Susan Ramsay | Jan 10, 2018

Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



“Know what?” When we hear that lead-in we know our child has a story to tell.


From the time children begin to understand language we teach them about storytelling. A parent arrives home after being away for the day and asks, “What did you do today?” The response may be a single word or a long involved monologue, but it represents the child’s story.


Most cultures rely on oral storytelling to teach the next generation who they are as a nation, or to pass along knowledge of ancestors or family history. But storytelling is a-literate. We don’t have to be able to read or write to tell stories. Yet Canadians value reading and writing skills as essential components of education and employment. Print and digital texts are infused into every aspect of our lives from social media to banking to shopping to managing our health. Why emphasize oral storytelling as a way to help children learn to read and write?


The answer is simple. Reading is much more than decoding print. I may be able to decipher and read aloud “From overhead the snake bounced across the grassy clouds.” but it doesn’t make much sense. Children experiment with meaning and humour, sentence and story structure through listening to and creating stories.


When children hear stories they discover patterns. They learn that the English language has a certain order to the words. (“Cats eat mice” makes sense. “Eat mice cats” doesn’t.) Children learn that stories have beginnings, middles and endings. They learn that “Once upon a time” marks the beginning of a fairy tale; “lived happily ever after” ends it.


When children tell stories they become authors who have ideas to express. They practice combining words to tell facts and convey their ideas or imagination. Oral storytelling strengthens their comprehension skills and is integral to literacy learning.


Telling your child stories and helping your child become a storyteller can happen anytime and anywhere. Are you and your child returning indoors after a sledding or skating adventure? Put mittens, scarf, hat, socks, a plush animal or other items found in the house into a bag or box. Start a story with “Once upon a time in a cold, snowy land there lived a….” Pause for your child to pull out an object from the container. Weave that object into your story. For instance, if your child pulls out a toque you might continue your story with “….a tiny mole that found an enormous red toque.” Continue the story pausing throughout to pull out more objects to incorporate into the plot. The story can be silly. It can be surprising. It only matters that it’s fun to create together.


Familiar stories can be retold by modifying the personality of the main characters. How would the story of the Three Little Pigs play out for the wolf if the story was about the Three Stinky Pigs; or for Goldilocks if she visited the house of the Three Sloths instead of the Three Bears?


Familiar true stories are important to share with your child too – stories about your own childhood and stories about your child’s birth and her life as a baby and toddler. New Year’s is a great time to reflect upon the true stories you want your child to know and remember.


So how do we respond to our child’s exclamation, “Know what?”


“No. What? I can hardly wait to hear.”

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.