This holiday season many families will celebrate with relatives miles apart. Though we may gather online in group video conferencing calls, we won’t see one another face to face. Even if some live close by, many families will prefer to visit outdoors with safe and limited social distancing for a brief interaction or to exchange gifts.
This year, children might find the holidays strange and unsettling, but we can make this a holiday to remember with simple, creative, storytelling activities. Use the quality time we do have during the holidays to share stories, playful make-believe stories with puppets, or tell stories about the good old days when you were young.
Young children have their own stories to tell. When creating original stories, their unique imaginations will often communicate what they cannot say—if we listen. Providing a safe space and time for the children’s story making, not only develops oral language, it offers an insight into their own points of view: What characters and situations do they create in their make believe world?
You might guide them with a story starter, like “Once upon a time,” or “One day.” But once they begin their open-ended story, listen with acceptance and enjoyment. You might encourage them to continue by asking, “What happened next?” And they may need help ending the story with a stock phrase, such as “And that’s the way my story ends.”
Wooden spoon puppets can create holiday magic. You may think that wooden spoons are only for stirring gingerbread dough, but they can just as easily stir up a good folktale or creative drama. With a handful of inexpensive, wooden spoons and a selection of non-permanent color markers, decide on the characters needed to enact a favorite folktale, like “The Gingerbread Man,” “Three Little Pigs,” or “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Then draw the facial features and color the skin of the creature or character. Read the folktale over a few times for its basic action, but once the wooden spoons take off, the story might stir up a different kind of trouble in your children’s hands.
Create a series of stories using action figures, telling in tandem with your child. A special holiday gift this year might be action figures from a movie or TV series. Enter into the fun by pretending to be one of them and act out a story with your child.
For example, when my son was in pre-school, he became captivated by the wildly popular ad campaign of the California Raisins, based on a make-believe rhythm and blues band with the popular song, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The Raisins promoted a healthy snack in a series of Claymation TV commercials with fantastic, but hip adventures. We did have a few of their action figures and enjoyed eating raisins.
One night at bedtime, we started to tell original stories about the California Raisins getting into scrapes of one kind or another. The Raisins were definitely on the wild side: car chases, catching ghosts, and mountain climbing. My son and I would take turns trading Raisin episodes, some of them outrageous.
The same can be true for a favorite puppet. Ask the young child to describe the puppet’s personality, maybe its unique voice, or special powers. Give the puppet a name and ask it to tell its story. If there is another puppet, they could develop an action story together.
Tips for Telling: It’s important is to honor story characters your child finds interesting, whether they originate from a folktale, cartoon, or other media. Accepting the child’s imagination is one way to bridge the cultural gap between generations. Telling a fantasy story, back and forth, is a way for you to enter into your child or grandchild’s world as a co-creator.
YOUR CHILDHOOD HOLIDAY STORIES
Telling your own childhood memories can be among the most important stories you tell. Children love to hear about your adventures and how they turned out. It deepens the bond of shared experience, since the child identifies with you and is vicariously involved. He may ask you to tell certain stories again and again—a clue to how he/she most clearly connects with your life.
The personal story is excellent device for bridging generations and reaching out to other family members. Ask grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, caregivers, and siblings to participate.
Tips for Telling: Set aside a quiet time to reflect on a real life incident from your childhood. Close your eyes and pinpoint an age, perhaps the current age of your child or grandchild. Focus on a time during the holidays. As random images and fragments rise to the surface, choose one that is a real story with a beginning, middle, and end.
These questions might help trigger a memory:
- What was your favorite holiday gift as a child?
- What are some of your favorite holiday traditions and why?
- What are some of the different places you have spent the holidays?
- What do you like to eat the best during the holidays and why?
- Did you have a holiday adventure?
- What was the most memorable holiday in your childhood? What happened?
When you have found the story incident, live through it again and open your eyes. You may want to replay the event more than once. As you do, recollect all sense impressions vividly. Hear, see, smell, taste, feel all the sights, sounds, objects of your experience. Feel the emotions once more. Rehearse the dialogue. Find a quiet time to tell the story with a special setting or time of the day.
Make this a holiday to remember!
Kate Farrell, storyteller, author, librarian, founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project and published numerous educational materials on storytelling. She has contributed to and edited award-winning anthologies of personal narrative. Farrell’s new book, a timely how-to guide on the art of storytelling for adults, Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories, was released in June 2020. Recently, Farrell presented workshops for adults on the art of storytelling at the San Francisco Public Library, Mechanics Institute, and the San Francisco Writers Conference. Kate is now offering virtual workshops for libraries and writing groups, as well as performing virtually as a storyteller.