7 Ways to Use Storytelling to Engage Your Kids and Encourage Less Screen Time
Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.
— Robin Moore, author
I have a love/hate attitude towards technology.
Sometimes I long for the days before the advent of cell phones. Life wasn’t restricted by a computer in my pocket — if you think your life isn’t restricted by your phone, keep track of how often you pick it up and check it in a day.
I prefer books to television; I prefer CDs and records to streaming services, and I was excited the day I found some of my old cassette tapes from years ago. I suppose younger people would label me as “old.” Oh, well. I had fun making my own mix of music on tapes.
I’m not a complete hater of technology. I appreciate the improvement to life in some aspects, such as the easy access to information from the internet.
But since having kids of my own, I wonder if we need the abundance of technology, especially phone, computer and television screens. Even too much of a good thing can have negative consequences.
I see the negative consequences when my four year old boy watches too much television in a day. Once we turn off the television my son gets mean, crabby and throws tantrums. It’s like an instantaneous change and it takes a good while to calm him down.
We learned real quick we have to strictly limit and control his screen time. If we don’t, I worry one day I’ll find him in the basement creeping on all fours, with pallid grayish skin, enlarged eyes, and muttering about his “precious.”
The Dark Side of Technology
I’ve inherently felt there’s a downside to technology, well…mostly the screens in our lives, and the constant urge to seek entertainment at all hours.
I wondered in what ways technology specifically affects children. Naturally I want the best for my kids, and I want to raise them to be fully capable adults.
With a little research I learned about negative effects tech has on children. For one there is a link to childhood obesity. As they spend more time typing or tapping on a screen, they consequently spend less time outside or engaging in physical activities.
Secondly, technology can hinder social development. You have to admit that tech has completely changed how we interact with each other. A Lot of screen time can result in lower self-esteem and not knowing how to engage with people.
And finally, the attention span of children is affected. The easy access to entertainment wires kids for instant gratification — they want, want, want, and they want it now. It’s already challenging enough to get kids to focus, but phones, tablets and T.V.s make it tougher.
Some Benefits of Storytelling
In contrast to the negative aspects of technology, storytelling activities encourage creativity, language skills, listening, focus, improves memory, develops emotional control, and expands their imagination.
In addition to limiting television time, one of my favorite activities is making up stories as we play with our kids. It’s inspiring to watch our oldest boy use his imagination and participate in creating a story.
When I use stories and interact with my kids, I feel like we are participating in the oral tradition of telling stories.
Plus, books and storytelling skills don’t require batteries. Storytelling is perfect entertainment around a campfire, for bedtime, if the power goes out, waiting in the car, and so many other situations.
Below are some creative activities to inspire and encourage storytelling. I hope you’ll find them useful alternatives to other technology based forms of entertainment.
Ideas and Suggestions for Storytelling Games
The Toy Box
An awesome resource for creative, imaginative storytelling. We have several small toy boxes filled with superheroes, cars and trucks, building blocks — all great sources for storytelling fun. Whenever I play with my boys, we naturally fall into a storytelling style of play; it’s great fun watching them use their imaginations.
Storytelling Prompts Jar
Take an empty jar and cut or tear slips of paper, keeping the paper slips large enough to write on. On each paper write some sort of phrase, idea, or words — anything that will work as a prompt. Take turns pulling out a paper. Read what is on the paper and then use it to tell a story. If your kid becomes stuck during the storing, use question prompts to jumpstart the next part.
Use Maps to Tell or Generate Stories
Many fantasy authors draw their own maps as a way to generate ideas, characters, and places for their stories. Guide your kids through a map drawing session and let their imaginations fill the map. They can be as detailed as they want. Colored pencils lend a flare of creativity.
Alternatively you can use old maps, or existing fantasy maps as a way for your kids to explore new regions and cultures with their imaginations.
The Folded Story
This one is best for older elementary age kids and on up. I used this a few times when I worked as a substitute teacher. It works best when you have quite a few kids, and if there are a lot, you can place them in small groups.
Normally I would start to demonstrate how to begin. Lined paper helps with this activity. One person writes two to three sentences, then folds the top of the paper so that only the last sentence is visible, and passes the paper to the next person. That person silently reads the last sentence and then adds to it with his/her own ideas. Again, writing two to three sentences, folding it, and passing it on. Repeat the process until everyone has written on the paper. When the last person is finished, unfold the paper and read the wacky, fun story everyone just wrote.
Fairy Tale Combinations
Most kids are familiar with fairy tales, at least the most common or popular ones. This story game hearkens back to oral storytelling, which is where our fairy tales were first disseminated. The whole gist of this story game is for you and your kids to tell your own story using elements from other fairy tales; or combine two or more fairy tales into one extravagant fairy tale. You can really encourage your kids’ imagination with this one, and create your own unique stories.
The Storytelling Stick
You can use anything that is stick-like, plain or decorated. This is similar to the talking stick concept, where whoever is holding the stick gets to tell a story or add to a group story. Only, these stories are told orally rather than written. If any of your kids get stuck, prompt their ideas with questions about characters, setting, and plot. This game is particularly fun around campfires.
Single Sentence Story
This is similar to the folded story idea. Again, this is perfect around campfires, but can also be played anywhere. Each person in the circle participates in telling a story one sentence at a time. Keep going until the story reaches some sort of climax and resolution. It’s a great way for showing how to create a coherent story one sentence at a time.
A Final Note
We love our stories. Look at all the methods we have for telling stories: video games, movies and televisions, social media, and books.
However, engaging with your kids through writing and oral storytelling will provide greater satisfaction, and will benefit your kids' development far better than passive forms of entertainment.
Storytelling is something you can do anytime, anywhere, and doesn’t rely on any source of power, other than your own imagination and creativity. Pass it on to your kids.
And…the ability to tell stories is just another tool you can add to your emergency preparations. Stories can uplift and give hope, especially in situations that seem less than hopeful.
So, the next time you have a chance, try some of these storytelling methods with your kids and see what you can create.