Storytelling amid the family circle can sharpen children's language skills

Storytelling isn't just for stage, school, or evenings when the TV conks out. It's an activity that can be regular family fare. Of course, the rewards of storytelling aren't always obvious at first. It's not like your youngster scoring a hockey goal or the winning basket in a championship game. But the benefits of families sharing stories, although subtle in the beginning, are definitely bounteous.

Storytelling ``fine tunes'' a child's listening skills.

It boosts vocabulary without the chore of memorizing new words.

When stories are told in the round, a youngster must take his turn. This participation polishes his ability to think and talk spontaneously.

A child's imagination is pushed beyond old boundaries because he's forced to create his own mental pictures to match the story's words. There's no TV screen to put fangs on the villains or muscles on the heroes. There's not even a glossy book illustration to aid in the imagemaking. This job now belongs to the listener -- totally and exclusively.

All the above promote language skills that build better readers and writers. And how often does learning come so gilded with laughs and fun?

If you don't know how to get your family storytelling off the ground, take a look at ``Handbook for Storytellers,'' by Caroline Feller Bauer (American Library Association, $15).

The 380-page paperback tells you how to keep from stumbling over your own tongue, where to find narrative sources, how to companion your tales with puppets, and a host of other information you'll need to keep your listeners listening.

Ms. Bauer, who received her doctorate in speech from the University of Oregon in Eugene, had her own TV storytelling program in Oregon and for 10 years was the visiting storyteller at the New York Public Library. Her ``Handbook for Storytellers'' can be ordered through bookstores or directly from the American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, Ill. 606ll.

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