We all tell stories all the time. It is an important part of how we get along with other people. We tell jokes, we talk about what we’ve been up to, and we make up stories to entertain others. The ‘personal narrative’, where children tell stories about their own experiences, is an important part of personal identity. The ability to tell stories also helps children with their literacy development and academic learning. Therefore, it is a good skill to promote, even in young children!
At the tender age of 3, children are not expected to be great storytellers. They live primarily in the moment and need help along the way to be able to remember the things that have happened to them. Parents can help promote storytelling skills by:
1. Parents’ responses. For example, if your 3-year-old says, “We went to Paris,” you could say, “Yes, we went to Paris and we went up the tower. It was fun. Do you remember going up the tower? There were a lot of steps. We were so high! … What could you see from above? “In this way, you are helping him to remember the experience.
2. Shared narration. For instance:
Begin by saying “Tom, wasn’t it fun to go swimming?”
You add, “You loved the water, didn’t you?”
Tom says, “I got splashed”
You reply, “Yes, that’s right. They splashed you a lot, right? There was a big commotion. But you were fine.”
Tom adds more, “I wore my hat.”
Go back to give more details about what you said. “Oh yeah, you were wearing your swimming cap. You were wearing your blue swimming cap.”
At this point, father and son are building a story by taking turns. The parent actively listens to what the child has said and relies on his response.
3. Props ~ Using props, such as photos, train tickets, ice cream wrappers, pebbles, leaves, etc., help anchor the memory. You can look at them, feel them, smell them, stick them in a scrapbook, and use them as sensory reminders of where you have been and what happened.
4. Focus ~ try to make a mental note of what your child finds most interesting on any trip, rather than what you, as a parent, find most interesting. For example, if the train is the most interesting part of a trip for your child, watch anything he says about the train, for example, “It makes noise!” When you are recounting the experience together, you can look at the picture you have taken of the train and say “Oh look. We went on that train. Do you remember how loud it was?”
These may seem like little things, but if you do them regularly, making them part of the daily experience, they will support a child’s storytelling development. Remember that you may be counting more than your child. Remember to also balance comments with questions: it is better to use more comments and fewer questions. When asking questions, try to think of those that you know your child will be able to answer. If you don’t immediately answer a question, give it a little time and then try “completing the sentence.” For example, you could say “We went by train to …”, then you can add “Paris!” Your child will have a sense of accomplishment and participation as they complete the sentence and contribute to the story.
5. Share books ~ Share picture books that your child likes, about characters and topics that you find interesting. Get your child involved in the storytelling by asking easy questions and using “sentence completion.” For example, you could say “Oh look. It turned into a …” and the child can complete the sentence.
6. Narrative modeling is when you provide the stories and your child can listen, participate, and learn. You can comment on and beautify the game as it happens. Stories can be very short! For example, during the game you could say “Oooh, it’s going to fall! Uh oh. It fell.” Or you can create longer stories about toys. Children love stories about everyday experiences, such as cooking and going to the park, as well as those about monsters and other fantastic tales.
Telling stories is magical, so whatever you do, help your child participate!