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.