Once limited to gathering around a campfire or sitting at the knee of a grandparent, storytelling is much more than a way to pass down tales of history or legends of another world. Storytelling has in fact become an art form of its own and has grown in such popularity that it has a guild, guidelines and national festivals complete with societies for its professional artists. In fact, we could say storytelling is the guiding principle of books uplift.
But what is storytelling?
According to Teresa B. Clark, professional storyteller and board member of the National Storytelling Network, “Storytelling is the sharing of story through oral narrative. Usually there are no books, no screens, just a group of listeners and a storyteller or two in front of them using their descriptive voice to share a story.” But she cautions that this simplistic definition “falls flat” of the true art form storytelling has become. “It doesn’t begin to illustrate the rapt wonder on the listener’s faces, or the way the storyteller plays their voice like a fine musical instrument.” Storyteller artists are recognized as performance artist by art commissions and councils throughout the country, Clark explains.
Many storytellers agree that one is never too young to be touched by the magic of storytelling art, and often children are the best audiences because of their constant need and longing for stories.
“Parents should begin at birth,” says Susan Pinkowski, author, illustrator, storyteller and former librarian, “telling family stories and retelling the classic tales from books they loved when they were little.” She also explains that in this way parents are the very first storytellers for their children. “I was amazed when parents would come into the library and want a copy of a book they loved as a child and they could tell the entire story.”
The positive effects storytelling has on children are numerous. It helps make stories easier to understand and also aids visual learners, ESL students and those with learning barriers grasp concepts easier.
“Telling stories also helps children learn effectively,” Pinkowski explains. “Children can tell their own stories as soon as they can imagine and verbalize. They learn how to retell stories they have read or make up their own. This helps with comprehension as well as recognizing that they have a voice. A child should have someone to ask questions about their story, so they are aware of the fundamentals.”
Clark agrees that “storytelling is an excellent tool for introducing children to imagery – a vital first step towards literacy…and when a child learns to tell a story they learn sequencing effectively.” She explains that the tools a child gains from telling a story can be very surprising.
“I had a student in a storytelling workshop who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The teachers told me she would never be able to understand the process of creating a story, more or less tell it. But they forgot to tell her that! She learned to story-board with the rest of the class and as she did, something clicked. She ended up telling a story to the entire student body! There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Not only did she gain skills, she improved her ability to communicate. She experienced a triumph that gave her courage to try new things. She saw beyond her limitations. When I checked back with the school a few months later they told me her math skills had made a dramatic improvement. After learning to sequence the parts of a story, she was able to apply those thought processes to math!”
The power of storytelling begins at home.
Sources abound to help families interested in storytelling for their children. There are also numerous tools and contacts for aspiring storytellers to learn their craft. Contact your local library for storytelling events for all ages. Adults and teens may be surprised at how much they will enjoy hearing and watching an age appropriate story come alive in front of their eyes. Plan an adventure or vacation by taking the family to a storytelling festival such as the upcoming one in Spring Grove, Illinois or the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough Tennessee.
Or you can do as Pinkowski suggests, “Simply tell your family stories, retell old favorite tales or make up new ones. Like a journey begins with a single step, a story begins with a single word.”