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The Tradition of Oral Storytelling: A Powerful Gift for Our Grandchildren

By Pat Skene February 18, 2016 Family

I think I have always been a storyteller. When I was a child, even before we had electricity, I looked forward to the evenings with my family when we would sit around the kitchen table and talk about the day’s events. I can still see the warm glow from the gas lanterns casting shadows on the walls.

Sometimes, I would make up wild adventures about a ferocious alligator living under our dock. Or I would scare my sisters with tales of a mysterious creature lurking in the icehouse in our backyard.

That was all before hydro wires reached my house and “I Love Lucy” invaded my living room, and when Apple was still just a fruit.

Tuning Out is Way Too Easy

I believe that television and other electronic mediums, so readily available now, in every home, have contributed to shutting down the human voice.

As many of our children are growing up on a diet of bland TV sitcoms and computer games as their intellectual junk food, they become desensitized to the tug of their own emotions.

It’s very hard to return to the traditions of oral communications in a world of sound bites, where we simply “turn off” or “tune out” if we don’t like what we hear or see. It’s much too easy for children to transfer this behavior into real life situations.

Stories Help to Connect the Dots

It hurts my heart to know that oral storytelling is becoming a dying art for many families. In my view, it’s the most practical and natural means of talking about ordinary or profound matters that would otherwise never be discussed.

It’s a way to teach children and adults how to listen respectfully to each other’s voices and to feel connected by hearing our own feelings expressed by others. And as sure as a love of stories is connected to a love of reading… oral storytelling is connected to building confidence and self-esteem in children. Now how cool is that?

When a Story is More Than a Story

It’s my belief that teaching the art of oral storytelling is an investment in the futures of our children and grandchildren. It gives them a basic training in sequencing events, and organizing thoughts and experiences into chunks; an invaluable skill to have at any age. And it teaches them how to listen and be heard; a basic ability so many adults have never mastered.

Children tell stories as a way to solve problems and understand the world around them.

If you want to know what your child is thinking about, listen to their stories.

So maybe it’s time to put away the tablets, cell phones and laptops and let our imaginations do the talking.

Welcome to Storytelling Boot Camp and a Few Creative Exercises

  • Young children love to hear stories about themselves, especially when they were babies. Repeat the stories often and ask them to tell you the stories back.
  • Have the child “picture read” from a favourite book; don’t read the words. The child will go from page to page telling you the story from what they see.
  • Write story starter ideas on strips of paper and create a story jar. Take turns choosing from the jar to tell your stories (i.e. If I had a magic carpet, I would…)
  • Tell them lots of stories from your childhood, and add funny details that will appeal to young listeners. They will love to hear the shenanigans you got up to.
  • Ask the child to choose 3 things they want in a story (i.e. a bear, a kite and a boy.) Make up a tale that includes these items, and then ask the child to tell you a story with your 3 things.
  • Put together a storytelling tray by gathering a variety of small objects from around the house. Take turns choosing an object from the tray and make-up stories about each of them.
  • Have fun telling continued stories. This can be done with one of more children, as everyone adds a portion of the same tale as the story progresses.
  • Create a magical space to tell your stories. This can be anywhere – like in a soft cozy chair, under a favorite tree or on a simple blanket on the floor. Special snacks can also set the mood.

The Hidden Rewards

Two of the most important skills we can have as adults are an ability to adapt and a proficiency for public speaking. It’s been said that some people would rather choose death over speaking in public! Now how silly is that?

By consistently developing our narrative skills from an early age, we become comfortable with shifting plots and thinking on our feet, as it were.

As we mature, we learn to embrace change and gain confidence in our ability to speak out and engage others. These are huge life-skills that go a long way in helping children to become successful adults.

My Final Word on the Subject

Through oral storytelling exercises, I believe the power of language can help to develop thinkers, imaginers and status-quo shakers. By exercising our creative muscles from an early age, we learn to be inventive, ask questions and look outside the lines.

What a simple but powerful gift we can give to our grandchildren – a gift that will keep on giving for many years to come.

Now isn’t that a legacy we would all like to leave behind?

Do you like to make up stories with your grandchildren? What do you do to encourage storytelling in your family? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Pat is a Métis writer and author of several books for children. Her new picture book, Lights Along the River, will be published in early 2024. Her memoir will also be released next year. You can find many of Pat's short stories at She can be reached through her blog at

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