Earlier this week, I shared how our four-year-old, Ada, has been asking us to tell her stories about the photos of family displayed in our dining room. It’s been fun sitting around in our jammies at breakfast, telling her stories about our loved ones she didn’t get the opportunity to know or thrilling her with the details of our wedding. What has surprised me is how excited she is to retell the stories herself. Sometimes she adds extra details that make the story all her own.
As I was traveling for Kentucky A to Z , I often wandered into towns that had all but disappeared, leaving no one to tell the stories of what once (and who) was there. I believe that our personal stories are so important to our collective story and I want to teach my kids early on the power of storytelling.
Of course, there are other benefits to storytelling beyond preserving personal history. As someone who always struggled with and had a great deal of anxiety about math, I had an astute professor in college who recognized that stories may be the best way to help me make a connection with the material I was struggling to grasp. If you think about it, stories are something we can all, despite skill set or talent, connect with and understand. In her book, Figures Facts and Fables: Telling Tales in Science and Math, Barbara Lipke notes that students who participated in storytelling within math and science classes “…not only learned about scientific method, they learned something much more important: they learned that asking questions is valuable, that it leads to knowledge, and that scientists, one of the professions they considered elite and unattainable, worked by asking questions. Their natural curiosity was validated, not squelched. What a lesson!”
Storytelling also improves listening and memory skills, promotes inventive thinking and, I believe, teaches empathy by exposing them to other people, places and cultures. Here’s a few (clutter-free) ways we create invitations for storytelling in our home:
1. Homemade Sensory Table
Travis made our sensory table with some scrap wood and a long plastic container. We like to dye rice with liquid watercolors and set up scenes, like this farm scene that has been so popular, it’s stuck around for a few months. Shop your own home for items to use like small toys, plastic spoons and cups. Ada likes to make up all sorts of stories about the farm animals!
2. Dress Up Station
We made a simple dress up station with shelving from the closet organization section at Lowe’s and stocked it with hand-me-down Halloween costumes. I love watching the storytelling and creative dialog that happens when a group of kids play in costumes.
3. Play Phone
One of the most popular toys in our home is this vintage phone that I bought at a yard sale and painted. Leave it out and a kid is sure to find it and start creating elaborate and often hilarious dialog with the person on the other end.
4. Chalk Wall
If you have a wall in a gathering place in your home that could be painted with chalkboard paint, I highly recommend giving it a try! Our chalk wall is in the kitchen, which is perfect when I’m trying to cook and need a quick way to keep little hands busy. The really cool thing is the collaborative storytelling that happens on our chalk wall. We all draw together and something we add little details here and there. A tree that Ada draws can end up in an apple orchard I draw with a space ship Travis adds blasting off into the sky. There are big stories told about all of the drawings and lots of memories made here.
5. Story Strewing
Jean at The Artful Parent (one of my very favorite blogs) wrote an awesome post about stewing, or casually leaving invitations to learn throughout your home. Unlike guided activities, these “opportunities” are left for your child to discover on his or her own. She describes it like product placement. Some simple ways to get your kids telling stories with strewing would be leaving a family photo album out on the coffee table, setting out a basket of storytelling stones or displaying library books in a way that will catch your child’s attention. One of the easiest ways I get Ada telling stories is to leave the Pottery Barn Kids catalog out and within her reach. She loves looking at the photos and creating stories about the kids.