We all tell stories all the time. It’s an important part of how we get along with other people. We tell jokes, talk about what we’ve been doing and make up stories to entertain others. ‘Personal narrative’, where children relate stories about their own experiences, is an important part of personal identity. Storytelling ability also helps children with their literacy development and academic learning. So, it’s a good skill to promote, even in young children!
At the tender age of 3, children are not expected to be great storytellers. They do live mostly in the moment and need some help along the way to be able to recall things that have happened to them. Parents can help to promote narrative skill through:
1. Parental responses. For example, if your 3 year old says “We went to Paris”, you could say “Yes we went to Paris and we climbed up the tower. That was fun. Do you remember climbing up the tower? There were lots of steps. We were so high up!… What could you see from the top?” In this way, you are helping him to recall the experience.
2. Shared storytelling. For example:
You start by saying “Tom, wasn’t that fun going swimming?”
You add, “You loved the water didn’t you?”
Tom says, “I got splashed”
You reply, “Yes that’s right. You got splashed a lot, didn’t you? There was a big splash. But you were okay”.
Tom adds more, “Wore my hat.”
You again elaborate on what he has said. “Oh yes, you had your swimming hat on. You wore your blue swimming hat.”
At this point, parent and child are constructing a story by taking turns. The parent is actively listening to what the child has said and building on it in their response.
3. Props ~ use of props, such as photos, train tickets, icecream wrappers, pebbles, leaves and so on help to anchor recall. You can look at them, feel them, smell them, stick them in a scrapbook and use them as sensory reminders of where you were and what happened.
4. Focus ~ try and make a mental note of things that your child finds the most interesting on any trip, rather than what you as parents find most interesting. For example, if the train is the most interesting part of a trip for your son, notice anything that he says about the train e.g. “it’s noisy!” When you are recounting the experience together, you can look at the photo you have taken of the train and say “Oh look. We went on that train. Do you remember how noisy it was?”
These might sound like little things, but if you do them regularly, making them part of everyday experience, they will support a child’s narrative development. Remember that you may well be doing more of the telling than your child. Remember to balance comments with questions too: it is best to use more comments and less questions. When you do ask questions, try to think of ones that you know your child will be able to answer. If he doesn’t immediately answer a question, give him a little time and then try ‘sentence completion’. For example, you could say “We went on the train to… “, he can then add “Paris!” Your child will get a sense of accomplishment and involvement by completing the sentence and contributing to the story.
5. Share books ~ share picture books that your child likes, around characters and subjects that they find interesting. Get your child involved in the storytelling by asking them easy questions and using ‘sentence completion’. For example, you could say “Oh look. He turned into a… ” and the child gets to complete the sentence.
6. ‘Model’ narrative ~ modelling is when you provide the stories and your child can listen, join in and learn. You can comment and embellish on play as it happens. Stories can be very short! For example, during play you could say “Oooh, he’s going to fall off! Uh oh. He’s fallen off”. Or you can create longer stories about toys. Children love stories about everyday experiences, like cooking and going to the park, as well as ones about monsters and other fantastic tales.
Storytelling is magical, so whatever you do, help your child to get involved!