Keeping the Past Alive: It’s Story Time!

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?

12 thoughts on “Keeping the Past Alive: It’s Story Time!

  1. Oh I just love this. Dan’s grams died Thursday night and the funeral is tomorrow and we were close with her. It’s been great just telling stories even to just each other about our favorite memories of her, we’ll have to make sure to tell Lillian those same stories too.


    1. So sorry to hear this Michelle. Keep telling the stories. They help heal. Ever since I posted this, my relatives are coming to me with offers to share even more family stories. Just last night I told Zoey the story of my gram who was also a preemie. Hospitals didn’t have the machines they have now, so her parents put her in a shoebox behind the wood stove to keep her warm and help her grow. Zoey was amazed. Lills will love to hear all the tales too! It will help her “remember” her great-grandmother.


  2. I love the idea of recanting your past history!!! My life is far too boring to come up with stories from my past for my kids – I have lead a relatively hum drum life, but I understand the appeal for children – to visualize what their parents went through, what they were like as kids, how they interacted with other people is just kind of…magical.

    We do like to “make up” stories, though. Our ritual at night is to do a “puppetshow” (or, as my daughter calls them, “plays”). We ask them to come up with a rough cast of characters and a storyline and we all kind of act it out. Lately, it’s been all about farting (for example, last night’s story was about mom going on a hike, sitting on a rock to rest, farting when there was a bee right behind, and the bee stinging mom on the butt) – not exactly glamorous, but the kids think it’s pretty danged funny and I love to see the kids actually act it out.

    LOVE the pic of your gram with little Z!


    1. Vivian any story is a good story! And trust me, I’ve also lead a boring life. Most of the stories are not exciting in the truth, but in the details you embellish. Like when I met my best friend on a train. We were on a school field trip. She got an apple stuck in her teeth. I helped get it out. Best friends forever. Bam! Add some steam from the train and the whistle, cute raincoats and a mom with a ready camera–instant fascinating story. To a five year old. Tell your stories!!


  3. I loved this so much that I want to make copies and give it to all new moms everywhere. My father, who died 25 years ago this June(!), told me that telling stories about him would keep him alive forever. And he was right. We have so many funny stories about him that the kids know by heart. They QUOTE HIM BACK TO ME, when I’m upset about something (“If it’s a problem that can be solved with money, it’s not really a problem.”).

    I think anything you tell your kids about your own growing up years is bound to be fascinating, because it’s so old-fashioned. I was visiting my college roommate, who offered to “zap” my dinner if it wasn’t hot enough. Her eye-rolling teenage son said, “Oh my god, did she say stupid stuff like “zap your dinner” back in college?” And I had to tell him we didn’t have microwaves back then! Totally blew his mind.

    My kids also liked stories about kids with their names who weren’t actually them, but close enough — kind of a superhero version of them.

    Anyway, THANKS!!!! Loved it.


    1. Thanks Randi! I find that even the stories about how we would just go outside and play by ourselves fascinate her! “You went by yourself Mommy?” I try not to make it harder than it has to be, especially since it’s usually bedtime when I’m telling the stories and I’m tired!


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