9 Ways for Parents to Encourage Storytelling | Read, Learn, Explore

I usually talk about helping kids find good stories to read, but it’s also important (and so fun!) to encourage kids to tell their own stories. When kids become storytellers, they strengthen literacy and communication skills, boost creativity, and increase their confidence. Storytelling is also a great bonding experience for families.

Hearing and reading my kids’ stories has been a highlight of parenthood. It’s thrilling to see their imaginations in action and their abilities improve over time.

Here are 9 ways my husband, David, and I encourage our kids to tell (and write) stories:

1. Validate their efforts. The most important thing we do is help our kids feel that their stories have value. When we take time to listen to or read their stories (and tell them how awesome the stories are), their faces light up with joy and satisfaction.

To further validate their storytelling efforts, we occasionally share copies of our kids’ stories with relatives and friends.

2. Model storytelling. Our kids love hearing us tell stories and it helps them learn how to tell their own. We’ve also found that telling stories is a parenting secret weapon. When our kids are about to lose it, we can usually capture their attention with stories when little else works. For instance, I tell my toddler stories when I change his diaper to keep him from squirming away.

Your stories don’t have to be amazing–ours certainly aren’t! They’re mainly successful because we incorporate things we know our kids love. When we lived in Germany and needed to entertain our young son on the subway, we would spin fantastic tales about how he would ride a flying horse (he loved horses) to visit relatives and find hidden treasure (usually boxes of macaroni and cheese). They were truly stories only our son could love. On a long car trip this summer, we entertained our three boys (Owen, Sam, and Theo) with the fantastical adventures of three brothers named Orwen, Samwise, and Theobald.

We also tell our kids folktales and fairy tales as well as stories from history or books we’ve read. Sometimes it’s easier to do that than exercise the creative muscles needed to make up our own stories (plus it’s a great way to teach kids new things).

3. Play group storytelling games. In these games, players take turns adding to group stories (you can use a timer or other method to limit turns if you wish). There are so many ways to play, including using:

  • Story cubes. Story cubes are dice or blocks with a picture prompt on every face. Players take turns incorporating the pictures they roll into the group’s story. You can buy Rory’s Story Cubes (we own the original but there are a bunch of variations) or make your own cubes. My kids had a blast creating story cubes with paint pens and wooden blocks.
Story Blocks | Read, Learn, Explore

Homemade Story Cubes

  • Word prompts or picture cards. Again, you can buy these or make your own. I haven’t tried it, but one popular story card game is Storymatic Kids.
  • Props pulled from a bag. I’m wishing I had put together a Halloween storytelling bag this year!

(Of course, these storytelling prompts are also great for kids to use individually.)

4. Pretend play and small world play. Imaginative play naturally leads to storytelling. When kids engage in pretend play (such as trying on dress-up clothes, playing with dolls, or using a toy doctor’s kit) as well as small world play (miniature play scenes), they can create stories to accompany their activities.

Rainforest Small World Play

You can help your kids get started by modeling storytelling yourself, collaborating with them on stories, and by asking questions such as “What is [that character] doing?” “What happens next?” or “How does it end?”

Pond Small World Play

The blog The Imagination Tree has some of my favorite ideas for pretend play and small world play. Check out 12 Creative Storytelling Activities and then browse through the blog to find even more ideas.

5. Record kids’ stories. Taking the time to record kids’ stories further validates their efforts, building confidence and excitement. When our older kids were young, we would write down their stories word for word. My oldest son in particular loved to dictate stories.

You can also create “podcasts” of your kids’ oral stories or record videos of them telling stories. This  works especially well when kids use props like puppets and Legos or they’re “narrating” pretend play or small world play.

6. Encourage kids to write down their stories. Once our kids learned to read, they naturally began writing down (and sometimes typing) their stories. Not only does this improve their writing and storytelling skills, but it’s pretty hilarious to read their phonetic misspellings!

Our kids love writing stories in “books.” Sometimes they make their own books by stapling paper together, but they also like to use little books of paper with cardstock covers. I buy them from teacher supply stories, but you can also make them yourself.

Note the book cover on the right has a seal that says, “Best Book of the Year.”

For further inspiration, try introducing your kids to more unusual book formats. Once, our kids spent their allowance money on post-it notes. I thought I was doomed to see the post-its stuck all over the walls of my house, but instead they used them to make miniature books.

I’m pretty sure this was inspired by Mo Willems’ A Big Guy Stole My Ball (um, excuse the potty language–artistic license, right?).

7. Create stories from art. When our kids draw pictures, we occasionally ask questions that encourage them to tell stories about their pictures. Kids can also use stickers (or a reusable sticker book) to make a picture and then tell a story about it. If your kids aren’t used to doing this, it can help to model it for them by doing it yourself.

Our kids love drawing illustrations for their stories. Lately, they’ve been making comic books. When they were younger and couldn’t write for themselves, we would often write down a brief, dictated story to go along with their artwork. Sometimes, it was just a single sentence–but it was a storytelling start.

A recent comic book

8. Wordless and open-ended picture books. Wordless picture books are just begging for kids to narrate them. A few favorites include Journey by Aaron Becker, A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raaschka, and Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner.

And at the end of open-ended picture books (such as Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Marc Barnett), kids are free to imagine their own endings.

9. Storytelling traditions. We’ve made storytelling part of our family culture by creating a number of storytelling traditions. When we go camping, we take turns telling ghost stories. My kids love this so much, they’ve gotten us to start telling ghost stories when they have “sleepovers” in our living room.

We also tell our kids stories about our family, from tales of our childhoods to stories about long-ago ancestors. One fun and easy way to do this is by looking at old photos.

And that’s it! If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear how you encourage your own kids to write and tell stories. Let me know in the comments!

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