How to Tell a Story to Kids (An Expert’s Advice)

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How to Tell a (Good) Story to Kids

written by Rebecca Sheir, author and host of the Circle Round books and podcast

“Tell me a story!”

For some grown-ups, responding to this eager and earnest request from our little ones is a piece of cake. But for most, the only kind of cake it brings to mind is the rock-hard, stale-fruit-laden kind that Aunt Frieda unfailingly brings to Thanksgiving dinner.

The good news is you needn’t be a professional to tell a story. In fact, the whole thing can be as easy as pie!

Or cake!

Read on for the recipe to tell an ideal off-the-cuff tale.


1. Remove the pressure.

When we grown-ups read a novel – or, ya know, stay up til 3am binging on our favorite TV show – we seek complex characters who develop in a compelling way. We crave twists and turns. We want every plot point to pay off.

And sure: those things can help create a more satisfying story.

But when it all comes down to it, children crave simple narrative: first this happened, then this, then that. So the plot points of your story needn’t be super-complicated. It helps if there’s at least one interesting character, and a twist or two — kids adore surprise — but the simple opening words “Once upon a time…” do a whole lot to get them hooked and keep them there.

2. Ask questions.

On Circle Round, the storytelling podcast I host for WBUR (Boston’s NPR station), I often pause and ask listeners: “Do you know what happened next?” or “Can you guess what she said in response?”

Many a grown-up fan has told me their kids actually call out answers to my questions! They’re excited to offer up their predictions.

So if you’re making up a story, don’t hesitate to ask questions along the way. It will involve your kiddos – and help stoke your creative fire if you’re running out of ideas! Use the pause to brainstorm something new – or just rip off borrow your child’s ideas!

3. Use your instrument.

Each of us has a built-in instrument we’ve used all our lives:

Our voice!

Even if you can’t sing “Happy Birthday” in just one key, you can use your instrument. As you tell your story, speed things up! Sloooowwwww thinnnnngggggs down. Get LOUD! Get soft. Use silly (or serious) character voices! It’ll go a long way toward keeping your kiddo engaged.

4. Your life is a reality show.

Not sure what to tell a story about?

Use your own experience!

My 6-year-old son’s favorite story is about the afternoon I got lost while hiking in the Turkish countryside – and how I used the selfies I took along the way to find the trail again (thank you, technology!).

Have you found a clever way out of a tricky situation? Have you experienced something hilarious? Unexpected? Turn it into a tale! And bonus points if it’s from your childhood; kids have a hard time believing we grown-ups ever were their age.

So that’s it: the recipe for telling your kiddos an engaging, intriguing tale.

Now slice, serve and enjoy!

About Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir is the author of the Circle Round books The Tale of the Unwelcome GuestA Taste of Honey, and The Great Ball Game (Nov. 2022) and the host, writer, and producer of the Circle Round storytelling podcast for kids and the grown-ups they love. Distributed by WBUR (Boston’s NPR station), Circle Round is heard in all 50 states and nearly 200 countries, and has been featured in the New York TimesThe Washington Post, and TIME. Sheir has also brought thousands of stories to life as a news reporter on public-radio shows like Morning EditionAll Things ConsideredHere & NowThe Splendid Table, and Marketplace. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and son.
Circle Round picture book series webpage: Books – Storey Publishing
How to make up and tell a story to kids
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