“Three apples fell from the sky, one for the narrator, one for the listener, and one for the person leading the story.” Armenian proverb
Everyone loves a good story, whether it’s from a book, a spoken tale, or a movie. However, most people, both children and adults, would say, “I don’t know how to tell stories.” The truth is that everyone can tell a story, they just need to know how. Storytelling is relatively easy because you don’t repeat the story word for word. When memorizing a poem or Scripture each word must be correct. A story requires two skills: memory and imagination. Both are skills that children have in abundance. Why not take advantage of that talent to teach your children to write?
If you want your children’s writing to skyrocket, teach them to be storytellers. Just like reading, cooking, or working collaboratively with others, storytelling is a life skill. When your child gains the ability to tell stories in everyday circumstances, they will have a lasting legacy and will write more expressively, be attuned to the beauty of language, listen to others when they tell a good story, recognize good writing, and think more imaginatively.
Using storytelling in your homeschooling brings much more than the enjoyment of the stories. You are giving your children a foundation in orality. Just as literacy is the ability to read and write, orality is the ability to speak and listen. The four modes (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) constitute human communication. Orality supports literacy. Narration is the highest form of orality.
Usually, to help a child to read and write better, we have him do more of both, usually with some resistance. The most effective way to improve literacy is to increase oral language experiences such as storytelling, recitation, drama, to name a few. Storytelling is the best form of oral language experience because the storyteller internalizes a set of relationships and structures that she can then map back onto the experience. Think of a fairy tale that you love. What does it show you? The value of being kind, the lowest usually rises to the top, the need for virtue and honesty, are just a few.
Orality takes the form of stories, rhymes, sayings, conversations, and songs. Using oral language experiences with preschoolers is easy as they are illiterate and in love with words. It’s so much fun to laugh with a small child and say a nonsense rhyme.
However, once children have mastered reading, the focus tends to be on the printed word and, sadly, speaking and listening begin to lag behind. To achieve their best in reading and writing, elementary students must continue to develop their oral speaking and listening skills.
How can I bring greater orality to my homeschool?
Here are some simple and easy to do activities that require little to no preparation:
1. Read aloud to your children every day. Choose stories and books that have a strong plot and rich use of language. Avoid adaptations of well-known stories or books.
2. Use storytelling every day. Narration is the art of recounting in your own words a passage that is read.
3. Do simple nursery rhymes and finger plays with your children. If you have older children, teach them so they can play finger games with the younger ones. You can find books on finger plays and nursery rhymes in your library. Some well-known rhymes are: “Jack and Jill”, “Hey, Diddle Diddle, the Cat and Fiddle”, “Little Miss Muffet”, and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”.
4. Make storytelling a special time during the day or week. Use collections of folktales or picture books that are retellings of folktales and ask your elementary school children to learn how to count them.
5. Tell stories about your own life. All children love to hear about when their parents were little.
6. Tell simple, familiar stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Ten Little Monkeys.” See if your children can tell all or part of the story for themselves.
What does all this have to do with writing?
If you want to help children improve their writing, do you make them write? Good? Mistaken. When children are asked to write, they often struggle because they are asked to perform two very different developmental tasks: writing and thinking spontaneously. One task at a time is usually not a problem; but, both at the same time require a certain amount of maturity. Start from a different point – try to have your child count instead of writing the sentence, paragraph or story.
This is the process: write orally, revise orally, and then, and only then, write it down. At another time, ask your child to check for accuracy in grammar and punctuation, but definitely not when composing (orally or in writing). That’s all. It sounds simple, and it is. However, to see results requires consistency and a light touch. Your child needs to get used to thinking out loud. He be patient and praise all efforts. Be sure to offer prompts at the beginning, but don’t prompt with answers. There are no wrong answers with this approach, just good, better, and better. Let your child play from time to time and have him try out the process.
If you’re ready to give the process a try, set aside the writing workbooks for a while (you can always come back to them later). The results will surprise you.
To learn more about storytelling, check your library for the following books:
The Storyteller’s Starter Book: Finding, Learning, Interpreting, and Using Folktales: Including twelve retellable tales, Daisy Lee MacDonald
This is an easy to understand manual that helps you get started with counting.
The Path of the Storyteller, ruth sawyer
This is a classic of narrative literature and one of my favorites that I go to for inspiration.