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Aug 212013
 

How to make storytelling interactive

Thanks to a recent reader question about what techniques are there for making stories interactive, I have a new article to publish for the first time in ages! Thank you whoever you are for asking me and I hope this answers your question (sadly their supplied email address bounced).

Making stories interactive is an interesting topic and one I try hard to do all the time. In the purest sense, you can make your stories interactive by delivering them in an engaging way.

Punch and Judy is a classic interactive story

Using facial gestures, tones and moving about, you keep your audience interacting with you: watch their faces, their body language and eyes because they’re telling you that they’re involved (or not) in your story.

Some articles on interactive storytelling

If you want to get them physically involved and “interacting” with the story, then check out the following two articles and try out some of the suggestions:

http://kidmunication.com/telling-stories/telling-childrens-stories-using-storysacks/

This article is all about the concept of story sacks: a “sack” or bag containing props and devices relevant to the story that the children can bring out to use at certain relevant points during the story.

http://kidmunication.com/telling-stories/story-cubes-creating-stories-with-your-children/

Story cubes are effectively picture dice invented by a clever chap in Ireland and which is now doing extremely well which is awesome. Roll the dice and use the pictures to create a story between you. We took some on a family holiday earlier this year and kept us amused and quiet (well, apart from the occasional squeal of delight from my daughter) on the plane on the way out.

Top ideas for making your stories interactive

Other ways you can get your audience involved:

  • Ask them what happens next! They’ll give you something and you can work that into the story. Start with characters’ names and then move on to items, then events and emotions.
  • Play games like Chinese whispers to help children discover how a story can evolve from a simple sentence – people love stories and we like things to be in a nice narrative order so start the whisper with something that is not straight forward to understand or is out of context – those that don’t hear it quite right will fill the blanks with stuff that makes sense in a narrative format.
  • Dress up. Get the kids to dress up and play characters from the story. For older children, you could even get them to act out the parts.
  • Also for older children, you can get them to read character’s lines from a book and then encourage them to use some of the story telling techniques you know to bring it to life rather than read dead-pan from the book.
  • With younger kids who can’t read yet, try giving them musical instruments or sound producing things that they can shake, rub, rattle or blow to indicate various things happening in the story (wind blowing in the trees, the bark of a dog etc.)
  • If you have a small group, you could take them on a story walk and take them around a location telling the story as you go and winding bits of the things and places you see on the walk into the story. Think of tourist walking tours in places like London where you can have a “Ghosts of Whitechapel” walking tour.
  • If you’re reading to your child in bed, you can give them a squeeze at the right moment or grab their toe when the stinagling starts climbing up their leg.
You can make stories interactive in a million ways. You just have to start somewhere and I completely understand how, with a million possibilities, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed with choice.
For me, the secret is planning: I choose two ways I’m going to try (and remember your audience may not want to interact with the story and that’s OK) and encourage them to interact with me and the story. It doesn’t always work but that’s OK, next time I’ll try something else!
Oct 202012
 

The Importance of Story Time Effectiveness

Parents bring children to story time sessions at libraries for many reasons, just as teachers have many different lessons to teach their class through stories and it is absolutely the responsibility of the storyteller or educator to to get the most out of a story through reading or telling techniques.

I argue this point with my business clients as well as friends, family and even people I don’t really know:

It is not up to the listener to understand the communication – it is up to the communicator to do so in a way that is understood

In more than one book I have read the definition of effective communication as “The response you receive from the other person as a result of your communication.”

So, how do we make sure that our story time is effective?

Choice of story, sufficient preparation, and enthusiasm make for a great story time for all participants.

Reading stories introduces a plethora of ideas to a child.  Also, emotions and thoughts can be (remember that this is entirely at the control of the storyteller) conveyed in easy to understand concepts that helps provide amusement, fascination and fun.

Simply put, telling stories offers a stimulus to a child’s imagination that no other medium can provide.

Making storytelling effective is no mean feat and children are the most vulnerable and least forgiving of poor story telling performance

Let Their Imagination Run Wild!

Imagination must be encouraged to help a child develop into their own person.

