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Feb 292012
 

Using Tone and Emphasis

Children are especially sensitive to tone when telling stories and we all carry the imprint of our mothers saying our name in a “you’re in trouble buster” tone.

Tone and emphasis are so important and even when you speak at a regular volume, the tone of your voice is the single biggest giveaway to your emotion and the emphasis you give an individual word or phrase can completely change the message.

Tone is how we insert sarcasm into an otherwise straightforward sentence.

A single sentence can take on a multitude of meanings when given different tones and when emphasis is placed at different points. Combined, they illuminate the speaker’s motives, feelings and desires. The last thing you want is for your child to be cuddled in close at bedtime, but feel no warmth from your voice.

What is Emphasis in storytelling?

Let’s start with a brief summary of what emphasis means. The dictionary defines emphasis in storytelling (although it could be in any form of communication) as “special stress laid upon or attached to anything”.

I don’t want to labour the point (would that put undue emphasis on it?), so I’ll just say that for the purposes of this chapter; I’ll be discussing the most direct form of emphasis: Stressing an individual word or phrase in a story using your voice.

Consider this sentence:

“I know how to do it.”

For this exercise to really work, say it out loud.

Now let’s play with the emphasis.

Put the emphasis on the first word.

I know how to do it.”

Notice the feel of the sentence and the meaning behind the communication.

Now put the emphasis on the second word.

“I know how to do it.”

Continue and put the emphasis on each word in turn and listen to how the meaning and implications in the sames sentence can completely change depending on which word you emphasise and what emotion you put behind it.

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

Lastly, repeat the sentence as you did at the start of the exercise. I wonder how much the meaning of that sentence has changed for you now?

Using Tone in storytelling

Tone is, I think, easier to get to grips with than emphasis because it’s easier to see how to put an emotion behind the story.

Let’s use the same sentence we used for tone, but this time let’s experiment with the tone.

“I know how to do it.”

Try saying it in an angry way.

“I know how to do it.”

Did you grit your teeth or pull a face? If you didn’t try it again and see what a difference that makes to the tone of the sentence.

Now say it in a happy way

“I know how to do it.”

Did you smile? Did you cock your head to one side? Maybe you sat up a bit?

Again, try those things and notice the difference. Body language in storytelling is another extremely important factor and there is a whole chapter dedicated to it, but right now, let’s focus on the tone of the sentece.

Lastly, speak the sentence in a monotone, with no change and no emphasis. You will find it is extremely boring as it gives no idea of the speaker’s emotion.

Putting tone and emphasis together as a storytelling technique

If you storytell in a monotonous way, your audience will quickly tune out and probably become unresponsive to your story.

The whole storytelling experience will become a frustration for them instead of a bedtime bonding experience for you and your child.

So you can see how important tone and emphasis are in bringing your story to life as each character varies in tone and emphasis, maintaining the interest in the story.

The tone in which you choose to tell the narrative part of the story will let your child know what type of story you are telling, it may be a somber or scary story, it may be an adventure, it may be a funny story. Your child will recognise it based on your tone.

Practise saying “Once upon a time…” with different tones, to try to set the atmosphere for different types of stories.

How to tell a story by focusing on the storytelling technique of tone and emphasis

Another interesting aspect of tone, is that if you use storytelling to help control your child’s behaviour. Children will very quickly learn to recognise that “warning” tone in your voice when they are misbehaving, as it appears when the bunny rabbit is misbehaving in the story.

Equally, the tone with which you present episodes within the story will inform your child on what behaviour is socially acceptable and encouraged.

Remember that things can happen in stories long before your children experiences them socially for themselves, (such as stealing, bullying or becoming aware of differences in appearance) so this is a particularly important point to keep in mind.

You can prepare your child to recognise social situations and learn how to categorise them as acceptable or not acceptable and how to react according to what they have learned from your presentation of this same situation with your tone in your story. This is particularly important for stories with a moral lesson.

