Copyright 2006 Paul Arinaga
Human beings have been telling stories for several millennia. And, as parents, we’ve all heard about the benefits of telling stories to our children. The only problem is that, as with so many things, no one ever teaches us how to tell a story. The best that most of us can do is to emulate our parents’ and teachers’ storytelling, assuming that they were skilled storytellers.
Although imitating skilled storytellers is a good way to learn, it’s also possible to apply a few basic principles.
Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great storyteller.
1. Modulate your voice
Obviously, droning on in a monotone is never exciting. Try changing the tone and timbre of your voice (e.g. high and squeaky, low drawl, etc.), the rhythm, the accent and the intensity.
2. Act out different roles
This really is an extension of #1. If you’re going to go as far as modulating your voice, you may as well go all the way and act out different characters, changing your voice accordingly.
3. The pregnant pause
A carefully timed pause can really build the tension. You probably want to pause right before a major transition in the story so that your child literally begs you to tell what happens next.
4. Use your face
Smile, grimace, contort your face or make a sad face. You can use facial expressions to embellish and convey the words that you are reading. Research has shown that human beings exhibit a repertoire of approximately 3,000 facial expressions, irrespective of culture.
5. Dress the part
If you’re telling a story about Santa, why not dress up as Santa or at least wear a Santa hat? Better yet, have your kids dress up as some of the characters.
6. Use props
If you’re telling a story about the sea, you could let your child hold a seashell up to their ear to “hear” the sea. These “psychological triggers” will make the setting come alive. Also, get your children to touch and feel the props.
7. Set the mood
Ever notice how the music in a movie makes it ten times more suspenseful, sad or scary? Actually, usually we don’t notice the music, but it has a huge impression on us nonetheless. You can set the mood for a scary story simply by dimming or turning off the lights. Or you could softly play African music if you’re telling a story set in Africa. To create the atmosphere of an ancient temple, burn some incense.
In olden times, stories were more than just words on a page. You can recapture some of that magic with your storytelling. When you stimulate all five senses and create memorable moments, you’ll notice that your kids really remember the child stories you tell them and clamor for more.