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How to tell your child a story – without a book

Father laughing with son
Once upon a time, before the onslaught of video games, DVDs and the internet, telling stories was one of the only forms of entertainment. Jasmin Qureshi looks at how it can still be beneficial (and great fun!) today.
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Wondrous tales of adventures, far-off lands and humorous characters have always captivated youngsters (and us grown-ups too!). But, according to Tina Bilbé of the Society for Storytelling, telling your kids stories from a young age has a whole raft of educational benefits too.

“Children who have listened to stories from a young age will have better concentration levels,” says Tina, “So when they start school they will be able to listen to the teacher, and concentrate on what is being said more easily.

“Storytelling also teaches children to love stories, which then helps when they are learning to read later on – not just story books, but general educational books and exam papers. It boosts their understanding and confidence in written words, making them better in exams.”

Set books aside

While most parents read from a book at bedtime, the Society for Storytelling promotes discarding the books and telling a story from memory. Tina says telling family history stories, for example, can help you bond with your child, and cultivate an interest in the family and the world around them. Verbal storytelling also encourages kids to interact with the story, offering them chances to influence and take part in the action themselves.

Next time you tell a tale, try asking them lots of questions as you go along, like “What do you think happens next?” or “What should this character do?”, or even just a simple “Do you like…?”. Tina says this helps capture children’s imagination and inspires creativity by opening them up to other possibilities and outcomes.

“This shows children that stories are things to be played with – they change and move – which gives children confidence later on when they are asked to write a story,” says Tina.

Interacting with stories can also help with memory. For example, with repetitive nursery rhymes such as The Gingerbread Man kids have to remember and produce the different elements. This is great for memory training.

Top tips for braving storytelling without a book

  • Start off with a family history story to ease you in gently. This should be a story you know inside out, so it should flow relatively easily – but don’t worry if it doesn’t!
  • Visit your local library for inspiration. Look for stories that take your interest, so that you’ll enjoy telling them. Once you have chosen a story, re-tell it in your own words.
  • If you’re not a big reader, try listening to stories on CD and then re-tell the story in your own words from memory. This is a great way to pick up tips from professional storytellers, too.