Storytelling homework

Now that you’ve had a bit of experimentation with tone and emphasis, continue to take that awareness into storytime with your children.

  • Focus on the flow of the story and see if you can enhance or dramatise the tale by increasing the emphasis on the key words or phrases.
  • Keep an eye out for the feelings and emotional tones in the story and see if you can bring them out even further by enhancing the tone with which you deliver them.

Remember: You already do this naturally. You’re just tuning your skills and stretching your experience. You may not get these right first time and you may feel silly doing the exercises. Do them and you’ll really enhance your storytelling technique.

Remember, it is not ultimately how you tell the tale that will make it successful, it is how your child hears it.

So above all, use all your faculties to make it wonderful for them – we will discuss in further chapters other ways to do this  –  so bend your voice to suit their ear.

“It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear”

Italo Calvino

Chapter summary: Using your voice in storytelling – techniques to make the stories magical.

Next lesson: How to use pitch and speed as a storytelling technique.

Bonus: Checkout this arcticle on using sound effects in storytelling to get some ideas on another excellent storytelling technique.

Feb 162012
 

Using story time to help children with vocabulary and rhythm and rhyme

Children’s stories and books are fantastic at helping children with vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme. This article is has a few suggestions on those three themes. Do let us know if you have your own great stories that help your kids’ vocab.

Rhythm and Rhyme can easily be encouraged through stories as well as improving vocabulary Continue reading »

Feb 132012
 

Children’s stories are good for the soul

We are all told through the media and parenting magazines that story time is very important and that (depending on which study you read) a minimum of 15-20 minutes a day or reading time is essential to helping our children develop. Other benefits that are perhaps a little less obvious or publicised :

Stories provide a “safe” environment in which to explore strong emotions and situations

The stories we share with our children provide a safe environment for them to explore the world

Your child lives in a world of unknowns where each day is filled with new learning experiences.

As they grow they are faced not only with the scary world around them, but new social situations as they encounter new friends, lose friends, attend school, learn what criticism is from their peers and learn to speak up for themselves.

It is a constant “trial by error” situation without the maturity or adult skills to deal with these pressures.

Adults get frustrated when they cannot succeed immediately, and we (try to) live by the old adage “if you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

If we adults get frustrated, imagine how your child must be feeling! Children do not have this same adult ability to cope with failure and rejection.

By being aware of this and sharing stories which mirror their experiences, you can help your kids relate to characters they can identify with. They can learn to express their emotions through these characters, and ask questions on how the characters act. Our children can in turn understand how to deal with these turbulant feelings.

Another added benefit to this type of story is that your child learns what is “normal” and that certain negative feelings are “OK” to express and needn’t be hidden.

You can also use the mirror effect in the story to discover your child’s emotions without risk of being humiliated or worse.

Ask your child about the character in the story : “And how do you think Charlie the dog feels?”  You may be surprised by the response you get!

 

Stories deal with the emotions your child is already having, but is struggling to handle or communicate

So you understand that your child is silently worried or fearful in a given situation, but you’re not sure she knows how to deal with or communicate how they’re feeling.

Stories provide children a safe place to deal with the emotions they are feeling

How do you address that?

Children often remain silent, avoiding eye contact and evading direct questions on how they feel. Other children may “play up” or constantly throw tantrums…

Why?The reason is because the child does not know if it is wrong or right to feel this way, and they are afraid they will be humiliated or disciplined for their feelings.

They also have trouble vocalising the fear itself, as this just provokes their anxious uncomfortable feelings. For younger children, they may not even know what the “feeling” is, just that it’s very strong and they don’t like it.

Stories are a great way to personify their fears and worries as “monsters” that can be overcome and even befriended, so that objects of fear or worry can be diminished with patterns of thought and behaviour trained through a character’s reactions.

Stories can be used to avoid tantrums and confrontation while getting your children to behave

As we’ve discovered through this introduction already, our children identify and learn from characters and situations in stories. You can use your story to teach your child what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable.

It’s bath time.

