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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/20/2012

The art of storytelling

The National Book Festival coming up this weekend is one of the great family events of the year.

The point of the festival, of course, is to celebrate books, but it’s also an opportunity to inspire us to embrace what’s in those books: stories.

There will be dozens of opportunities to hear an author read his or her published story aloud. There’s even a special stage dedicated to storytelling.

For John McCormick, it’s the story and the telling, rather than the packaging, that he thinks families would do well to focus on.

McCormick is a local expert in the art of storytelling as he has raised his boys with his wife in their Cleveland Park home, nightly unspooling homemade tales. In 2010, he published , with his sons, a guide on the art of storytelling, “Dad, Tell Me a Story: How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children. He also writes a blog on the subject.

(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
“I find that reading to kids is a more passive activity, whereas interactive storytelling — involving parents and their children creating stories together — provides a more active learning experience. When reading stories, the book provides the words and the pictures to the child.  Storytelling, on the other hand, encourages kids to conjure up their own mental images and, in the process, stimulates creativity and imagination,” he told me.

This is a shaky area for me personally. My imagination is rather stunted and I feel safer on the solid ground of printed word when I put my daughters to sleep. I am the designated book reader.

My husband, for his part, makes up his own stories, usually involving pirates, when it’s his turn.

I see how he keeps the girls spellbound, but I can’t bring myself to compete with the bookshelf. McCormick said it’s easier than it seems.

“The key, he said, is not to make up stories for children, but with children.

“It’s the interactive quality that keeps the stories creative and spontaneous. I’ve made up stories with my sons just about every night now for over 10 years, and I couldn’t have done this without their ideas and help.

“Start by asking your children what they want tonight’s story to be about. At first, most kids say ‘I don’t know.’ But don’t let them off the hook. Instead, encourage them to go with the first idea that pops into their mind.”

And don’t set too high a bar.

“Every story isn’t going to be an award winner. But kids don’t care. What matters is that you’ve come up with a story just for them. One no one else has ever heard. That’s what makes interactive storytelling so special.”

Are you a book reader or a storyteller? Which do your kids enjoy most?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 09/20/2012

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