Many parents of young children often ask me for suggestions for family activities over the holidays. My first reaction is to demur, explaining that as the father of two teenage boys, I myself am desperately looking for ways to entice my sons to spend some time with their parents celebrating the season.
And then I remember the very best thing I did as a parent when my own children were young, and I say, "Actually, I do have some advice for you. Try storytelling at home with your kids this holiday season. It's a great way to start a special family tradition."
I was blessed to have discovered storytelling on Christmas night a dozen years ago when my older son was just 3 years old. As I was turning off the light in his room at bedtime, he asked, "Dad, tell me a story with your mouth." That meant he wanted me to tell him a made-up story, not someone else's story from a book. And so I did. I just made up a story about the first thing that came to mind. He loved it. So much so that he asked me the next night, "Dad, please tell me another story with your mouth."
Thus, a storytelling tradition was born in our family. Just about every evening since that first Christmas night when my oldest son asked me to tell him a story, I've made up an original story for him or his younger brother. Of all the things we do together, storytelling is what the boys love most.
And it's what I love most, too. The time I've spent telling stories with my sons is one of the greatest treasures of my life. It has created a special bond between us, something that no one else does for them.
Storytelling is also an easy way for parents to spend quality time with their children, and the benefits to both parents and kids are countless.
First, storytelling is documented as an effective pre-literacy activity, teaching kids to play with words and extend those words into sentences. It's especially beneficial when the storytelling is interactive. That means, make up stories with -- rather than just for -- your children. A story means so much more to them when they can contribute to it and feel like a part of it.
Second, storytelling boosts kids' confidence in their language skills and communications. Storytelling allows kids to be active, encouraging them to conjure up their own mental images and, in the process, stimulates creativity and imagination. In my home, my sons and I took our storytelling to the next level -- we wrote and illustrated our own book containing the stories we created together. Now, my sons often say they want to write their own books when they grow older.
Third, storytelling is a tailor-made activity for parents, especially those dads who have limited family time because of work obligations or long commutes. As an overworked dad, I'm always looking for ways to find more time with the kids, and I'm sure many other fathers are in the same boat. Storytelling only takes ten minutes a day, and kids always look forward to that special time before bedtime with dad, even if he gets home late most nights from work. And fathers who get more involved with their kids in activities such as reading and storytelling build strong relationships with their children and other members of the family. Involved dads also feel more confident that they have something to offer in terms of parenting skills.
If you and your family are interested in starting a storytelling tradition, the holiday season is a great time of the year to begin. Even our First Family thinks so. The theme for the White House Christmas 2013 is Gather Around: Stories of the Season, a celebration of coming together with loved ones at this special time of year, and of the stories behind our beloved and classic American holiday traditions. In celebrating heartfelt memories from American families across the country and First Families throughout the years, Gather Around seeks to have us share our stories with one another and inspire us for the season and into the New Year.
Storytelling is indeed a great way to impart to your kids the traditions and values we cherish over the holidays. My children and I have made up holiday stories celebrating the importance of giving, especially to those less fortunate. Or sometimes we use stories to remember those who cannot be with their families over the holidays, such as our servicemen and women stationed overseas.
Grandparents and other relatives can also join in on the storytelling. Because our family celebrates Christmas, our family members and guests play a game over Christmas dinner that we call "Stories of Christmases Past." Each tells a story of his or her favorite Christmas from years gone by. The kids love hearing what the adults did for Christmas when they were young.
Whether the stories you make up for your children are about Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa, they'll add magic and excitement to your family's holiday. And when your children are grown, they may look back on holidays past and tell their own kids that storytelling was their favorite family tradition of the season.
John McCormick and his sons William and Connor are the authors of "Dad, Tell Me A Story," How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2013). For more information about family storytelling and their new book, visit the authors' website and blog at http://DadTellMeAStory.com.