Your daughter is point blank refusing to get undressed for the bath.

You’re both getting frustrated and you can feel the heat rising in your cheeks as you start to get angry.

“GET IN THE BATH” you bellow at her.

She bursts into tears and runs from the room, buying herself under the duvet on the bed.

You’re cross, she’s upset and she’s STILL not in the bath!

It doesn’t have to be like this!

It’s bath time.

Your daughter is point blank refusing to get undressed for the bath.

Taking a calm breath, you start telling her about little Princess Elizabeth who loved to be filthy dirty…

… A couple of minutes and a short, carefully targeted, story later…

“Quack Quack” says your daughter as she has one of the baby ducks rescuing the other from the foam as they all frolic in the bath…

That is a real-life example of one situation where I was able to swallow my natural frustration and impatience and help us both out with a short story (that she actually asked me to repeat).

A well delivered story can create real and profound behaviour changes in children if crafted and delivered in the right way.

Stories build connection and understanding between you

Children love stories and they love spending time with their parents. Combine the two and you are creating wonderful childhood memories

Children are sponges for love and affection.

They absorb as much as they can and still come back for more.

Storytelling is more than just a story for a child : It’s a physical closeness with their protector and their source of love, as you sit tight beside them on their bed at bedtime.

It is being given that all important attention.

The child is often indecisive at bedtime about which story they want read to them, and usually you will find they will try to pick the longest story they can find, or else keep requesting another and another.

It’s tempting to think that they’re just trying to delay having to go to bed and to sleep. It’s not!

Your amazing, wonderful, loving son or daughter just wants to be with you for as long as possible.

The story itself is less important than your company! So use this time, whether short or long to bond with your child.

Storytelling opens up an opportunity for you to delight all their senses and imagination and leave them with happy thoughts and a warm fuzzy feeling before they curl up to sleep.

We will explore further how to make the best advantage of all your faculties to appeal to all their senses in the next lessons.

Remember, you do this naturally in conversation with your friends, it’s just as easy, if not easier, to do this with your child.

Remember your childhood? You’re in your son or daughter’s!

Can you remember being told a story as a child? Is it something that you look back on with rosy nostalgia like mine from the start of this introduction?

Storytelling is a special type of activity that your child will love, and will become happy memories in your child’s mind that they too will carry forward into their adult life and then on into their children’s (your grandchildren!).

We all want that for our children right??

It is also a great way for you as a parent to enjoy the precious time you have with your child while they are young. Those years seem to fly by and all too soon your child will stop asking for a story, so enjoy the opportunity while you have it.

Enjoy what is to come, put some of the ideas and suggestions from this course into story time with them and I know you’ll all appreciate it.

In Summary

Children’s stories go way beyond the basics of helping develop language and understanding and sit at the core of the family way of life. They enable our kids to explore ideas and feelings, discover ways of communicating their emotions and bring you closer together both physically and emotionally.

Homework for becoming a better storyteller :

  • Look out for the deeper meanings in the story you read. Not just the “moral”, but also the environment. Is it humans or animals in the story? Are they in the real world, or a fantasy world? What mechanisms can you spot that keeps the audience safe from the events in the story?
  • Be aware of the emotional elements in the story. What are they? How are they communicated? How are they dealt with? One book I read with my daughter is “Happy Birthday, Blue Kangaroo!” which has covers several key emotions including rejection and acceptance and communicates them from two points of view and then goes on to address the feelings very well.
  • Easier said than done, next time your son or daughter is throwing a wobbly, have a think about some of the stories you know and see if you can think of one that would be a parallel for the current situation. Not the wobbly, but the emotional reason behind it.
  • Think about how your children will remember story time for the rest of their lives and in turn use it as a model for story time with their own kids. Make the most of the time and continue to make story time the best time.
  • Enjoy storytime with your children! We want you to become a better storyteller, but if it’s not fun for you, it’s never going to happen, so do what you can, when you can and forgive yourself for not getting it perfect first time.

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