In The Old Days…

I have always loved when someone takes the time to tell me a story about “the old days”.  You know, the ones where people walked to school uphill both ways through 10-foot snow drifts?  It’s especially meaningful to me when the storyteller is someone from my family – it’s amazing what I learn!!

This past weekend, my family was over.  I’m not sure how it even started, but my mom started telling stories of her childhood.  She didn’t have electricity or running water until she was a teenager – and this really wasn’t that long ago!  I won’t tell you her exact age, but it was within the last 50 years.  She told me things I had never known in my thirty some years, but were so interesting to hear.

In school this past year, my son had an assignment to find out more about his heritage.  He interviewed his great grandma who told him that our family has been in Canada for over 300 years!  I had no idea and we thought that was a pretty cool thing to learn.

Oral storytelling is one of those things – with the evolution of technology and just the way families are spread out these days – that has lost its appeal and practice.  People are often scared to try it, thinking they have to be elaborate stories that are told perfectly.  What they don’t realize is that the best told stories are really about them and their family’s own experiences and are told in their own way.

Children love to hear stories about the past.  Topics like how they got their name, where they lived, what school was like for their parents or grandparents, the fact that there was a time when everyone did not carry a computer in their hands (and yes, there was a time like this – try explaining that to young kids today), really interest them and is an important way to share information.

Children also like to tell stories.  Encourage them to do it – let them tell about an experience in their own way, without any prompts.  They usually won’t tell it like you, but listen carefully to let them know how important it is so they can practice this skill.  Not only will it build their oral skills, but also help with reading, as they understand the order and “rules” of stories.

Oral storytelling needs to make a come back.  There are games that you can play that help people get comfortable telling a story out loud, by making it silly, funny and safe.  This one I did with my team at a retreat and with my kids around a campfire.

The first person starts a line of the story and ends at a point where the next person has to decide what will happen.  For example:

“I was walking down a forest path when all of a sudden…”

The next person might say:

A huge bat jumped out in front of me waving a…”

As you can imagine, the story keeps going until it becomes too silly to continue (my team says I can’t write what ours looked like – they were embarrassed).   I have to say though; my team couldn’t hold a candle to what my kids came up with!!

A little more complicated is a game where you start a rhythm that everyone does the entire time and each person takes a turn to give one word (or syllable) for each snap.  The rhythm goes:

Slap (your leg with one hand)

Slap (your other leg with the other hand)

Snap (with one hand)

Snap (with the other hand)

For example the first person would do the slaps and then on each snap say a word like “One day”.

The next person would do the slaps and say on each snap “there were”.

The next person would do the same and say “horse-s”.  And on it would go until the rhythm gets mixed up.

Both these games are great fun and practice for oral storytelling.  Have fun with it and don’t forget to pass what you know to the next generation and encourage them to do the same.

Come On – You Know You Want to Press the Button!

What do a preschooler, a six, nine and eighteen year old, and any adult I’ve seen so far have in common?  We all have to press the button!

Here at Centre for Family Literacy, we recently came across an excellent children’s book called Press Here by Hervé Tullet.  Anyone who knows me at all knows that I like to press buttons and ring bells, so of course the book landed on my desk very quickly.

As I went through, following the directions on each page – pushing and rubbing dots, shaking the book, blowing on it – I kept thinking, “my kids would love this! Who am I kidding – I LOVE IT!”

In the end though, it did make it home and I tested it out on my niece (4), my daughter (6), and my son (9).  It started out tentatively; they pushed the button as I held the book.  As it got more interactive, suddenly the book was ripped out of my hands in their anticipation to shake the dots to the other side of the page.  Pretty soon, I didn’t even need to be there (but I was, because I was doing it all too of course).

I took the story of my family’s response back to the office and was informed by one of our team that she had walked in on her 18 year old interacting just as enthusiastically with the book as my kids and niece had.

I have heard nothing but the same stories of fun family interaction more times than I can count now in relation to this book.  As I watched one young teenage girl self-consciously start looking at the book and doing what it asked, I could tell that she really wanted to get into it, but was asking herself if it was a cool thing to do.

“Isn’t it weird that you know it’s a book, but you really feel the need to do everything it asks?” I asked her.  She nodded in agreement and I said, “go ahead, we’ve all done it”.

I sat back and smiled as she made the decision that it was fun and okay and had a blast with the rest of the book.

Now that’s how you take the measure of a great book!