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Storytelling secrets from The Library Fairy®

We've all been there.

It's that moment before you start a story and you see a restless group of children all looking at you.

You think to yourself, "How am I going to engage them? Should I stand on my head? Make animal noises? Break out in song?"

The beauty of telling a story in the oral tradition, is it gives us a moment—a moment in time to experience another realm, culture or world. This art also develops empathy and understanding in children of diverse cultures and people.

You just might find the children looking at you are excited, because they are waiting— waiting for you to take them on a journey they won't soon forget.

Secret one: the lasting imprint

What do you think children remember the most after hearing a tale?

The emotional connection you make with them.

Connecting with children—really connecting with them-- takes an instant. There is much children experience on a daily basis that is one-sided: either technological or pure entertainment. As fun or worthwhile as these are at times, there is no replacement for a person standing in front of them, and looking them in the eye while giving something from the heart.

Secret two: bring the senses alive!

As a storyteller, you can integrate three main learning modalities to enliven children's senses during a tale. This can be accomplished in fun and simple ways:

1. Visual modality: paint the picture with your words

When telling a tale, focus on the most detailed description of the characters you can muster. Instead of just saying an “old cat” relay a super-specific detail such as, "The dust from age had gathered in her fur for so long, her once porcelain-white fur was now the grey of a dark, looming cloud in a storm …"

Painting the picture with your words helps children to construct the story's rich characters with their imagination. This also develops their cognitive and symbolic-thinking capacity— directly aiding their literacy and language skills.

2. Auditory modality: word-weave your heart out

One of the fantastic benefits of storytelling is that it creates an oral-rich environment. Children are absorbing many vital skills in hearing a good story, such as advanced vocabulary, the rhythm and pace of language and story structure.

Children crave the kind of sharing communication storytelling provides; distinctly different from the directive language they may experience throughout the day. Storytelling is an ancient, familiar language immediately recognized in their DNA. Children are also more relaxed and open to learning lessons during this time.

Remember to also speak in rich, varied voices as the characters. It’s fun and helps children remember them. You'll be amazed when they repeat the tale word for word... imitating YOU!

3. Kinesthetic modality: use gestures

Children are natural actors and respond to physical activity. That's why it's a great idea to create character gestures they can repeat along with you in a story. This also helps focus their attention on an activity, and recall and retain the tale even more.

Secret three: repetitive phrases work wonders

Children love predictability. This includes in storytelling adventures, too.

Try to tell tales that have fun, repetitive phrases you can use in call and response with children. It's an effective method storytellers have used since the beginning of time to involve audiences.

A phrase that repeats itself in a children's folktale or book is the invisible thread that weaves the story together, creating an irresistible tempo to the tale. Use it grandly in call and response and you will find the children are more captivated because they feel they are actually a part of the journey, instead of just listening to a story.

And that bears repeating.

Secret four: Humor and invention keep children's attention

Humor is the magic wand in storytelling.

Telling a story is a lot like leading children down the garden path of an exciting journey. Once in awhile, you want throw in something completely unexpected that keeps the journey interesting -- such as a silly face, dance or sound. You'll find it keeps their attention because it makes it fun!

Remember, YOU are the link to the story you are sharing. Yes, YOU! Children want to experience the story and characters completely through you! So don't be shy! Take them on the journey of the story as much as possible. That means investing your energy, enthusiasm and humor into the story and giving it to them directly... like a gift.

The Library Fairy® is a Sonoma County children’s storyteller specializing in folktales that promote diversity, multiculturalism, literacy and language skills. Join teachers, educators, parents and children around the world who enjoy her weekly, free podcast: The Library Fairy – Kids’ Stories and Folktales found on your favorite platform.

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