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Mendo Lake Family Life

Tap in to the Magic of Storytelling

By Christa Melnyk Hines

Stories put our experiences into perspective, comforting us with the knowledge that we aren’t alone. Stories serve to entertain, inspire, teach compassion and other values, and stoke admiration and respect for the generations who came before us. Studies also show storytelling enhances a child’s language development, emergent reading, and comprehension skills.

“A story is a way to be in connection with our children, to be in empathy and sympathy with them without giving advice or laying down the law,” says Robin Moore, author of Creating a Family Storytelling Tradition: Awakening the Hidden Storyteller (August House, 2005).

A penny for your thoughts? Nicole Keck, mom of three boys (ages 6, 4, and 2), found storytelling is like a window into her children’s minds. Her sons take turns telling stories before bedtime.

“(The stories) may be funny or serious, true or fiction. We like that they give us precious insights into what they’re thinking about,” Keck says. “Knowing what makes them tick is an invaluable tool in guiding and supporting them. Besides, they’re very witty, and it’s just great entertainment!”

Expand creativity. Just like imaginative play, stories help children sort through problems and work through issues. “The more stories that kids can relate to others, the more ability they have to use their imagination and to become problem solvers,” says Joyce Slater, a professional storyteller.

Research suggests that families who tell stories report higher levels of happiness, closeness, and adaptability. “My favorite thing about storytelling has to be showing my kids how fun it is to really embrace one’s own creativity and to not be shy about exploring and sharing one’s imagination,” says Kevin Doyle, a children’s book author and father of two, ages 7 and 3. Doyle’s children especially desire imaginative, adventurous stories with pretend characters. “Those are my favorite to think up and the kids’ favorite to hear. Bedtime is our primary story time. That’s the best time to unwind and help everyone relax,” he says.

As a staff writer for, an online children’s story site, Doyle knows a thing or two about spinning yarns that appeal to kids. But, you don’t have to be a professional storyteller to entertain your kids with your tales.

Tell life stories. Kids love to hear about parents’ childhood adventures. Family stories, in particular, shape children’s understanding of their family’s values; they give kids a sense of right and wrong, and of appropriate social behavior, both in the family and in the world.

“One of the stories that kids should always know is the story about their birth,” Slater says. “‘What was the day like? Who was there? Why do I have this name?’ It becomes a real self-identifying process if you know how you came into being and why somebody chose your name.”

Encourage listening. Most of all, storytelling creates space for you to connect with your children. Begin with books. “Find a subject that you like, read the story, and then talk about it. It’s a great way to open up a conversation with your children,” says Christine Freeman, professional storyteller. “Listen to each other. Sometimes we don’t listen enough. There’s nothing wrong with just sitting and talking.” 

Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines has seen the magical question “Can I tell you a story?” turn people of all ages into captive listeners.