Human beings love stories – it’s in our DNA – and we never get tired of hearing them. Kids ask for the same story fifty times right? In fact, knowing what comes next is what they like best. Take every opportunity to read to your kids – hope you do the funny voices thing – because reading offers social, intellectual, emotional and creative benefits. BUT don’t rely on books – just tell stories.
And you can do it anywhere. We’ve read Jack and the (ruddy) Beanstalk so many times we all know what comes next. So it’s easy when we’re huddled in the hammock or sprawled on the couch, and someone says, Tell me a story, to start it off: Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a boy called Jack, and he was so poor that . . .
Let the kids take over once you start off. The story will be different every time and kids will correct you if you go wrong (on purpose). But put your own spin on it – change the cow’s name, make Jack a girl, let Jack refuse the beans – that’ll shock ’em. And set their imaginations tumbling. Invent your own stories and involve kids in creating these stories too.
We’ve got a plastic light at our house, which nobody uses. It now lives in the darkest room and is known as The Story Light. The kids love to make the room as dark as possible, haul the light out into the centre, and switch it on. Then they gather round to tell a story. The tale travels around the light, passed from one storyteller to the next. Adding voices and scary shadows is easy because the room is dark and faces get that creepy ‘limelight’ glow (a torch works just as well). And don’t be surprised if other characters (toys, etc.) join in. Be prepared for lots of silliness.
The result is usually the most rubbish story you ever heard. Mostly because listening is a skill, every bit as hard to do as making up the next bit of the story. But that’s not the point. Children are beginning to understand the building blocks of narrative, which will be increasingly important as schooling progresses. And who knows, the next Jane Harper or Tim Winton might very well be living under your roof.