Storytelling is an age-old tradition that connects people, transcending generations and cultures. It’s not just about entertaining tales; it’s about remembering, structuring our memories into a narrative, and building a sense of self.
One could say that it’s a basis for our humanity, and as such, this skill is vital for a child to develop. Teaching your little one how to tell stories also helps to foster creativity, develop language skills, and strengthen family bonds.
I was fortunate as a child to have an inventive older sister who used to tell me wacky tales of her own invention about the “hip grey wolf” and reenact Charles Perrot fairytales with paper dolls for me.
Whenever I write a blog like this one or even write my paper for a journal professionally, I remember those times because I owe my love of writing to her. Who knows what my life could have been without her loving contribution?
However, that’s not the only way to teach storytelling. Another fantastic way to introduce your child to this magical world is by helping them create their first book! In this article, we’ll explore how parents can collaborate with their children to craft a simple illustrated book, igniting the spark of imagination and honing essential skills in the process.
Nurturing your child’s storytelling skills
Yet, let’s not run before we can walk. Prior to creating a story, here are the little steps you can take to support your child’s storytelling skills.
- Asking questions about the stories
When you read bedtime stories, pause every few pages and ask your child questions about what is happening in the story, where it takes place, who the characters are, what they want, what the conflict is, etc.
- Acting out familiar stories
Acting out favorite episodes or the entire story is the best way to reinforce the plot in your child’s memory. You can do it as you read or when the story is over. Energetic kids often cannot keep themselves from leaving their place and acting enthusiastically as you read! For a shier child, you might suggest using puppets or cardboard cuttings to represent characters.
- Retelling stories
Ask your child to retell the story you’ve read them or the plot of a cartoon you’ve watched together. Don’t correct them if they make “mistakes.” Inconsistencies might be a sign of a child’s memory mixing things up and confusing details from different stories.
However, it might also indicate that your kid already feels what every storyteller knew from the dawn of time: that a bit of imagination, action, and drama can only improve any story.
Whether your little one fantasizes and adds characters and plot twists to a story or can recount a narrative close to the source, they are probably ready to create their very own first story – with your help, of course.
Creating a story together
Before you begin creating a story for the book, you can make up some simpler stories about what they know – as an exercise, for example, about your child’s Teddy Bear visiting his friend for tea or the dolls going to the zoo.
Talk about the characters: why they decided to take the trip? What did they wear? What mood were they in? What did they do first? Next? Did they enjoy their little adventure? Ask questions to help your child come up with more details of the setting and the story. If your little one is engaged and participates with interest, you can suggest making a big story for the book.
- Choosing a theme
Begin by selecting a theme for the book. Encourage your child to express their curiosity and ideas. Whether it’s a tale about a princess in a faraway land, a story about their favorite animal, or a journey into a completely made-up world where everyone walks backward and eats inedible things, let their imagination rule.
If your child is hesitant, prompt them tentatively with questions like, “Do you want it to be funny or scary? Is it about people, animals, or monsters?
Does it happen inside or outside? In the house, on the starship, in the castle? In the city, in the village, by the sea, in space?” A little of a choose-your-own-adventure approach can go far. It breaks the ice and lets imagination loose.
- Brainstorming flavors
When you have a central theme, brainstorm the key elements of the story together. Discuss the main characters, the setting, the adventure, or the challenges they will encounter. This collaborative process encourages kids to articulate their thoughts and ideas and is essential to early language development.
If your little one is a visual learner, maybe prepare some materials for this one: magazine clippings, photos, or cartoons of places, creatures, and objects. Let your child select what they like best and pin those on a corkboard or stick to a larger sheet of paper – as they do in actual grown-up brainstorming rooms!
- Fleshing out the characters
Discuss who the main characters will be and their roles in the story. Give them names, looks, character traits, and backstories. Your child’s imagination will flourish as they breathe life into these characters and feel the first taste of creative pride.
If your kid has difficulty with pulling characters out of thin air, suggest a story about book or cartoon characters they already know, about real people they know, or about their toys. You can draw on your former exercises, expanding on those short stories and adding details.
- Building a plot
Outline a basic plot structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Ask your child to describe how the story will start, what will happen in the middle, and how it will conclude. This helps them understand the concept of story arcs and sequencing.
If this is too abstract for your young one, let them play with toys or pictures they’ve selected during the previous steps and narrate as they go.
- Writing the story down
Depending on your child’s age and writing ability, they can either dictate the story to you, or you can encourage them to write it themselves if they’re capable. Emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes; storytelling is about having fun and learning.
Making a story into a book
Now you have your story – complete and written down. How about making it into a real book? It’s fun, rewarding, and doesn’t require many supplies.
- Creating illustrations
Develop your child’s artistic skills by creating artwork for the story. Provide them with paper, crayons, markers, or digital drawing tools. Ask them to draw their favorite characters or the most vivid moments from the story. These visuals will make the narrative come alive.
- Assembling the book
Take the written and illustrated pages and put them together to create a book. You can use a simple binding method or just staples. This process teaches kids about organization and sequencing.
If you would rather create a digital book that you can send to family members living remotely, there are many online writing tools for that. Here are just some examples:
StoryJumper is a website where children read books by other participants, collaborate with others, create books, or publish their stories for other kids to read.
Storybird is a resource where your child can create their own narratives based on stunning artwork from professional illustrators. Beautiful pictures can give a little nudge that your child needs to create a story.
Little Bird Tales – an iPad app for children to create their stories, artwork, journals, presentations, or even podcasts. You can upload existing drawings or create new ones digitally within the app.
Of course, you should supervise your kid for online activities to ensure safety. Yet apart from these concerns, it’s a joyful and rewarding activity.
Depending on your story’s length and complexity, instead of binding, you can create a little accordion or origami book from sheet paper or decorate a ready-made notebook. If you go that way, you can do all sorts of things to enhance your story, for example:
- add photos of friends and family if this is a story about real people
- cut out pictures from magazines or add stickers, making it a scrapbook with cute collages
- collect flowers, plants, and leaves, press them, and add them to decorate the pages
- Sharing the book
Once your book is complete, have a storytelling session where your child reads the book to you or other family members. Encourage them to narrate the story in their own words, improving their storytelling skills and boosting their confidence. You can make it a fun family activity by reenacting the story as your child narrates. Add costumes, and it’s already a little drama night!
Helping your child create their first storybook is not just an educational exercise; it’s a creative journey. It introduces the little one to the art of storytelling, nurtures their imagination, and develops essential skills such as speech, writing, and sequencing.
Moreover, this collaborative project provides quality time for parents and children to bond over shared adventures. So, grab some paper and crayons and start creating your child’s first masterpiece. The world of storytelling awaits!