Plot stories with children

A family story-time offers fertile ground for cultivating the values children need to live in this world

“Who loves stories?” All the hands went up. “Who hates stories?” Not one hand rose; wait, in the corner, near the cupboard, a boy, big for his age, slowly put up his right hand. I moved closer to him and asked him if he would like to say why! The boy looked me over with his little eyes and then uttered these words – “Well, I don’t hate all stories – just the ones that are told in a boring way, and maybe the ones that always try to point out my mistakes … hmm …wait … wait, also the ones in which I have no role to play.” Then I said, “I can see that you really love good stories and probably have more than a few of them to share – am I right?” A reluctant grin came over the boy, and he nodded his head affirmatively. A boy sitting further away blurted out, “Narain always has a story to share Uncle!” Then another and many more raised their voices as testimony this little big boy’s ability. If you had looked at my face then, you would have seen a big smile of joy. All this happened at a summer camp where I was invited to equip children with skills to perform stories.

family-readingOne of the needs of families is quality family time – a time where both parents and children come together to have joyful fun and build values (and this definitely cannot be had by everyone in the family sitting before the “idiot box”). The world to the children of today is a big splash of colour synchronized with the right sounds, all presented as powerful stories in television, movies, YouTube etc; the result is a dilution in their attention span when it comes to listening. Ungluing the children from these media magnets and teaching them to listen better requires an interesting family time. The answer I have found is story time. Now, when we read or tell a story, simple or complicated, we are in direct competition with the great media around us. The solution is to tell stories that have the children involved right from the beginning. In other words, we need to guide our children up the ladder of storytelling – starting from story-listening to story-performing. I am going to reveal to you three steps to do this.

The first step: As we read or tell a story, it’s important that the children are allowed to interact with it. How? Get the children to choose the characters (you can have some control over this by keeping the main character(s) as your choice); choose the type of characters – animals, objects, people, fairies, monsters, superheroes, movie characters, etc; choose the setting – where the story unravels; choose the moral of the story (this requires some dialogue beforehand to clearly spell out the moral being presented); allow the children to interact – they can draw characters and colour them; sketch the setting; play music if they are learning an instrument; think up a background sound; act out a character; come up with certain repetitive sayings – like a certain set of words that can be said aloud at certain points in the story. These are a few ideas that you can mix and match, but you can also innovate to create your own style for each storytelling session. This not only brings out the story in full colour and sound, but also makes it a good experience for you.

The second step: Give the child/children the opportunity to actually contribute to the flow of the story. Everyone sits in a circle and one person, who is the story-director, starts the story (he/she also has the final say on the flow, moral, message, etc). Initially the child can be prompted to add story-bits by asking them questions that lead to the right answers; then the child can be given a time limit (say 30 seconds) to add to the story (you can establish boundaries beforehand so the story does not go off on a tangent or into unchartered territory). The players can also stand up and act out the story. Story-sharing happens in a circle and you can keep it fast- or slow-moving, and as the story passes on, the sharing becomes creative. The next child/person in the circle can add sentences, songs, sounds, non-verbal actions, etc. Remember, as the story-director, you have the privilege of wrapping up the story and giving everyone applause or maybe a star in the story-participation chart. Tip: Remember to fix a time limit and if the story is not complete, take it to the next day. The next day, start with the summary of the day before and continue the sharing.

The third step: Let the child have the bigger chunk of the storytelling process. Just like us, children remember incidents from their lives and when they are given opportunities to link those with values, they find guiding points in their journey. Now, how do we help them discover the connection without actually thrusting it into their minds? By helping the children craft it as a story and performing it. The process begins with us, the parents, by not just listening actively to the flow of incidents but also capturing them in rapid sketches, clarifying questions and understanding voices. Once we have a story captured, we need to start building it. This is called story-crafting. The basis is this: Every story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, with a clear association to a value. (If you want to learn more about story-crafting, I suggest going through a good book on storytelling.) This crafting is a collaborative process – the child needs to be totally involved. They need to know why this flow is better, why this sequence makes sense when performing, and the need for intonations, non-verbal gestures, etc. Do remember to have lots of fun when crafting so the child gets to see the beauty of working with joy and enthusiasm. Once you have a clear storyline – help the child perform it. Allow him to change words or structures, to add his own gestures, emotions and to have a blast telling the story to you and others. Find ways to celebrate this achievement and make this a weekend activity.

Remember, stories are the fabric of our lives and if children can be trained in storytelling, they become better listeners, communicators, and collaborative and participative workers. So, carve out a family story-time and rediscover the joy of interacting with your children. Happy story time!

This article is adapted and reprinted with permission from Family Mantra (, a magazine that addresses urban family issues, to strengthen and restore families

Published in the August 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine

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