Saturday, March 06, 2010

Storytelling in the Bathtub

This blog post was written for Share a Story, Shape a Future's Blog Literacy Tour 2010 and is part of day two of the tour by The Book Chook. Here is the roundup of posts: Literacy My Way.

Storytelling in the Bathtub; Practical Aspects of Family Storytelling

Once upon a time, when my daughter was three years old, she hated to have her hair washed. I understood her vulnerability. A certain amount of trust must be in place in order to allow an adult to tip the child’s head back, pour the water on the hair and keep the water off of the face. Despite the presence of the washcloth, water inevitably trickles into the eyes. As my daughter shrieked that she didn’t want her hair washed, I said, “Have I ever told you about Pepper’s eleven brothers and sisters?”

My daughter stopped yelling. Pepper was my daughter’s beloved little Playmobil princess who shared her interests and fears, but before that moment, she hadn’t known about Pepper’s family. The Twelve Dancing Princesses was my inspiration for the number of siblings, and as I began to wash my daughter’s hair, I gave them plant names: Carnation, Jonquil, Heliotrope, Johnny-Jump-Up, Violet, and so on. In subsequent baths, I told my daughter about the day they all decided to go on a picnic, what they brought with them, who they met along the way, and what they played when they got there. As I told the story, I didn’t try to create an intricate plot, but I took some inspiration from the book Picnic by Emily Arnold McCully. If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because I wrote about it three years ago and included a bed-time story as well in the post Three Wishes and One Too Many Shaggy Dogs.

Public storytelling performance is different from family storytelling. When I tell stories for an audience in a bookstore or library, I make sure I know my stories thoroughly and provide proper attribution. Some storytellers are able to make up stories spontaneously for an audience. I am not one of them, but I do know that my colleagues’ spontaneity is possible because of the abundance of stories they already know.

When I do family storytelling, I draw inspiration from Western folktales like those collected by the Brothers Grimm (Germany) and Joseph Jacobs (Great Britain) because I know that I will not be infringing upon another culture’s sacred stories. Certain motifs in those stories by Grimm and Jacobs are probably already familiar to you: a journey, a series of events that happen in threes, a smattering of magic, a symbolic challenge to deal with. I often used my daughter's character of Pepper in stories to help my daughter work through her own struggles from swings and slides to dogs and sirens. Over the years, I've employed other characters meaningful to her.

Two in-print books I recommend are:
Bringing the Story Home: The Complete Guide to Storytelling for Parents, by Lisa Lipkin

A Parent's Guide to Storytelling: How to Make Up New Stories and Retell Old Favorites
, by Margaret Read MacDonald

If you are inclined toward folktales, here is a link to help you with the inspiration for your stories: Sur La Lune.


Lone Star Ma said...

I always love hearing about your stories, especially the family ones.

adrienne said...

Lovely. I have never been much of one to be able to tell stories on the spot in any context. (Even after years of writing workshops in college, I can't do anything decent with writing exercises, either. I'm not really good at being creative under that kind of pressure.) I did used to tell Lucas some tall tales about when he was so small that he slept with the spoons in the silverware drawer. We both enjoyed them.

The Book Chook said...

I have done the same when my son was small. I used to tell him thinly disguised fairy tales like "Timmy and The Magic Carpet" and "The Enchanted Pig". He didn't seem to mind much that the details changed with re-telling, and he loved to imagine himself in the story as I told it.

Both storytelling and reader's theatre draw on literature for their inspiration, yet both have special features of their own too.

Loved your post!

PatZMiller said...

Hi: Great post. I've always told my kids stories while they take a bath -- either made-up ones or I'll read them books. They're a captive audience, and they've come to associate books with baths.

Pat Zietlow Miller

Terry Doherty said...

Sometimes when my daughter is too tired, she asks us to tell her a story rather than read one from a book. I'm not very good at spontaneous stories, so I am always going back into the mental archives to *twist* a fairy tale that I remember from childhood. Thanks for this great contribution, Farida!

Cathy Puett Miller said...

Amazing the power of something as seemingly simple as a story. And today we can do something simple for literacy by asking everyone to share their stories. Even if a mom or dad cannot read, they can tell a tale. We all love to hear about the night (or day) we were born, where the sun comes from and where it goes at night, the scariest thing that ever happened, the smallest touching memories. These are worth sharing and in the process we explore and share language, the foundation of our written word.

Tif said...

Wow!! Great post!! I love this idea!!! Thank you!!

Schelle said...

I do this all the time too :D I have recently finished reading Wombat Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series, so now at naptime I tell him about the whole family climbing the Faraway Tree and what land is at the top, and what we do there (always ending with us being so exhausted when we climb down that we snuggle up and go straight to sleep.) Wombat loves his books, but once or twice a day without fail, he demands: "Tell me a story, Mummy. Make it an IMAGINARY one." :D

Playing by the book said...

What a lovely post. As we don't own a car, and thus walk a lot everywhere, we end up telling stories when we're walking to help my 5 year old keep going - it's amazing how much it helps. I have to admit, though, that I always feel totally inadequate when telling a live, off the cuff story, like I don't know what I'm doing, and that I must sound silly. Whilst this isn't a particularly enjoyable feeling for me, it reminds me that lots of parents feel this way about _reading_ books - the strange sound of their voice, the uncertainty about getting into character a little, and that helps me understand why some people find what I find so natural so difficult.

cathy said...

The authentic voices of real parents is so appreciated on these posts. Know that, just as learning to speak in public or to conquer a few computer program, reading and telling stories with your children is something that may initially feel a little awkward to you. Visit the library or a mom's group (or find a literacy advocate in your neighborhood that can "coach" you a little, practice and you'll soon become the expert.

The thing to remember is that these experiences offer a double-whammy punch for your child's future:

1) Sharing experiences with language builds strong lasting communication between you and your child. I'm convinced that the reason our son calls us as a 20 year old is because we set the pattern of regular communication when he was a toddler. Behind that pattern is the knowledge that we are interested and will listen to anything he has to say.

2) Reading aloud to children is the single most important activity to build the eventual knowledge base needed to be a strong reader. And being a strong reader is absolutely an essential in today's text dense and information rich world.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Will you adopt me?

Vivian said...

You are such a great mom.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks, everyone, for coming in and posting your thoughts and comments! And to answer Jules, yes, the paperwork is in the mail. Of course, that means your daughters will be my grandchildren.

gustav/katu/ghozm said...

Sweet story!
Thank you for your book tips. Specially "How to Make Up New Stories and Retell Old Favorites", sounds like a book I would like to read. As I work a lot with improvisations when I tell stories. My main storytelling practice I got from working in pre-school. Telling stories of small groups, that you know well, makes it so much more easy to improvise and find a flow (much like in a family setting, I can imagine).

I am looking forward to read more of your experiences.