Without imagination a child is bound by an environment consisting of only what he can see, hear and touch! This concept sends shudders down my spine at the thought: I imagine it would be much like the experience of those who have been lobotomised.

Telling stories gives a child a chance to unlock a world which has never been seen before, where just about anything is possible.

Imagination enables a child to see vast landscapes, take part in adventures, share people’s life stories and develop a sense of compassion and understanding about the ways in which different people and cultures live.

The best way to provide stimulus for the imagination is to prepare an effective story time and this is accomplished by knowing when to read or tell, knowing your audience and story, using your voice correctly and engaging with the listeners.

When choosing to read or tell there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Personal stories are always a favourite to children and would work well told.
  •  Books that use long, descriptive sentences to tell their stories may not be the best choice for telling simply because remembering would be difficult and much of the story may get lost in the teller’s interpretation. Not to say that it can’t be done, however there is no denying the beauty and poetry of the written word and how it can not only enrich a child’s vocabulary but can train the ear to respond to the rhythm of words.
  • Telling stories should be less complicated with a plot and setting that are easy to comprehend for the listener.
  • Short sentences with a familiar vocabulary should be the focus when telling a story as it makes it easier to understand.

Knowing your audience is also key to story choice.

The story choice should be personal to the reader, something the reader can get behind and enjoy telling just as much as the listener enjoys hearing.

However, the age groups of the audience will influence the choice as well.

  • Preschoolers will have more of a limited vocabulary while school aged children’s knowledge base will be broader and their experience base will be richer.
  • Preschoolers may enjoy shorter stories because keeping their attention can sometimes be a challenge.
  • Suspenseful stories seem to work well for all aged groups because of their ability to grasp attention and hold it.

The voice can also be an effective tool during a story time.  Knowing how to change your voice to capture emotion and rhythm can take practice.  Knowing your story well will help train the voice to react a certain way when trying to convey different feelings or characters.

However knowing your characters well and the story well will prepare the reader to project the most enthusiasm about the story to the listeners while making it easier to comprehend.

Most importantly, engaging with the audience and treating them as equals will encourage their participation in the story time session.

Each child will take from the session what they are ready to on an individual developmental level, making it fun and entertaining for all is up to the educator.

Happy Storytelling!

Aug 142012
 

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy with stories to help children develop cognitive skills

I heard about Bloom’s Taxonomy a while ago and I decided to look into it to see how I could apply it to reading stories with my daughter and try to devise ways of helping her develop her cognitive skills.

I am hoping that this article will give you an insight into what Bloom’s Taxonomy is and provide some simple ways you can use it when reading children’s stories with your kids. Essentially, I’m hoping that by the end of this article you will :

  • Have an idea of what Bloom’s taxonomy is and why it is useful
  • Have some ideas on how you can help your kids build their cognitive skills by using some simple questions when sharing a children’s story together.
As a parent, I want my daughter to be able to think for herself, form and defend opinion and forge her own path in life. Understanding what is involved in performing that kind of attitude and thinking and knowing how to help her develop those abilities is another way I reckon I can do my best as her Dad.

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is one of the most widely used references in education and, over the years, has even been translated into 22 different languages and is in use around the world.

Psychologist Benjamin S. Bloom was known for contemplating and extensively studying the process of how things worked and this included the process of “thinking”.

He believed that there was specific behaviours that could be noticed and were important in the in the process of learning and in 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy was created.

There are actually three different domains that make up Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  • Cognitive – Mental skills and Flexibility (Knowledge);
  • Affective – Growth in Feelings or Emotional capacity (Attitude)
  • Psychomotor – Manual or Physical skills (Skills).

Each domain is then segmented into different levels for educational goals and objectives.

The Cognitive Domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy

The “Cognitive” domain is what is focused on when helping children learn how to read and think and this is what teachers put a lot of emphasis on in schools.

It is also the focus of this article and, if people would like to know more, I might follow up with the other domains in separate articles (so please do let me know in the comments).

Bloom’s Cognitive domain focuses on the knowledge, comprehension and critical thinking that a child uses or displays during reading time.

