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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Designing and narrating stories for your child

Parents of children between age 3-6 must learn to design their own stories for their children, because the stories available in the market are either irrelevant or inadequate to meet the child's requirement. 

Here are three reasons why you cannot use most of the book stories in the market. 

1. Stories are irrelevant to the child's experience : Current stories in the book market are about fairies, kings and queens or jungle animals. 

Children of this age cannot 'find' any relevance of these stories because they have not experienced 'jungle animals'. Even if you want to help the child to 'imagine', the child can imagine only when you give him an 'anchor' to relate 'imaginary object' with something they have seen or experienced. For instance, if you are telling a story of a jungle lion to your child, he should have at least seen a 'farm' to imagine the 'jungle'.  With no 'anchor', the child is unable to 'connect' with the story and draw any meaningful conclusion. Learning opportunity is missed. 

2. Fantasy stories of Arabian Knights or Panchtantra are not useful to the child of this age, because children at this age cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. From these stories, they often learn incorrect correlations about 'magical lamp', 'flying saucer' or 'magical fruit which can bring the wealth'.

This disconnection from reality often makes the child believe in wrong correlations such as when they believe that 'If I hit another child, that child will not feel the pain' , or 'I can hide in pumpkin', or "I can be as strong as Superman and can ask for ice-cream even at 12 midnight'. Or 'animals can eat or bite me'. Or if his Mom is compelling her to eat, she calls her 'Devil', because she is correlating anything 'unpleasant' with being 'Devil'. As it is, the reality is vast and big. Instead of taking the child closer to the reality, fantasy stories 'distorts' the reality and makes it more difficult for the child to understand reality. We are unknowingly creating a learning hurdle in the child's path. That is why Montessori method does not encourage telling fantasy stories to a child of this age. 

3. Stories often portray pictures with disproportionate figures. For instance, a story of dog and his friend may show the Dog to be 10 times the size of the boy. Or even animals like lion and elephant are not shown proportionately in their sizes. Because of these disproportionate figures, the child cannot 'imagine' the size of elephant until he has seen a 'real elephant'.  A story, instead of helping the child get closer to the reality, takes him 'far away' from the reality.

Designing and narrating your stories 

Because of the above inadequacies in the books available in the market for the children between 3-6, a parent today is compelled to design and narrate his/her stories. Here are five suggestions to design a compelling story that will help child learn and get closer to the reality: 

1. Create Picture stories: A child of age 3 requires pictures to 'use' his imagination to connect with the story. So click real pictures, or use pictures from the net. If a child has experienced the 'event' in the real world, he may not need as much help from pictures. For instance, if the child has used a bus/train to travel, this child can 'relate' with the story of a child 'lost in the bus'. But if the child has never used a bus, he may need some help to imagine the 'bus'. Therefore, as the child reaches the age of 5, he needs less and less pictures to 'appreciate the story'. You can also use a free program like Scratch to create your story. 

2. Stick to a theme in a story: Decide the theme and stick to it.  For instance, the theme could be emotional fears like fear of dark or fear of strangers. Or the theme could be focused on the personal likes such as 'inability to eat fruits' or 'not eating regular lunch' or 'taking too much time to get ready in the morning for the school'. Or the theme could be 'behaviour in social situations' such as 'a child going to mall and reading books in a shop', or a 'child lost on the bus stand'. 

3. Use the same picture story with different objectives: A story can be used to help the child to increase his vocabulary of new words - be it the mother tongue or the second language like English. Or the story can be used to help the child face his/her emotions, such as fear of dark, or fear of detaching from mother when mother goes to the market, fear of small insects. A child is unable to 'name' his fear because he is not 'aware' of his emotion. Instead of feeling that ' I should be a superman and not be afraid of insects', child needs validation from adults that 'It is OK to be afraid'. A story can help the child 'experience' and 'name' the emotion.

4. Dramatise the story while narrating it:  Use the pitch and frequency of sound to express emotions in the story. Use body language if necessary. Use laughter if required. The story narrating is a one-man act. The more emotions you can show in the story, the better the child can 'connect and retain' it. Of course, the emotions should be appropriate.

5. Involve the child in the story by asking questions: A story for an older child can be a 'monologue', but a story for a child between 3-6 should be a 'dialogue'. Involve the child in the story by asking him questions. 

Involving the child also helps you understand your child better. If the story is about fear of dark, ask him 'if he ever got afraid of darkness'.  If your child is 'masking emotion', that is a big input for you to understand your child. You may also get surprise answers to your questions. For instance, when i asked a child what he remembered about the trip to another school, the child told me about the 'van' he enjoyed to go to the school. 


If parents can learn this art of designing and narrating a story, it can help them in achieving all the four objectives: understand their child better, train the child in increasing 'emotional' range, help them in conversing smartly, and above all, take them one step closer to the 'real world'. We are often in a hurry to help the child 'imagine', but please remember, imagination without an anchor to the real world is just an escape for the child from facing the tougher reality. 

We have formed a group of parents who are designing their own stories. We shall post one of the story here to help you understand the 'template of a good story' for a child between 3-6 age.  

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