Saturday, January 28, 2006

Families As Storytelling Cultures

Here are a few thoughts on building a storytelling culture in the home, which is the focus of Logres Hall. I will be posting more such ideas in the future, as time permits, as part of an ongoing discussion of this important issue. For a more in-depth discussion of this idea, as well as lots more practical tips, see my book, Talking of Dragons: the Children's Books of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

1. Parents Must Be Readers! Dad and Mom are the pacesetters in the home, and if you, the parents, are not ‘into’ books, chances are good your children won’t see the value of reading either. Don’t wait for the schools to teach them! You are the most important influence on your child. If reading doesn’t come naturally to you, start off slow—one doesn’t prepare for a marathon by running fifty miles the first day. Build up your ability to read great works. Then pass on that ability to your children. Get the book How to Grow a Young Reader by Kathryn Lindskoog and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker and use it as a guide.

2. Find Remote Controls. Locate ‘Off’ Buttons. Push them. Make a determined effort to make your home less centred on electronic amusements. Consider that the word ‘amuse’ literally means ‘no thought’. Don’t just find more wholesome shows—turn it off completely! This should include TVs, radios, CD players, Playstations, etc. Gather the family around a good book. Make the telling of tales central in your home.

3. Act Out Your Favourite Stories. Make simple costumes (everyday clothes, towels, whatever) and gather a few accessories (toy swords, toy horses, etc) and act out some of your favourite stories, or a few scenes from them, anyway. Let the children play various parts in the story, and coach them on what to say and do.

4. Carry on a Great Story. Take one of your family’s favourite books. Gather everyone together and have a time of creativity. Create new adventures for the characters in the book. If it is a book about a dog who has adventures (Tolkien’s Roverandom is excellent), make up a new story in which the dog meets your family pet. Encourage each person to create a work of art related to the story (drawing, Play-doh sculpture, poem, story, song, recipe, etc).

5. Remember and Relate. A storytelling culture isn’t all about the stories of other people, but about your stories. Around the dinner table, or in the car while travelling, tell the children stories of things that happened when you were a child, or stories your parents or grandparents told you. Every family is its own little culture, with its own traditions, rituals, memories, and stories. Cultivate that cultural identity in your children, and they won’t be so quick to seek identity and acceptance elsewhere. Above all, spend time with them. ‘Quality’ time is a poor excuse for the absence of a large ‘Quantity’ of time.