Bloom created six different levels of cognitive learning and suggested that each level must be mastered before the child can move onto the next level.

In the 1990’s, a former student of Bloom’s revised the Taxonomy which brought it into the 21st century and it was again updated in 2001.

The only thing altered in the revision is the names of the levels which now look like this:

Reading childrens stories is an ideal opportunity to explore the concepts and cognitive skills they'll need to develop. Using Bloom's Taxonomy, you can easily structure this development

Every child’s critical and cognitive thinking starts with the lowest level and gradually works up to the highest level

There are definite signs that a child shows when they have mastered each level and there are specific questions that you can ask of your kids which will encourage the mental stimulation needed to obtain the next level.

Here is a quick guide for each level that shows the signs a child might exhibit when they have mastered it and example questions that can be asked to encourage mental growth.

By noticing the child’s reactions and answers you will be able to tell when the child has reached a new level in learning and reward accordingly.

To give us a children’s story base line, I am using Little Red Riding Hood as the example book we’re reading. It is important to note that this applies throughout childhood and adolescence and arguably, we never stop developing these levels, so if you have a 4yr old, a 10yr old or even a stroppy teenager, you can and should still apply all of these idea.

Bloom’s First Level : Remembering

In this level the child will be able to recall basic facts about the book through memorising and be able to answer general questions about the book or objects that are in the book.

Help your kids master the remembering level by asking questions like :

  • Who is Red Riding Hood going to see?
  • What is little Red Riding Hood wearing?
  • What did she have in her basket?

If you were reading the Gruffalo for example, you could encourage them to remember the rhythm and rhyme of the story.

Bloom’s Second Level : Understanding

At this level, our kids will be able to understand the main idea of the book, recognise characters and organise the facts.

Ask questions such as :

  • Why was Little Red Riding Hood walking through the woods?
  • Why did the wolf put on Grandma’s clothes?

These questions will help your child master understanding of the situation and concepts in the book.

Bloom’s Third Level : Applying

At this level, our kids should be able to show that they can use the knowledge and facts acquired from the book and apply it to other situations.

Ask questions such as :

  • Besides going through the woods, how could Little Red Riding Hood have made it to Grandma’s house?
  • Why is it dark in the woods?
  • What would happen if Red Riding hood had gone with a friend?

These kind of how and why and what if questions will encourage your kids to apply what they have learned from other aspects in life equipping them with the ability to do it at any time.

Bloom’s Fourth Level : Analysing

This level encourages the mind of the child to examine the facts of the book, distinguish differences and gather evidence to support what they think.

Questions around the ideas of :

  • Why is walking through the woods alone dangerous
  • If you were Little Red Riding Hood what would you do?

These kind of questions make your child concentrate on the scenario to gather important facts which will lead to a conclusion.

Classroom debates at school are specifically designed to develop this analysis and reasoning ability and having constructive discussions from different positions on a topic is a skill that’s well worth encouraging.

Make a game of it and challenge your kids to argue a counter position to an opinion they hold dear – Why Pop music is a bad influence, or why mobile phones should be banned from use at school for example. Make it fun and tongue-in-cheek (this is very important).

One of the many anti-bullying techniques used in schools in the uk is to have kids arguefroth for and against the motivations of a fictious classroom bully.

Bloom’s Fifth Level : Evaluating

In this level the child will learn how to evaluate the evidence that they use to draw their conclusion and justify or defend their opinion on the story.

To encourage the development of this cognitive skill, ask opinion questions such as :

  • Do you think it was wrong for the wolf to try to trick Little Red Riding Hood?
  • Do you think it what the wolf tried to do was fair?

Get your kids to justify their opinion by asking them why they think it was wrong or fair etc.

For older or moore developed kids: ask them whether they think there were any mistakes or assumptions made by the author (or screen writer if discussing a film). Where there any inconsistencies in the opinions or actions of the characters or story?

For those at exam age, these kinds of critical evaluative discussions often take the form of English or Science homework.

Bloom’s Sixth Level : Creating

In my opinion, this is perhaps the most fun level and because of that I think it’s actually easier than some of the earlier ones.

