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Techniques for storytelling with children

Crowd control

I have always loved storytelling and creating stories with children.  Their unpredictability and blunt but honest reactions. I enjoy all of that and most of all, the opportunity to encourage them to let their imaginations run riot.  Whatever the age or the setting there are going to be times when you have to manage their behaviour even with adults in the room.  The spot-light is on you and you are in charge so here are a few techniques for storytelling with children that I have used.

Before you begin storytelling

Sometimes I have as much as an entire hour or more with a group of children, or as little as 15 minutes.  It all depends on the age-group and the event.  To counteract interruptions and to set the mood, I sometimes:

  1. Do a short introduction about myself which includes some personal information like ‘how or why I became a storyteller’.
  2. Ask them a few ice-breaker like ‘what types of stories do you enjoy?’
  3. Tell them a fact about the story I’m going to tell, like where it originates from or where it is set.
  4. Explain what is going to happen in the session and how they can join in.
  5. Set the boundaries and explain if questions need to be at the end or if I’d like them to put their hands up rather than calling out.

All of the above satisfies their curiosity and helps to manage expectations before you begin.

During your storytelling

Even with tried and tested stories with plenty of interaction for very young children or twists and turns to appeal to older children, you may still get reactions which can cause disruption.

I’ve had a child burst out laughing at the music I began to play. This caused a wave of infectious giggles which was hard to ignore. As I’d not even begun the story yet I stopped and made a joke out of it by saying “what’s so funny? Have I sprouted two heads? Are my clothes on backwards?” With the laughter out of their system, I began again and all was well.

You might be mid story and someone starts fiddling with their velcro shoe-strap, crunching their plastic water bottle or elbowing their neighbour for more space. Here’s a few techniques for storytelling with children to manage distractions:

  1. Catch their eyes to let them know they have your attention.
  2. Make use of their excess energy – let them take part with an idea or a prop.
  3. Put your finger to your mouth with a smile – the universal sign for ‘please be quiet’.
  4. Change your pace or volume if possible.
  5. Move or do a physical action suited to what you are describing.
  6. Tell everyone to close their eyes for a moment and picture what you are describing.
  7. Ask everyone to copy an action or create one that reflects something or someone in the story
  8. If the behaviour is extremely rowdy and distruptive to the point that it is hindering what you do and and disturbing others,  don’t be afraid to quietly but firmly ask them to ‘please stop’ and then carry on storytelling right where you left off. *Please note that a child may have issues that you are not aware of that could be the reason for them causing a disturbance and so you need to use your judgement at the time if you have not been briefed in advance by any teachers/adults.

Keep it light

I always aim to make my storytelling with children, engaging, fun and very participatory.  If you do find that the atmosphere has gotten too lively and loud, remember that you are creating some magical moments for them – completely different from whatever they were doing a moment before or in their usual day.  Let them have the moment and gently bring their attention back to the story.  Keep the mood focused but light.

If you’ve got any other techniques for managing the crowd when storytelling with children, please do share them with me here on my website or my social media feeds!