Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 4

The storyteller, Beulah Candappa, said it brilliantly: ‘Storytelling is the art of time and silence.’ How right she was. Time is especially important with young children. Making time, taking time, valuing the time that’s taken – all helps with encouraging participation. And in that connection my tip this week is about getting participation through the way you use words.

Parents, teachers, Nursery Nurses and others have often commented to me that when I’m telling a story, it may take twenty minutes, but when they retell it, it takes just three. So what’s the difference? I’m certainly not claiming that all stories should take twenty minutes. What I do say is that, with young children, the story should feel long enough. Long enough for the children to relax and get into it. Long enough for them to feel they’ve inhabited it and been on a journey with it. In this respect, it’s my belief that an enormous difference is made by the words you use and how you use them.

The Naughty Little Mouse:

Yesterday, for instance, I was telling the story of The Naughty Little Mouse. You can find a full version in my book, Stories for Young Children and how to tell them! where it’s also on the accompanying CD). I was originally told this little folktale by a woman from India. In my subsequent retellings, I found I was adapting it more and more for children in the UK.

In The Naughty Little Mouse, the little mouse first manages to inveigle a shop-keeper into giving her a piece of cloth. In a second shop, she gets the cloth made into a hat. In a third, she gets the hat decorated with braid and sparkly sequins. Finally, finding herself in Buckingham Palace, she succeeds in getting to sit on the Queen’s throne for one whole day before, at the end of the story, she goes back home. By the time she arrives, she’s exhausted.

Cloth? Throne? Exhausted?

So what is ‘cloth’? It’s a word where many young children may need some explanation if they’re to feel sure of the story. You could explain it like this. After first introducing the idea, you could immediately add – and in a tone that takes your listeners into your confidence – ‘you know, the stuff people use to make the clothes that we wear.’

Or ‘throne’ ? What’s a throne? Immediately after first referring to it in the little mouse’s story, I tend to add, ‘and that’s the place where a king or queen sits.’ This then leads smoothly to me asking, ‘And do you know who was sitting on the throne at that very moment? It was the Queen, the Queen herself.’

Or what about ‘exhausted’? By the time she gets home, the little mouse is exhausted. And exhausted is a good word to use, especially because it’s a long one. Given half a chance, children relish long words. They like swirling them round in their mouths when trying them out. But ‘exhausted’ also needs explanation and again this can be done as an integral part of the story: ‘The little mouse was exhausted by the time she got home. She was very, very, very tired.’

New vocabulary the painless way:

Storytelling offers a painless way of imparting new vocabulary. But to me, it’s far more fun to do it as part of the story than by taking the competitive tack of asking your audience, hands up, who knows the meaning of a particular word. To me, words create the fabric of the story you’re telling. They should be part of the whole experience, helping you to know and feel what the story is about. They are a crucial part of participation.

See you next week – and do send me a message if you’re finding this series useful.

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3 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 4”

  1. Jo Says:

    Thankyou so much for this series , I love reading and telling stories using objects, voices and most of the techniques you have described , it comes naturally for me but not all my colleagues unless they are prepared , I will for sure be giving them this link and hopefully will see some fab story telling and participation over the next few weeks, we have a story telling and sack workshop coming up for parents to so will be able to share these ideas with them . I love to sit with a piece of material and allow the children to choose any object around the room , we decide where we are , the material for example could be blue and shiny , maybe we are at the bottom of the deep dark blue sea, each child takes a turn describing what their object may be , cotton reel is a pirate ship, the pencil is the mast , the ship has sunk and the button becomes the treasure and so , we repeat throughout so we finish with our own story.

  2. admin Says:

    Jo, delighted to hear from you. The idea you describe for creating stories is lovely. Perhaps I could mention it in my next blog so as to be sure to draw other readers’ attention to it? Thanks so much for being in touch. Mary

  3. Jo Says:

    More than happy for you to mention in your next blog Mary , sorry for late response

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