At this level, our children will be able to gather the information they have learned and create an alternative ending or construct a new scenario for the story.

Encourage the child to write a poem or song from the story or maybe have Little Red Riding Hood on the moon.

It is up to the child’s imagination what they develop from the story because the basis has already been set up through the original story.

I just want to point out that while there are 6 levels, it is in fact a sliding scale and kids will develop different skills at different levels at different times, and you will also notice how each level stacks on top: requiring our children to use the skills developed at the lower levels in order to be able to develop the new ones.

Other bonuses of asking questions about a children’s story you’re reading together

As my daughter and I have discovered, there are all sorts of other bonuses from making this part of story time!

We have great little games where I ask question after question until she makes a big dramatic show and goes “Daddy, enough questions!”.

We make up alternative stories from scratch which leads to all sorts of adventures and games. It also gives me a chance to guide the story to deliver other morals or lessons.

Boring books and stories suddenly become more interesting as you explore possible made up back stories to the characters’ and situations and believe me : your kids will come up with some weird and wacky ideas!

A good Google session will reveal all sorts of articles and resources on this, but don’t get bogged down with trying to learn all there is to know. The best thing you can do for your kids is to learn a little bit and give it a go with them. If you want a quick reference guide, then chthout this PDF which gives both hints at the kinds of words to be using as well as suggested questions and outcomes to aim for when following the taxonomy.

Whatever you do, enjoy story time. It should be fun and not “work” or a chore or else our kids won’t enjoy it. They’ll soon tell you they’ve had enough!

Jun 202012
 

Improving children’s literacy through pointing and karaoke style closed captions

My daughter is learning to read and write at school and her teachers have said that she struggles at times and may be a little behind in her literacy.

In an effort to improve her reading and writing skills, I’m obviously spending more time with her practicing writing and reading books, spelling out words and playing I spy.

None of these are easy for my daughter (or me and we’ve had an argument or two about it) and for some reason elephant still starts with an ‘H’…

We can help our kids learn to read by pointing at the words as we read children's stories with them Continue reading »

May 162012
 

Story Telling Vs Reading Stories

There is more to telling stories than meets the eye.

I spend a good deal of time and effort finding and recommending books for you guys to read with your kids and parents and teachers around the world are likewise encouraged to read stories to their children and classrooms to enrich the imagination and introduce literacy.

However…

There is so much more to explore through storytelling than simply reading the words aloud off the page of a good book!

Of course, reading is essential to literacy development but storytelling delights and encourages children to listen to the music of words in different ways.

There is more to storytelling technique than might at first meet the eye

Why Tell a story as opposed to Reading one?

 

Both reading and telling are great ways to communicate stories to children but the differences between the two are quite considerable for both the parent/teacher and the children listening.

When reading stories, the reader must always be focused on the printed words while occasionally looking at the audience.

In contrast, telling a story gives the teller freedom to speak directly to the children, remaining in eye contact while having the opportunity to watch for their reactions to the story.

It is the teller who makes the story come to life through the sound of their voice and personality combined.

The storytelling becomes almost a personal experience for all involved.

 

3 Basic rules of children’s stories

  1. There are three essential elements involved in storytelling;
    • the story
    • the storyteller
    • the audience
  2. The story itself should be a narrative short enough to be told in one sitting.
  3. It can be a fiction or non-fiction but more importantly something that the teller is interested in and enjoys.

There really are no limits to what type of story can be told.

Before the written word, storytelling was the only way a person could relate events to other people.

Traditions were passed down from one generation to the next with the use of oral stories.

Even today, libraries are filled with books containing the different folk tales from cultures all over the world.

If it were not for storytelling, these may have been lost and never recorded.

Linking the story to your audience

Linking the story to the audience is up to the storyteller.

The best stories are personal stories because they come from within the teller and I find that my memory (and imaginative additions) is much clearer and provides a wider base for everything from descriptive surroundings to sub-plots and hidden lessons.

However, an experienced teller can learn any story and make it their own (and reading and practicing the tips and hints in the free storytelling technique course will set you on the right path).

