Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Telling stories to children

We probably hold the world record in storytelling out here in Puttachiland, and so here are some observations I've made to get you started on telling stories to your child.

* Very young children, around two years old, don't need an imaginative storyline. Just narrating an everyday incident like a story is enough to keep them wide-eyed.

* As they get slightly older, about 2.5 to 3, you might need to insert a problem and it's solution. This age is wonderful to introduce life lessons - what happened when Lata lied, what was the result when Ajay did not brush his teeth everday - but be sure not to make it preachy - kids can spot it a mile away. Last year, my aunt asked me if I ever told any stories to Puttachi that did not have a moral :)

* After the child turns three, depending on how interested your child is in stories, and how long s/he can sit and listen, you can introduce long stories. Make some up as you go along (you will have enough experience by now :)) or fall back on mythology, folk tales, fairy tales and animal stories. If you don't know many stories, it is worth buying books of stories. It is nice to read to the children too, but actually narrating the same story gets them more interested. Don't be shy about emoting when narrating - you will never get such a rapt audience in any other situation :D

* When choosing stories from Panchatantra and Jataka and Hitopadesha, watch out - most of the stories are pretty cruel and violent, and often end with the victory of evil! You could tell them to a slightly older child (3.5 - 4) softening the edges a bit, but fairy tales and folktales with the victory of good over evil is much more enjoyable!

* When there is a long story, like the Ramayana, first start by narrating the bare bones story to a very young child. As the child grows, depending on how receptive s/he is, you can add details. Especially when there are too many names to remember, it helps by making the child familiar with the main characters before adding the others.
For example, I've been telling the story of Ramayana to Puttachi for about two years now. Initially, it got over in five minutes - now it goes on for more than 4-5 hours - spread over mealtimes of 3 days :)
For example: First I said, Dasharatha asked Rama to go away to the forest
A few months later, after introducting the three wives, I said, Kaikeyi asked Rama to go to the forest.
Some more months later - Kaikeyi's maid Manthara poisoned Kaikeyi's mind to make her ask Rama to go to the forest
LAtely - I have also introduced the sub-story where Kaikeyi gets the two boons which she makes use of to get Rama to go to the forest.

Now, our Ramayana has reached such detailing that I've also started telling her the sub-stories of Ahalya and Shabari and so on - and she can now understand it all with no confusion.

In fact, now, she is coming up with questions of her own.
Did Lakshmana also try to lift the bow? If he had, do you think he would have been able to lift it? Then he would have married Sita, no?
Why didn't Lakshmana's wife Urmila also go to the forest? Wasn't she bored? She should also have gone.

Now I know that she is ready for more detailing - but I've reached the end of my own Ramayana knowledge - I've to refer to a good book on Ramayana :D

* There is no storytime as such - any time is storytime. Somehow in our house, mealtimes have become storytimes. And sometimes, Puttachi overeats while listening to the story, and so I've to be careful. When I think she's had enough, I say, if your tummy is full, you should stop. I'll complete the story anyway. But I would like her to concentrate on the food completely and enjoy it, instead of hanging on to stories... so let's see.

* Study and research has shown that kids who are told stories regularly have better vocabulary and imagination - but don't make this a reason for telling stories to children. The joy that arises out of it makes it all worth it - everything else is just a bonus.


Veena Shivanna said...

Lovely, Worth a blogpost.
Also, sometimes allowing them to tell a story works wonder. It increases their creativity I believe. My boy is all set to hear stories. I would like to know how do you handle few questions which are too early to answer but they are all curious to know.
For eg., I had told my boy that taata is near GOD when my FIL died and somehow he has heard somebody saying he is dead and he many a times have attempted to understand this point and its quite heard to lie but also manage not to give out harsh realities which may scare them to an extent. Would love to hear about this Professor.

Veena Shivanna said...

Read it as 'hard to lie' in my prev comment.

Chethan said...

Why humans get hooked to stories is a very interesting thing to ponder! It surely sparks imagination at a very young age and definitely helps as you said.

I began reading 'eleyara ramayana' at a very young age and was totally hooked to it. The description of young rama, his first encounter with evil, the subtly digressing upkathegaLu, were amazing. I wonder if they were written with this purpose - a big epic moral story for the generations.

Sanj said...

Great reading...

One more thing that's a LOT of fun is after a story to give a role to her to play. For example the story of the two friends and the bear - Abhinav is the friend who lies down quietly and I'm the bear who comes in making a lot of bear noises and he's lying very still (trying hard not to laugh) - or he's the bear, and I'm the friend who climbs up the tree (the bed) and he still comes chasing behind - we never get tired of replaying it :)

Brinda said...

you should have posted this three decades back,shru ;)

Shruthi said...

Thank you, Veena!

I've found that it's not possible to hide the truth from little children - they figure it out, by instinct, or by watching our words/body language and of course by eavesdropping :D
In your situation, since putta is already aware of both sides of the story, I think it's best to tell him that your FIL has passed away, and is with God and will not come back again. This will give him the seriousness of the situation - and when this is told when you are holding him close, and softly and gently, it will hopefully not overwhelm him, and will keep him feeling secure and warm.

Chethan, thanks, I will see if I can get hold of eleyara ramayana - who is the author? And stories are so wonderful because it is a way for children to get to know about life, and of course, to lose them in a world of fantasy.

Sanj, thanks - and yes, playacting is great fun - I plan to talk about it in one of my posts shortly.

Brinda, yikes you're giving out my age ;)) and come on, you told us quite a few stories yourself.

Chethan said...

@shruthi, i have lost the book and dont remember the author :(

Adu said...

:) i've often wondered how i would introduce the ramayana/mahabharata to a child as well. what you said makes sense. start with the broad strokes and then fill in the details. i think that's how i learnt the stories too, with plenty of amar chitra kathas to fill in the details.

Miss. Nae said...

I used to work at a daycare and loved reading to the kids. They were always so excited and eager to read something different.
I have lots of nieces and nephew to read to now and I tell them everyday, "Tauntie's favorite thing as a little girl was when Memere read the bedtime story to your Mummy, Auntie, Unc, and me." They always smile and beg me to read my favorite.

Viky said...

What is introducting?

Chethan said...

@shruthi, the book i was refering to is published by ಭಾರತ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ ಪ್ರತಿಷ್ಠಾನ. I guess its available easily. See some reference to it here

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