How grapefruits reminded me of the power of storytelling

According to Speech and Hearing BC,  29{a3c87b1e05b299119f1d4bbd64cf458c711a7ad1f544f81d95701a267500b8d7} of children arrive at kindergarten struggling to be able to tell a story. Did you know that telling your children stories helps them develop their storytelling skills?

Storytelling uses language to connect your child to people, events, concepts and humour. Stories teach sequencing, improve vocabulary, strengthen listening skills and help children connect ideas. And, the simple act of focusing on your child when you tell a story confirms for them that they are a valuable member of the interaction.

I love grapefruits!  I use a grapefruit knife to carefully separate the “meat” within each section, a tradition that was passed on to me by my grandfather. I fondly remember my “Papa Paul” eating his morning grapefruits.  He enjoyed this simple pleasure delighting in every bite, describing the grapefruit as a gift, squeezing every last drop of juice into his mouth. His lessons of appreciating the simple things in life were not lost on me.

The first time I served grapefruit to my children I shared stories about my grandfather, a truly unique and great man whom they had never met.

I  told them about the time my grandfather taught me to ride a bike, convincing me he was still holding on when in fact he had let go so that I could find my way. I must have hit every parked car on the street!  The story opened up a conversation about trust, fear and one’s willingness to try new things.

Then there was the time he bought a new set of dentures for a man he did not know, but who had lost his only set on the beach.  The story helped them better understand abstract traits such as compassion and generosity.

When my children were a little older, I told them about the time Papa Paul tried to teach my mother to swim by securing her to the end of a fishing rod! Seriously!  This story included a time lapse and provided a segue to discuss planning, considering your options and perspective taking.

To this day when my daughters see me cutting open a grapefruit they request it “Papa Paul style”!  A man they have never met has become a coined phrase in our home, simply through the act of storytelling.

Ways to support your child’s language skills through storytelling:

  1. Include the concepts of time – Using words such as “first”, “and then” and “in the end” will help build sequencing and narrative skills.
  2. Insert pauses – Pauses allow children extra time to process and consider what you are saying. And by pausing, you model how to pace yourself when speaking.
  3. Use descriptive language – Help them visualize the characters and settings in your stories. Talk about the qualities and traits of your characters to help grow their vocabulary.
  4. Be expressive – By matching your facial expression and tone of voice to your message, you help your child develop the ability to read social cues and understand how others feel. (See my blog on Understanding Social Language Skills)
  5. Connect the story to the present – If possible, build a relationship between one aspect of the story and your child’s life. This will help them remember the story and improve their ability to retell it.

Stories are captivating. Tell your children stories about them as babies, or what it was like being pregnant with them. Share stories about yourself when you were a child and about your own family.  Draw them in and strengthen their connection to their world.

“There is no greater power on this earth than story”. –  Libba Bray