The beginner may feel more comfortable with a traditional well known story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Little Red Riding Hood.

Personal stories however, usually hold the greatest interest for a teller and have the potential to produce the inner most enthusiasm while reciting remembered events – plus : The audience will enjoy the story just as much as the teller enjoys telling it.

Some people are natural born storytellers, but anyone who is willing to practice and devote time and study can become a good one.

In order to become a great children's storyteller, there are various skills you master and attributes you must gain.

There are certain characteristics that a natural storyteller may possess that gives them an advantage.

A creative imagination and a flair for drama will help bring a story to life so the children will be able to visualize in their own minds the characters and setting of the story.

It is also better to be prepared for the sometimes unexpected tidbits the children will want to add to the story themselves.  Including their ideas and engaging with the audience will truly make for a successful storytelling session.

There is clearly more to telling children’s stories than one at first thinks and indeed the same can be said of reading stories, but you have to start somewhere right?

I want you to be able to feel confident to tell stories to your children from your memory or made up from your incredible imagination that speak directly to the third piece of the storytelling : your audience!

The great thing is that generally we know our audience quite well which gets us off to a great start and I hope that in coming weeks you’ll start to gain some ideas and confidence and a structure around how you can formulate and tell your own stories to your kids.

Mar 262012
 

Storytelling Technique – A picture paints a thousand words

What you might spend three sentences explaining, you can often convey in a single expression.

A flirtatious glance speaks volumes – louder than any words that could possibly be said.

in storytelling for children, a picture paints a thousand words. Learn to make those pictures through your facial expressions

Don’t we all recognise the look of love?

How would you define the emotion jealousy to a child, distinguishing it from the emotion wanting something?

How easily jealousy can be conveyed with a facial expression!

Try it now.

(OK, maybe that’s not such an easy one, but I’m sure you get the idea)

Think of how you would show a “jealous” face. Draw upon your experience and memory to find an example of when you’ve seen someone looking jealous.

Can you replicate it?

Maybe take advantage and pull a jealous face next time you pass a mirror. Your friends will think you have issues and if they wonder what you’re doing, tell them to sign up to the course and try it for themselves!

Instead of breaking the charm of your story, you can improve the clarity and simplicity of your tale as you focus on sowing the story, instead of explaining what the characters’ feelings mean, since your child has already understood by implication from your expression.

Remember too, that facial expressions are not just for dialogue.

The tone of the story is also set by your facial expressions in the parts between the characters speaking.

Your child should be engaged and enjoy the whole story, from beginning to end, so make it magical by telling what happened next with as much vigour and expression as have for the speech of the characters.

When you tell a story, try to get a good range of emotions into the story, but particularly opposites. Most often as human beings, we understand something better when in contrast to its opposite.

Fairy tales are particularly successful at using this tactic, having an evil unhappy queen and a good happy princess, moving from a dangerous situation where the emotions reverse, to a safe resolution.

Contrast makes for a more interesting plot and colourful characters.

Ghost stories for older children are a great place to practice the facial expressions of terror and surprise

As your child grows out of fairy tales, you may move on to telling adventure stories or ghost stories.

These stories offer the opportunity to explore another range of social situations, emotions, reactions and facial expressions.

For these types of stories, you can use facial expressions to build suspense, drama, danger, conspiracy, and to heighten shock, awe, suspicion, and incredulity amongst others.

The facial expression you adopt will automatically influence the tone of your voice.

Since we as grown adults have our expressions and emotions thoroughly matched and rehearsed, your voice will naturally change according to your facial expression.

Try saying something truly angry with a smile on your face – it’s extremely difficult! So vary your facial expressions by character and by emotion.

Consider the phrase:

Boo!

  • If you say it with a wide eyed shocking face, your voice automatically follows with a “shocked” pitch and tone and it becomes a mechanism to scare, shock and delight.
  • If you say it with a sad face, it becomes the voice of a not-very-scary sad old bear who’s a bit fed up and needs cheering up by his friends.

Having a neutral face will make your voice sound… Well, neutral and expressionless.

