Although storytelling is often thought of as an arcane art form, it's undergoing a rejuvenation as people delve into their cultural roots and try to slow down and honor life. This is cool stuff. And of course, learning to listen to stories is an invaluable tool for the growing child. I could preach, but I won't. Enjoy.
If you are hopelessly intimidated by storytelling and want to buy a prop, here's a little product called Storycard Theatre cards. I saw it in a store and liked it. It's a picture card that you hold up while you read from the back.
The National Storytelling Network's mission is "Bringing together and nurturing individuals and organizations that use the power of storytelling in all its forms." Their Resource Center is just lovely. It contains links to things like virtual storytelling sites and festivals, and a lot of articles telling you how to tell stories.
Festivals are listed at the storytelling organization websites, above.
Here's a great website that contains basically everything you ever wanted to know about storytelling. My kudos to the author, Elizabeth Figa, PhD. Wonderful work. Storytelling is huge and far more pertinent than most people even imagine. From oral tradions and oral history to your childhood teachings -- Elizabeth's links are fascinating. Then there's the School of Sacred Storytelling, located in Maryland. Not being a sacred type, I won't gush over this a lot, but they link to the biblical storytelling stuff, and to many retreats. Again, a venerable tradition. The Activated Storytellers travel around and give stories. Here are some, in podcast form.
Learning how to tell good stories
Yay! Look, I found a book called Storytelling with Children! This will help me on my four hundred and thirty second CARWASH STORY!!! Ack. Seriously, my son demands stories about Lozano's carwash (in Mountain View, California) and Ducky's carwash (in Atherton, California) every night. Frogs, I could deal with. Little elves, talking music stands, the day that the frying pan ran away, the time that the squirrel came out of the log and began speaking spanish... all of that stuff is no problem. But endless tales of how a pacifier got stuck in the carwash and how he rescued it, or how a fire happened and he helped to put it out ... (this is real stuff, btw) Well, I think that they're very soothing to the psyche, but hopefully this book will help me in my creativity here.
The ironic thing, of course, is that when I became pregnant, I started brushing up on Jung. I wanted to better understand his archetype theory and I also wanted to be aware of the power of myths in my son's life.
The role of storytelling
Let's digress for a minute from my own personal problems with carwashes, and talk about the role of storytelling in your child's life. The Steiner adherents feel that storytelling is a real skill, and something that children should respect and focus on for the first few years of their life. Reading isn't taught in the Steiner schools (nor in most German schools, as far as I can tell) until a child is almost 7 -- when the teeth are falling out. (I kid you not.)
Hmmn, well, my brain likes to read and it started when I was about 4 or 5. On the other hand, there is something wonderful about letting your child experience and love the art of storytelling. If you think about the skills that people really need to succeed in life, storytelling is wonderful practice for learning to listen. Plus, of course, you can wend little life lessons into your stories as you create them.
Anachronistic as storytelling is in our modern society, it is an incredible, wonderful gift to give to your child. My son is three and often he will specify exactly what plot-line he wants to hear. He "stars" in many of his stories (for better or for worse), and in the stories he is extremely competent, knows all about carwashes (of course), and speaks fluent spanish! In my opinion, it's grand to have your own personal storyteller helping you to fantasize and figure out how and who you want to be.
Another thing that's funny is that when he wakes up in the morning and comes into our room, I always ask him how he slept and if he had dreams. It's my way of letting him know that dreams happen, and when he has bad dreams we can talk about them this way. I find it very amusing that sometimes he dreams of exactly the story I told him.
Links to stories
Andrew Lang's Fairy Site is absolutely amazing. Have you seen or heard of the colored fairy books (like the Pink Fairy Book, and so forth)? They're from the 1800's and they are faithfully represented her in easy-to-read etext. Wonderful stuff. These are located on a mind-blowing site called mythfolklore.net, by the way, which includes aesopica.net (thousands of Aesop's fables in English, Latin, and Greek, all cross-indexed with Perry's Aesopica and with an English-language index to the Oxford World's Classics edition of Aesop. What did you do on your summer vacation? The Bawa Muhaiyadden Fellowship site has Sufi children's stories on it. They're pretty religious, but I wanted 'em in this section anyway. Stone Monument Legends tells stories about about ancient alters, graves, megaliths, menhirs, mounds, pictographs, runestones, picture stones, standing stones, and other such monuments from the past. Sur La Lune is a site that contains many fairy tales. It contains full annotations and analyses of each story, so that you can see exactly where, for example, Satan comes into it. Just kidding. But you never know who's reading your website, now, do you?
At any rate, psychological analysis of those bizarre, violent stories that have traditionally been told to children is another venerable tradition, and it's a good idea to understand some of the psychological undertow, if you will, of the stories that you're reading to little Bobby and Suzy.
Frankly, my kid's not coming into contact with these types of stories until probably around five. [Ed note: He's 7 now, and still not ready for a lot of the really scary stories.] Although interestingly enough, the pediatric expert whom I heard speak the other day referred to a study which let children watch violent children's TV (stuff like Roadrunner), and also hear some of these stories. According to him, there was an increase in violent behavior after viewing television, but not after hearing these stories. I found this interesting. In my opinion, these stories are designed to scare the living, um, heck out of your kid. Kind of the opposite of the Dennis the Menace revelry of a Roadrunner cartoon. Ah, those wacky academics. When they get their repression metric established, perhaps they'll repeat the study?
The pediatric expert said that you shouldn't really be reading things like this to children under about five, but he also said (and I've heard this before) that a nice violent book is just fine around that age. I recall interviews that I've heard with Roald Dahl (whom I consider absolutely brilliant) talking about how the violence in his books is fine. I'll have to look for the interview, but both he and the pediatric expert talked about how healthy it is to take feelings of hostility toward adults and visualize them being crushed by a giant peach, for example. Okay. I can buy that. Heck, I can remember that! [Ed. note: We finally read James and the Giant Peach to my son at 7. He was a little upset when Aunt Sponge and Spiker were killed by the peach, but took it in stride. He would not have taken it in stride at 5 or even 6. Just pay attention to Your kid and tell the experts to take a hike.]
Here's the American Folklife Center's list of ethnographic resources related to folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and humanities.