PARENTS

How To Be The Best Storyteller Ever

14/08/2014 16:57 | Updated 20 May 2015

Father reading to children

Every child loves a bedtime story: the chance to cosy up to mum or dad and be lulled to sleep with a good book. But, as many parents can tell you, it's difficult to inject life into a story if you're reading it for the 50th time, or you've had no sleep the night before.

So, in recognition of National Storytelling Week (which runs from 1 - 8 February), we have gathered tips and advice from some of the UK's leading storytellers to find out what you can do to keep your child captivated...

Make sure you tell a story which you enjoy

If you're reading a story which you find boring or dull, then it'll show. Instead, choose a book that you love. "If you're not enjoying telling a story it will show in your face and your expression," says Sophie Snell, nominated for the British Awards for Storytelling Excellence in 2013 in the 'Outstanding Female Storyteller' category.

Storyteller Suzie Doncaster - who also works with adults as a Speech and Language Therapist - agrees: "Tell a story that you loved as a child," she says, "including stories about your family or where you lived."

Make up your own world

Sometimes just reading from a book can drain life from your voice. Instead, put the book down, let your imagination flow and create a universe which is known only to you and your children.

"We made up a whole world which we called Zabadoobia," laughs Sophie, "which was an alien fantasy world. It was great fun, and they really got into that because it was ours. They loved the funny names I came up with!"

You don't need to be a wordsmith to make up a story. Marion Leeper has organised two storytelling festivals in recent years, and has been telling tales for 'longer than I can remember'. She suggests that the intimacy of a shared world will help it stick regardless of how descriptive you are.

"They're the ones that children will remember for longest and enjoy the most," she explains, "whether the parent is a skilled storyteller or whether they never open their mouths in public if they can help it."

Dr Nicola Grove, who works in speech and language therapy and specialises in children who suffer from communication difficulties, agrees: "My grandchildren love it when I tell them stories, but what they really treasure is when their dad and they together continue the tale of Freddy the fridge magnet!"

Plus, if you feel your imagination crumbling, why not let your kids join in? Their boundless creativity will soon get the story back on track, and they will love being involved.

"Kids love to be involved," says Colin Fenny, who has told stories in schools, museums, festivals - and even prisons. "You could sometimes include your child as a helper to the main character without compromising the plot."

Let yourself go

We live in a society which makes instant judgements of people, and because of this many of us are

programmed to be self-conscious; but story time is the best opportunity to let yourself go a bit.

"Nobody's listening to you other than your child," explains Sophie. "Parents often forget that nobody else is watching other than their kids, and you're fantastic to them. It's the one time when you can let go a bit and be silly."

"Don't worry about making a fool of yourself," says Suzie. "The kids will love it anyway!"

A story is not just for bedtime

By bedtime energy levels are low and tiredness is creeping in...and that's just you! The beauty of stories is that they can be told anywhere and at anytime: in the car, on the way to school, or during a meal.

"All you need to do is find a quiet moment at some point in the day," says Sophie. "It can just be a little short and sweet snippet, just five minutes together. Children's poems are good if time is short.

Eden Ballatyne, an experienced storyteller whose characters include Captain Jake the Pirate and Gruff the Medieval Troubadour, suggests that telling a story in the middle of the day allows you to be more energetic. "I don't tend to sit still when telling a story if it's not bedtime: jump around and act out the story - if the characters are crawling, climbing or fighting so can you!"

Colin recommends making the best use of your voice as well: "Voice changes for different characters makes the story more interesting. If you are good at accents this also enhances the reading."

But, if you are reading at bedtime, your voice can be the perfect lullaby for your child to drift off to. In this instance, Marion's advice is to 'get boring'.

"Drop your voice, speak in a sing-song tone, keep exactly to the text and read the same page twice if you need to," she explains. "If the child is asleep by the end, bingo. If you've dropped off too, you've hit the jackpot!"

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