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Who’s Telling Tales?

Reading stories to your kids is wonderful. But telling stories with your kids, creating something together, might be even better. One of the most famous bedtime stories is The Hobbit, which J.R.R. Tolkien originally came up with as a bedtime story for his sons, John, Michael, and Christopher.

You might think that you don’t know how to tell stories, don’t know how to get started, or even “have no imagination.” I can state with authority that although many of us have little experience with story telling, everyone can tell stories.

And really, we adults don’t have to be the ones telling the stories. We only have to give our children the opportunity to do so, and maybe the occasional nudge then along the way to get them going.

One excellent “nudge” is Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This book is a series of images, each with caption and title. It’s simple enough to pick one of the pictures, say, “what’s happening here?” and go from there.

If you’re artistic or crafty, you might make another type of “nudge:” Story Stones. To make Story Stones, gather a number of stones with a large enough flat surface that you can paint on, but small enough to fit comfortably in a small child’s hand. Each stone gets a single image, such as a castle, a tiger, a treasure chest, a pirate, a rainbow, a spaceship, etc. If you’re not a fan of drawing, you can also employ stickers for a similar effect. Either way, it’s a good idea to use some kind of sealant after the stones have been adorned to protect your work.

To use the Story Stones, the child pulls a pre-determined number of stones from a bag. Whatever images are on those stones are elements of the story. For example, if I pulled a frog, a castle, and a rainbow, I might come up with a story about a frog that gets turned into a princess every time it rained, and only returned to her original form when there was a rainbow.

Story Cubes are similar, but instead of pulling individual stones, blocks have a unique image on each face. The blocks get rolled, and whatever lands face up is what you have to work with. If you prefer to go the pre-made route, Amazon sells a number of story dice, such as Rory’s Story Cubes, which comes with nine sturdy plastic dice (which can also be great to take along anywhere you might be subjected to boredom, such as while waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant). There are also several other versions, such as Mystery, Heroes, and even Harry Potter.

Once you get started, a vital part of the process is to be accepting of the story, wherever it goes, without criticism or judgement. When I was in college, I worked at a private reading clinic where writing stories (and then reading them) was a part of every class. The students could do anything in their stories, no matter how crazy (the only limitation was that they couldn’t die or kill anyone in the story). Freedom to create, combined with the expectation that they would create, led every kid there to come up with some great stories.

It’s also helpful to know how to use leading questions to help the story along, such as, “why did they do that?” or “then what happened?” When I’m creating stories with students, I’m usually writing it down as they talk, and my most frequent comment is generally, “Wait, go back! I can’t type that fast! What did he say?” I’m not a slow typist, but it’s always hard for me to keep up with the enthusiasm I get. You don’t have to write down your creations with your child, but it can be fun to do so.

And don’t worry about the “quality” of what you come up with. The goal is to foster closeness and creativity, not write another Lord of the Rings.

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