Friday, December 28, 2018

Six Ways Storytelling Can Enrich the Holiday Season

Storytelling is such a central part of what it is to be human, that when any group of people gather they will end up telling stories. Holidays often create the perfect context for storytelling. In Australia, we've just finished celebrating Christmas. Of course, for some families, different religious or secular holidays may be celebrated across the year. These often coincide with holidays, religious observance, special food, music and in some cases, the exchange of gifts. Even if you don't have any religious convictions, you might well look forward to holiday seasons as a special time to catch up with family and friends. This inevitably leads to storytelling as we gather.

Let me share six ways that storytelling can enrich family time together during holiday times like Christmas.

1. Establish some traditions with reading

Our family has just finished celebrating Christmas. Like some other families, it is a time of significance for your family, as we attend church services and gatherings with family and friends. In the lead up to this event we would often share some books that centre on the central Christian message of Christmas. Books about Christian traditions have been shared in hundreds of different titles some are closely centred on the Christian message, others not so much (I shared lot of these books in my last post HERE). In classes that I taught I always found time for the Dr Seuss classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and many others. A story that centres on the theme that Christmas at its very core is about a special gift. Not so much about getting, but giving.

2. Sharing story through songs & music

Holiday time is often a time for music, and with this 'story'. We often overlook the key role that music plays in storytelling. Whether we are talking about religious songs or music in general, music and story are often intertwined. When people celebrate together, it often ends in music and song. As a child, I grew up in a house where music was sung and played often. This included lots of popular ballads, country, blues and pop. As well, as singing Christmas carols when we went for our annual holidays at the Lake Macquarie, on many a hot summer afternoon we ended up singing. At my grandparents’ home at Wangi Wangi, on a hot afternoon after a swim, we would end up with community singing on the front verandah of their house. At times 50-80 people would come out of their tents to join us on my grandparents front verandah. My parents would end up performing and leading the campers as they joined in.

Above: My parents performing at the time in a community concert  

3. Sharing family anecdotes (but avoiding the controversial family ones)

Another wonderful thing about holiday seasons is that you have time to sit with our children and share "can you remember the time that..." stories. These build children's knowledge of the family and the world, as well as their own ability to share stories. "Tell us the story about the time you got lost in the bush Dad". "What was it like going to school when you were a kid Mum?" "What was the funniest thing that happened at school this year"? "Tell us another story Grandad from when you were a kid". As you share your own stories as parents, you help to build family traditions, as well as teaching them how to tell stories themselves.

4. Engage your children in preparations 

Having time to do things with your children as you prepare for a time like Christmas will often create those 'spaces' where things can be shared as we make the preparations. Taking them shopping isn't what I have in mind (this often doesn't end well!). I was thinking more about getting your children to help you to decorate the Christmas tree, or the family room. This isn't just for fun or to fill in time. It does do this, but it allows space and time to share stories and for your children to become better storytellers themselves. In the case of parents, you might share stories of the type "I remember when...". "Do you know where this Christmas decoration came from?" "Do you remember when you made this silver star"? Or perhaps, while you're getting your children to help make some decorations you can simply share jokes and anecdotes, or reminisce. One of the most special times at our house, is decorating the tree each year with decorations that our children made over 30 years ago! Just looking at precious decorations given to us by other people as gifts is a great language and story telling event. "Do you remember who made this?" "Did you know that this decoration was on my mother's tree". Stories will flow!

5. Get children involved in using 'procedural texts'

Above: Preparing a pudding with my granddaughter
One of our family's most treasured traditions is the making of the Christmas pudding.  As a child, my grandparents involved my sister and me in this activity. This was always one of our special family events at Christmas. I implemented the same tradition with my daughters, and more recently, my grandchildren. As well as the fun we have as we prepare for the cooking, we have to follow the recipe, share stories, and lick the bowls. This is a great language event as stories and anecdotes just flow. As we cook, literacy is also being acquired. And of course, the stories shared while we make the pudding become part of shared family history. "Tell us again Dad about the time you...".

Above: The 2018 boiled Christmas pudding cooked with my daughter Louise

6. Involve your children in the making of presents, cards and gifts

Some of my favourite presents as a parent have been the gifts that children made for me. It is fun to involve your children as we make preparations for the exchange of gifts. This might be making yummy food, lollies or snacks to share with neighbours. Once again, there are recipes to follow, stories to tell, gift labels to write, and much more. Card making is just one fun non-food way to link literacy activities to holiday seasons. As well, children might make a book to give to their grandparents or their teacher. Making items for family and friends to hang on their tree is a great literacy activity already mentioned above.

Summing up

Literacy and storytelling are implicated in pretty much all aspects of life. Holiday seasons are just one context that offer opportunities to ground storytelling in 'real' life. As we engage with our children every day, there are numerous ways that the stories we share can help to build their knowledge and their proficiency as users of language whether in spoken or written form. As well, we can develop a shared history that binds family members together.

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