Even when narrating a bland character doing ordinary things, you can spice this up by giving that character a crazy expression so that everything they do becomes funny, ridiculous or strange.

The timing of your facial expressions is extremely important within the context of your story.

As you reach the climax of your story, and the suspense is at its highest point, you may pause to excite your child and savour the moment.

This is a great time to adopt an appropriate expression, be it shock, surprise, fear or even a deadpan expression if your story is funny.

Storytelling homework

Hopefully you’ve read the previous section on mirroring and social referencing as a storytelling technique and you’re ready to try putting some of the ideas from this section into practice as well.

The homework from this section adds to the previous, so spend more time getting this right with your kids. It’s really important.

  • Identify the emotions and think about how you can represent them in a single face.
  • Practice (or play, depending on how you look at it) pulling faces for different emotions and characters.
  • Start noticing the subtle differences between types of emotion or even within the same emotion (scared vs terror as an obvious example)

Once you’ve read this section, head back to the chapter intro: Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Mar 262012
 

Storytelling technique – Telling the story with your face

Telling the story through your facial expressions is a fantastic storytelling technique and one that forms this article and the second part (painting a picture using facial expressions)

We (well, most of us) don’t speak like an expressionless robot.

We already communicate with a set of natural facial expressions that we invoke involuntarily, but we become particularly expressive when we voice our emotions.

So, if it’s a natural process, why do you need to learn anything about how to do it?

Well, a story is a pretend scenario and since you are putting on a special voice, you suddenly have to become aware of conscious and deliberate expressions, which can be difficult to do, since your natural facial expressions are unconsciously done.

Using your face is essential in getting the essence of the story across to your kids

A young child is inexperienced and is still learning what it means to be happy, sad, frustrated, bored etc. Your natural facial expressions may be quite subtle; it may be difficult for them to discern a happy smile, from a sad smile.

They may just see a smile, and the sad tone of your voice may then confuse the child.

When your child is confused, they will tend to ask you to clarify:

“Is the boy scared, mummy?”

Exageration and clarity in your facial expression

When telling your tale, think of yourself as a “caricature” of the character you are portraying.

Your facial expressions should be over-exaggerated and dramatic.

This is as much for the entertainment factor as the educational one.

Combine volume, pitch, speed and your expression to make a chilren's story come to life. OH MY GOD ARE THOSE MAGGOTS!!???

Remember that your child’s face is like an exaggerated version of the truth when they portray a strong emotion.

Children are full of drama, scrunching up their faces and noses when they are angry or grinning from ear to ear if you agree to play with them.

Your dramatic and exaggerated facial expressions will bring your story into 3D for your child.

As your child grows older, you can use a set of more complex emotions in your storytelling – disgust, shame, embarrassment or satisfaction, for example.

These are more complex to visualise and understand and will progress your child’s education of emotional intelligence further.

Think of some faces you could pull right now. Go on. Set yourself a challenge: think of five different faces you could exagerate to really show what you feel.

It’s harder to come up with faces with no reference, so the reading stories with your children is where you’ll really get the most benefit as you’ll have an almost constant stream of emotional concepts being given to you from within the book.

Storytelling homework

In the next dew stories you tell your children, focus on:

  • Exagerating your facial expressions to make it really clear what the emotion looks like.
  • Think about making different characters have different permenant facial expressions so that as they talk your face is pulled into different shapes depending on the attitude of the character you’re representing.
  • Think about exagerating specific expressions to make them funny or particularly dramatic
  • Have fun and enjoy making silly faces with your kids!

 Done your homework already? Head back to the start of the chapter or keep an eye on your inbox for the next part: A picture paints a thousand words.

Mar 262012
 

Using your bodylanguage and facial expressions to teach children – Mirroring

You are telling your child a story in which you are hoping to teach them a lesson in acceptable behaviour.

Your child is watching you intently.

She is mirroring your emotional reaction to the story, and learning from it.

 A great way to teach children what response is appropriate to a situation is to show them so they can mirror your response and learn.

Social Referencing

Children learn how to react to situations based on their parents’ facial expressions.

This is known to psychologists as “social referencing”.

