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How to Teach Storytelling – A Critical Life Skill for the 21st Century

Through storytelling, we explore emotions and develop the self-expression we need to make friends, create opportunities, and resolve conflicts. In today’s post on how to teach storytelling, I am sharing some of my favorite ways to develop this life skill that is so critical for both success and happiness in the 21st century.

Storytelling is a critical life skill for the 21st century. We use storytelling to make friends, create opportunities, and resolve conflicts. This post is full of valuable tips on how you can teach storytelling to your children.

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Why Is Storytelling Important?

Have you ever:

  • Made a new friend
  • Applied for a job
  • Negotiated a schedule change or raise at work
  • Resolved a conflict?
  • Worked through a difficult personal experience?

Each of these tasks, along with countless others in our lives, require us to be storytellers. The better we are at telling stories, the more others are able to see and understand our point of view. As we improve our own storytelling skills, we also learn to look more closely at the stories that others tell, improving understanding and increasing empathy and tolerance. Storytelling allows us to process our own emotions. We learn about ourselves by working our way through our own personal and family stories, and by listening to the stories of those around us.

Storytelling is a critical life skill for the 21st century, and one that cannot be thoroughly taught in school. Here are some ways you can help your children develop the storytelling skills they need to succeed and find happiness in life.

How to Teach Storytelling

Storytelling can be a delightfully rewarding skill to practice. Here are some fun ways to teach storytelling to your children – and work on your own storytelling as well!

Make Sure Kids have Time to Play

I am a huge advocate for play. Open-ended free play is one of the best ways for children to develop storytelling skills! If they play with siblings and friends, they will learn to use storytelling to negotiate which games are played as well as to influence which direction the play goes within the games that are played.

Provide open-ended Toys

Wooden blocks and tree blocks are popular open-ended toys in our home. My kids pair ours with these bear counters and family counters. DUPLO blocks are popular, along with Playmobil sets for older children (preschool or older – they have small pieces).

Read Stories

Children love being read to, and published authors are master storytellers. Here are some books to start you off:

Kids also love hearing family stories! Have grandparents, aunts, and uncles send stories from their own childhoods to read with your children.

Tell Stories

Mike loves to improvise Star Wars themed stories for the kids. I tell our children lots of stories from my own childhood, along with fairy tales (mostly made up using characters they suggest).

Provide Props for Storytelling

For young children, set out a play scape to get them started on a pretend play scene. A play scape can be as simple as a few blocks and a single doll or animal. You can lay out a dress-up outfit or set out a few play silks.

This spring, I gave each of my children a set of Story Cubes (I bought this slightly larger and more concrete fairy tale dice set for three-year-old Anna). These simple cubes have inspired hours of storytelling – both written and spoken, as well as drawn! Here is a transcript of one of ten-year-old Emma’s Story Cubes stories (made using the Story Cubes Actions set shown above).

How to teach storytelling to children. Through storytelling, children explore emotions and develop the self-expression they need to make friends, create opportunities, and resolve conflict.

David’s Big Adventure

“Hm… what should I do?” David asked himself. “It’s a pretty day. I’ll go climb the big oak tree outside!”

So off David went to go climb the big oak tree. He tried to sing to the birds.

“Tweet! Tweet!” David yelled. But none of the birds came to him, so David climbed back down the tree.

David looked around him at all the stores.

“Hey look! There’s a new video game for sale!” David said excitedly.

David ran over to see the price.

“Aw! It’s way too expensive!”

David groaned. It was so expensive! It cost $300. David only had $10.

David decided to take a walk. He turned a corner.

“Hey, look at that metal pole! I could use that for my clubhouse I’m building!”

David ran all the way down the crowded street.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!”

“Sorry!”

Then David saw the metal pole. He grabbed it and it started rolling, pulling him along.

“Ahh!”

David crashed into the craft shop. Then he got up.

“Oh no!” David said, looking at his watch. “I’m late for baseball practice!”

So off David ran, to baseball practice, skidding on the wet floor as he went.

Did you know that we use storytelilng to make friends, find jobs, and resolve conflicts? This makes storytelling a critical skill! Use the tips in this post to teach storytelling to your children.

How do you encourage your children to tell stories? How do you develop your own storytelling skills?

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

10 thoughts on “How to Teach Storytelling – A Critical Life Skill for the 21st Century”

  1. Funny – just a couple of weeks ago we attended parent-teacher conference, and I had a chance to read a pretty involved chapter story written by my 9 year old. It was good… until at some point her train of thought clearly went off the track, and the story stopped making logical sense. I guess she still has a lot to learn about the art of telling stories that don’t have readers go, “Wait, what?”

  2. My husband is a fantastic storyteller. I am jealous of his skills. We have a set of Story Cubes. Unfortunately my four year old uses them as part of her many collections. I need to find them and use them for what they were meant to do! Great post.

  3. Elisa | blissful E

    What a fun story! I bought story cubes but ended up giving them away as Christmas presents… Need to buy some more and hang onto them this time!

  4. I’ve had oddly limited luck with the storytelling cubes, but lots of luck with unstructured time and props for telling stories and acting things out.

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