Enjoyed by all ages and now in its 17th year, National Storytelling Week – organised in conjunction with the Society for Storytelling – runs until Saturday (February 4th); celebrating the art of storytelling, with events and activities planned across Wales to coincide.
According to the Society, whatever the subject “..from folklore to fairytales, figments, phantoms, dragons, serpents, storms and sea, a good teller will always conjure intriguingly.”
And, whether it’s your own, or somebody else’s, everybody has a story to tell.
St Fagans National History Museum led celebrations on the weekend with family friendly storytelling sessions hosted by 2013’s Young Storyteller of the Year, Tamar Eluned Williams, in the cosy fireside setting of Iron Age roundhouse, Bryn Eryr.
Here, Jo Bowers – mum to Jack and Anna – and Principal Lecturer in Primary Education (Literacy) at Cardiff Metropolitan University – talks about the joy of both listening to and telling a good story, and the way such stories help to shape our world from a young age; expanding children’s vocabularies, stretching both their horizons and ability to learn.
“With various activities planned to celebrate National Storytelling Week, this really is a great opportunity to seek out any organised storytelling sessions – local libraries and arts centres are a good place to start – or plan to create your own tales”, says Jo.
“Telling a story you can remember well from your own childhood is a good way to really share it in your own individual way – told and enjoyed again and again with your children – or it could be a true story about yourself and your family or something purely from your imagination; funny stories never fail with youngsters, particularly involving people they know!
“It’s good to choose or create a story with repetition and rhyme as this offers the chance for children to join in with you when you’re telling it. Some dramatic elements are good to include with memorable, standout characters and a satisfying end to the tale.
“While National Storytelling Week is a focused celebration of the ancient oral art of storytelling – humans have shared stories in some form from the start of time – I cannot overestimate the importance of regular reading with children; reading aloud with youngsters from a young age has been proven to have a significant impact on both their initial literacy and the way in which they go on to both form and decode words. There is also a timeless pleasure in sharing and listening to a good story.
“The stories we hear as children help to mould our views on life and the world around us and for small children introduce them to characters, places and extraordinary experiences that enrich their childhood years.
“Sharing stories with children can also help with their ability to deal with real-life situations, with research demonstrating that the brain activity that occurs when we read fiction is of a similar kind to that felt when experiencing a parallel real life situation – having read about it helps children work out how to solve it in reality.
“My own children loved a very wide range of books from a very early age. We would all read aloud together and I also used to choose different books for them according to their own individual interests. Children enjoy reading about different things but we’re lucky to be living through a great time in children’s literature and really are spoilt for choice.
“Children find it easier to read when parents value what they are reading and how much they enjoy it themselves. They like being able to follow the developments of a plot and the way it all fits together.
“Personally I still love reading a hard copy but as well as reading aloud together or going to the library for example, it’s great to encourage youngsters to enjoy reading whichever medium appeals to them most – whether that’s comics or increasingly, online. Enjoying it is what counts and helps to foster a lifelong love of reading.
“While encouraging children to read by themselves is obviously so, so important, reading aloud with them gives them an added opportunity to engage and ask questions about what they are hearing, helping to naturally develop both reading ability as well as social and communication skills.
“Hearing different patterns of language also widens a child’s vocabulary, and I’m a firm believer that reading for pleasure isn’t just about the experience of actually reading – or being reada really good book – but also in being able to vocalise it and tell others about it.
“Tips for getting the most out of story time include the obvious, ‘choose a good time’ – a relaxed, quiet time with no distractions – which makes cosy, comfortable bedtime an obvious choice but it could be any time you have together with your children to devote solely to your story.
“If you have decided to create your own story to tell, you need to learn it and there are different ways that you can do this. It may be that you draw a series of pictures or images to sequence the story or a few simple sentences that offer a skeleton of the plot, with key words or phrases to help you remember.
“Make sure the story has a clear beginning and conclusive end. Traditional and well-known phrases that children are often familiar with – ‘once upon a time’ and ‘they all lived happily ever after’ – are a good fall back.
“To bring your story to life, make the most of facial expressions and different voices – change your voice from soft to loud, and the pace of what you say from slow to fast and excited. Sound effects are great too and bring an extra element of fun to any story. As you tell your story, be energetic, be enthusiastic, be confident but most of all enjoy the journey together!”