Storytellers' Tips for Parents

THE most important storyteller in a child's life is a parent. And everyone - parents included - has a story to tell, says African-American storyteller Opalanga Pugh.

But how can parents learn to tell stories well? ``Turn the TV off and spend time talking with your kids,'' says storyteller Pat Mendoza. ``Practice. Family heritage is extremely important. Kids need to know about their own families and heritage.''

Denver-based storyteller Norma Livo points out that, in telling family stories, the most important thing is to get started. Think back to a time in your life when you were excited, or happy, or sad. See if you can come up with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Build on whatever interests the child: If a little boy likes cars, tell him about the first car you ever bought. If a girl likes bugs, make up a story with her about the bugs in the backyard. Ms. Livo says retelling a story is quite as important as reading to children. Telling stories is direct - there is no book barrier between teller and listener. Particularly satisfying to children is a story you begin and they add to. Parent and child become co-creators.

Ms. Pugh suggests changing the message but not the form of an old story or song. The ending of ``Rock-a-Bye Baby'' can be changed to: ``And Mom will catch baby, cradle and all,'' for example. Children love riddles, Pugh adds: Learn six good riddles, and you will dazzle your kids. You can also teach through riddles. We humans like our moral tales cloaked a little, she says. It's easier to hear the moral if ``Rabbit'' says it.

Storyteller Lindy Curry says parents should involve children in the action of a story - give them a part to play. Repetition is very important. She, too, recommends retelling stories you have read together. Don't memorize the story: Read it over several times, then tell it in your own words. Who are the characters? Where is the setting? What happened? What happened next? Then end it. You can add sound effects and change your voice for different characters. Add a song, if one is appropriate - or a drumbeat when the bear is coming closer and closer.

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