The Gift of Story

storytelling drawingNote: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, December 12, 2012.

If you’re running out of money searching for the perfect holiday gifts, remember that sometimes the best presents for young children are free.  Telling stories to children is a gift they’ll never forget.

When I was young, my grandmother told me stories about her childhood living on a farm. I can still remember the sound of Granny’s voice, her laughter and the way she used her hands when she talked.  The stories have stayed in my memory because they delighted me so much, and now I tell them to my own children.

She told me about the “tricks” she, her brothers and cousins used to pull while growing up on the farm.  She was the youngest of three daughters, so she wasn’t needed in the house.  She became the ringleader.

Once they stripped a pine tree of its needles, and when my great-grandfather drove by it on his tracker in the field, he couldn’t figure out what in the world happened.  He came and got his family to look at the pine tree that shed its needles, and they all wondered what happened.  My grandmother and her brothers didn’t say a word.

Another time they had a water-drinking contest that she said almost drowned her littlest brother, James!  And the best story is how they took a bite out of every peach on the peach tree because they were told not to pick any of the ripe peaches.

She also told me about the time my grandfather wrapped a huge box, labeled it to my grandmother from him and put it under the Christmas tree very early in December.  He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was.  All he said was that it was very practical.  On Christmas morning, everyone wanted Granny to open that box first.  What was in it?  Toilet paper.

So you see, I come from a line of tricksters and practical jokers, and if it weren’t for these stories, I would never know that. True family stories tell children where they come from, and they teach them lessons that their elders learned the hard way.

I believe every parent should tell stories to their children, but they don’t have to be true stories. Children love it when their parents make up stories for them. Trust me – it doesn’t matter how bad you think your story is – you’ll have a captive audience.

Two years ago I started a nightly ritual of making up a story for my six-year-old.  Now he won’t let me go until I tell him a story, but that’s okay.  I know that my stories are a treasure to him, and even though he might not remember all the stories, he’ll always remember me telling them to him.

Most nights my mind is a complete blank.  I have no idea what to tell him. Sometimes he’ll give me an idea, or else some character, usually an animal, will pop into my head. I just have to go with whatever comes to me or else I’ll never get a story told.

It’s amazing that as I start with some kind of character and setting, the storyline will arise from that almost as if by magic.  The more I tell, the easier it is for me to stop worrying about telling a good story and just tell something. No matter how silly I think it is, my son always smiles and wants another one.

So this holiday season, think about starting a storytelling ritual with your children. Start with something from your child’s life – a toy, a favorite animal.  Make it come alive, and you’ll be amazed to see that made up stories can be the best entertainment, the best way to share your values, and the most rewarding gift you can ever give your child.

Do you tell stories to your children? Do you want to, but you’re not sure how?  Please let know. I’d like to offer more resources on storytelling, and I’d like to get a feel for what you would like or need.

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