With so much structured and scheduled, how do you find time to foster creativity? How do you encourage your children to dream? How do you help develop little writers with so little time?
You don’t always need to take pencil to paper to practice writing. Anything that gets kids thinking creatively can help. Talking is a good place to start.
What if you bring storytelling to the table?
If you have time for dinner together (and hopefully you do), you have time to talk about the day and share how family members are feeling. But what if you also take a few minutes to share a story? Storytelling is a whole lot of fun, but it’s also good practice. It can build imagination and, perhaps even more importantly, confidence. A kid who’s not afraid to jump into a told-out-loud story won’t be as hesitant to try and get one on paper.
Try it out. The next time you sit down to dinner, share a story. Start with a what-if, a familiar tale, or any silly or not-so-silly idea that pops into your head. And you're off!
Pass It On
Have one person start. The beginning can be whatever they’d like it to be; the goal is just to get it started. “Once upon a time” is just one way to do it. Anything goes. Some even like to use story starters. My dad just sent me this book, The Amazing Story Generator, a spiral-bound flip book that provides countless combinations for story starters. I love it because the hilarious results can prompt some pretty funny stories. (What if... "after winning a bet, an apprentice beekeeper joins the first manned mission to Mars"? See? Priceless!)
Once you’ve gotten started, work around the table with each person taking a turn to add to the story. It’s up to each contributor how much they contribute to this little game of tale-telling telephone. I’ve found that even the most resistant participant becomes eager to be a part of the fun once the story gets going. You’ll be amazed at the direction this can take when lots of imaginations are in play.
So, for example:
Mom: Once upon a time, there was a frog in the kitchen. He decided to have some fun.
Dad: The frog hopped across the kitchen and landed in the middle of the table, right onto the plate of mashed potatoes! The family was very surprised.
Son: The daughter screamed and jumped out of her chair. She was afraid of frogs.
Daughter: Then she threw the frog at her brother! And then the frog started to sing.
And so on.
Mix It Up
I’ve always loved fractured fairy tales, where parts of an actual fairy tale are changed, or “fractured,” to create a new take on the story. I loved teaching them to 2nd graders and even occasionally read them to 5th graders, so we now have many of them in our home library: Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox by Erin Dealey and Hanako Wakiyama, The Big Bad Wolf Is Good by Simon Puttock and Lynne Chapman, Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Earnst, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! , both by John Scieszka and Lane Smith, to name just a few. Scholastic’s Raise a Reader blog offers these suggestions to explore fractured fairy tales. They’re a blast to read and kids (both little and big and even the grown-up kind) love them.
At dinner, start with a fairy tale but change one part of it. A character, the setting, a character’s motivation, anything. Fracture that story like crazy and soak in the laughter that follows.
Nourish Young Minds
Storytelling helps inspire creativity and gives kids practice with oral language. Adult participation can help with vocabulary development. Deciding what comes next can help children develop understanding of cause and effect relationships. Engaging experiences with story can help get kids interested in hearing and reading more. Stories told over dinner can serve as inspiration for stories to be written. And, best of all, it can get everyone together in a lighthearted, fun way. What kid wouldn't love seeing his or her parents playing with story? Let's face it, parents, we don't get to do that nearly enough.
So, at your next family dinner, please pass the story along with the salt.
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and cooking up some good tales at dinnertime.
Want research? Here are some links to some interesting studies that connect storytelling to literacy development:
Developing Literacy Skills Through Storytelling
Story Telling and Story Writing