Apart from “emotional intelligence” as the correct assessment of the emotion being conveyed, social referencing is another hugely important aspect of children’s learning from facial expressions.

In storytelling, children use the emotional intelligence skills that have been developed to identify what your reaction to a given social situation is. This identification will often be by means of your facial expression.

The expressions you portray in reaction to the events of a story as you narrate it, help your child to socially reference that situation and understand how they too, should react to it.

They follow you, their social and emotional guide.

Once your child has correctly assessed your emotion and identified your emotional reaction with a social situation, they start to accumulate a mental “toolkit”.

These are behavioural tools that they use when presented with these social situations in a real environment.

Children do not look to everyone to provide social referencing.

Most often they look to you, their parent.

“…children are more likely to accept information from a trusted source; when a novel ambiguous object, a remote-controlled black spider, was introduced…children were more likely to respond appropriately to their mother’s reactions of fear or of happiness than they were to respond to the stranger’s reactions. That is, they considered the source of the information when deciding whether to accept it.”

Social referencing as a function of information source: Mothers versus Strangers. Infant Behavior & Development.
Zarbatany and Lamb.

You provide the most important visual cues to your child, and so you need to be aware of yourself, and constantly ensure that your emotional reactions to episodes or characters of the story are what you want your child to learn from you.

When your child is very young, stories based around simple emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear and anger and common social situations will teach your child what is OK and what is not Ok.

To play with other children makes the character, and you by proxy, “happy”. However, to refuse to share toys makes the character, and you by proxy, “unhappy” – but when this character eventually agrees to share, happiness is restored.

As your child grows older, and you use more complex emotions and more complex social situations, your child will learn specifics around how to act and react.

If, for example, in your story, the little girl steps on a piece of trash, her reaction may be “Eeew! Yucky!”

Here your facial expression will indicate that this is disgusting, and your child will learn that rubbish in turn is disgusting. Equally, her reaction to the little boy who threw the rubbish might also be disgust. Your child has now learned that rubbish and throwing rubbish onto the ground, are both unfavourable things. The little girl may tell the little boy that throwing rubbish is not allowed, with a happy smile and a kind voice. Your child now understands what attitude to adopt when faced with someone who throws rubbish.

Utilize this knowledge of social referencing as a means to teach your child about situations and emotions they have not yet encountered.

Studies show that a child will not necessarily accept your social referencing response as their own response if they have some experience of the object in question already.

According to one study, children “accepted [social referencing] only when the information did not contradict their own understanding of the situation and of their own abilities.”

Children’s Selective Learning from Others.
Nurmsoo, Robinson & Butterfill

The implication here is clear:

You as a parent need to mold your child’s attitudes and perceptions before they encounter the situation for themselves.

Make sure they adopt your reaction as learned, rather than forming their own opinion first and then rejecting your attitude.

Following on from that, it becomes apparent how important the continuation of storytelling and the use of social referencing is as children grow, as you try to keep apace of their past experiences and attitudes and the attitudes you want to teach for likely future experiences.

Storytelling homework

There’s a lot of evidence to point to just how important facial expression and your ability to remain consistent and believable is to your child’s development and I can put some of the difficulties and arguments with my daughter down as direct consequence of where I/we haven’t been consitent in our attitude/approach and she (quite rightly) is confused or has made up her own mind as to the proper attitude.

In the next couple of weeks:

  • Become aware of the facial gestures you use. Feel when you raise your eyebrows or furrow your brow. Notice when you smile with your mouth and when you smile with your face.
  • Keep an eye open for whom your child seems to trust and use as reference (who do they look/go to when they’re not sure of the situation). This will tell you who your child is using as a social reference. By The Way, this applies throughout life – can you think of a friend/aquiantance who could be described as a “do as I say not as I do” kind of person?
  • When you’re reading books or stories with your kids, notice who the social references are in the book. Which characters seem to take the behavioural lead and which follow? What could you take from those characters and use in your own stories?
  • When telling stories, remember that your response is the reference for your audience, so make sure you’re clear about what you want them to learn from it.

Remember you can head back to the chapter introduction on facial expression and masks in storytelling any time.