all interesting. Here’s a tip: Start small and keep it real. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a complicated story to engage your child. Heck, it doesn’t even have to have a point.

Most kids just want to hear you talk about something real that actually happened to you or someone in your life. And hey, if there’s a lesson they can learn from it, even better. Some of our favorite stories to tell our daughter involve a bossy sister being chased by a snake in the pool, how I met my best friend on a train when I was 5, and the all-time favorite one about Diane the raccoon that now lives on “Diane’s Mountain.” Now that my daughter is older, she’s the one telling us the stories. And they are silly and fun and sometimes don’t really make sense. But that’s ok, because when she tells me a story, I can see the spark in her eye and the wheels turning in her brain. What’s not to love about that?

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