SingleDad guest contributor, Rick Polito talks about the art of storytelling and how it builds quality family time with your children. Fatherhood advice from fellow Divorced Dads…
You wouldn’t think stage fright would be high on the list of
parental anxieties but every dad knows that sudden brain freeze chill that
strikes when their child utters the dreaded phrase: “I want a story.”
Few of us it seems, are trained to be creative on cue, able
to spin a tale of ghosts and cowboys off the top of our heads, especially at
the end of a long day.
And yet, that’s exactly what we did for millennia. People
have been telling stories around the campfire since we invented a fire to put
in it. That was our cable TV! It’s only in recent history that we’ve consigned
storytelling to the pros. We’ve given it away to Hollywood, video games and
publishers. Presented with edited and
polished fiction and blockbuster DVDs, too many of us have decided we can’t
So we don’t. We give up.
How many times have you heard people talk about telling
ghost stories around the campfire? How many times have you actually seen that
happen? We have become consumers of stories, creating too few of our own.
And in that surrender, we lose something very special.
Make no mistake: reading is vital and I’ve read tens of
thousands of pages to my children. Reading to a child makes reading important
to them, coloring the written word as an intrinsic part of their lives.
But telling stories is different.
Storytelling creates an incredible connection. It’s an
opportunity to share your own imagination,
not something you found on TV or in a book. When you are telling a story, your
child gets all of your attention and creative intention. Parents know all too
well the odd sensation of reading on autopilot, droning through The Runway
Bunny while compiling a grocery list with a different brain quadrant. I wouldn’t have thought that kind of
multi-tasking was even possible until it happened to me. I could recite whole pages while my mind
Storytelling demands and inspires a more immediate and
When you are telling a story, you are fully engaged with
your child. That kind of connection is even more important when you’re a single
dad and you know your kids need as much of you as they can get. Storytelling
can be magical.
It can also be really hard.
I’m a writer. I was a newspaper reporter for more than 20
years. I was a nationally syndicated humor columnist. I have two novels and a
collection of short stories on my disc drive.
And I still hit story block when my son asks for “a story
that’s not a storybook.”
Some nights all it took was a few prompts from the kids to
get started. My son would give me a character- a talking dog or a boy on a
train – and my daughter would give me a place. A lot of our stories started in
Paris. That gave me something and sometimes the story would sprint out of the
gates. Other times, the kids would hear me thinking aloud as I tried to twist
some threads into a coherent storyline. It was difficult enough that I’d try to
beg my way out of it with the mentally unchallenging go-to stunt of the
alphabet train story – “They stopped in Annapolis and got apples. They stopped
in Birmingham and got beans. They stopped in Chattanooga and got cherries … “
That barely sufficed as a story and I got the sense my son
was less than thrilled when I resorted to that trick.
I also bought a deck of story starter picture cards. My kids
would pick three cards. Sometimes I could piece together a decent tale about
the monkey, the circus bear and the treasure chest but more often I was
struggling to keep the story going, juggling concepts and characters with what
was left of my brain at the end of a long day.
So I created something to jumpstart the
storytelling process. My Shake-N-Tell app, new for the iPhone and iPad, gives
moms and dads the bones of story and provides cues where they can flesh it out
with details and elaboration. Short text prompts guide them from beginning to
end or users can put the phone down when they get on a roll and follow their
stories made easy, an inexhaustible improv engine with effectively infinite
permutations so you never get the same story twice. The free app comes with
four stories, enough for countless nights of stortelling. Eight-adventure Story
Packs in “ghost,” “space” and “princess” genres sell for $1.99 with new story
packs every month. Look for the dinosaur Story Pack next month.
My kids love it.
My 7-year-old is refusing books since we got the app three weeks ago. She knows
she gets her whole dad.
. Every single
dad needs to make storytelling a nightly ritual. Just do it. Make up a story. Don’t make an
excuse. Goodnight Moon is a great book but it doesn’t tell your kid much about
Tell a story and you’re creating something very special with
your child: a world of imagination.
It’s a world you can visit any time you want.
Because you built it together.
Rick Polito is a single dad and writer in Boulder Colorado.
After 21 years in newspapers, he gave up his career to be a stay-at-home dad.
Shake-N-Tell is an attempt to launch a new career after divorce left him
unemployed with a gaping hole in his resume.
This is a video of me and the kids telling a story together-
Richard “RJ” Jaramillo, is the Founder of SingleDad.com,
a website and social media resource dedicated to single parenting and specifically for the newly divorced, re-married, widowed and single Father with children.
RJ is self employed, entrepreneur living in San Diego and a father of three children. The mission of SingleDad is to help the community of Single Parents
“Make Life Happen…Again!”