How to captivate your reluctant reader: Story School at Chessington World of Adventures

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Last week we were thrilled to be invited to Chessington World of Adventures to take part in a Room on the Broom themed Story School, ahead of the opening of the new Room on the Broom attraction on March 10th 2019. The storytelling workshop was hosted by Master Storyteller, Kevin Graal, along with Binky Felstead and her daughter India, and aimed to help parents bring books to life for their children and guide parents on the most effective story time tips and techniques.

Chessington recently conducted a survey, which revealed that 36% of UK parents feel nervous about reading stories to their children at bedtime. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I would absolutely include myself in that 36%. While I always loved books as a child, and believe passionately in the importance of reading, Max has always been a reluctant reader. Although we do read together a lot, I find it very difficult to engage him properly and have him really focus his attention, so our bedtime story can often be more of a battleground than a fun or calming experience. I was really keen to see what I could pick up to help us at home.

Max wasn’t exactly enthralled by the idea of a story workshop, but what I found really interesting was to see how he was slowly drawn into the story which was being told. Kevin used sounds and props to gain the children’s attention, and Max loved when he mixed up his words, emitting a loud giggle every time. We picked up lots of tips that I’ve already had great success in putting into practice, so I wanted to share them with you!

A story starts in silence

Gaining children’s attention before you start is key. Make sure everyone is settled first, and then start the story. Of course, that can be easier said than done, and is often my biggest battle, so that leads me to the next tip….

Use props as an aid

A non-verbal attention grabber, like a bell or a rattle, can be a great way to capture your child’s attention and draw them in. You could also try a visual aid, like a small object or a puppet that relates to the story. Reveal it slowly, perhaps discovering it from a hidden place.

Use a whisper

Whispering makes everything seem secret and focuses listening. You could also try the conspiratorial side to side glance, to make what you’re about to say seem top secret. Try to create anticipation and suspense.

Involve them in the story

Ask your children what they can see, what they would do, what they think will happen next. Talk about what’s happening in each scene. Listen carefully to their comments and try to build in their contributions into the story if you can

Adapt the text – or make up your own story!

I’m very guilty of sticking rigidly to the text of a story. I’ve never felt confident as a storyteller to veer from that, and have certainly never been one for making up my own stories. One tip we had was to adapt the text as you wish, summarising or expanding, or even just abandoning the text and narrating the story or illustrations in your own words.

How have the tips worked for us?

I put some of these tips into practice the first night we got back from Chessington and it was amazing to see the difference in our bedtime story. As usual, I was having trouble settling Max down for a story – he’d said he wanted to choose the book, but instead, he was hiding under the duvet, pretending that he was a monster. So instead of reaching for a book, I decided to give telling my own story a go, and started a story about a monster called Max, who lived in a dark cave.

As soon as I started this story, I had Max’s attention. It wasn’t a particularly exciting story, and I definitely struggled on the imagination side, but where I was floundering, I would ask Max what he thought should happen next, and that worked brilliantly. I’ve never seen him so engaged with our bedtime story, and he loved it so much that he then insisted that he would tell me a story! Ok, this may have been just stalling bedtime, but I let him, and it was an eye opener for me. My little boy, who has struggled with speech for a long time, chatting away, and coming up with weird and wonderful tales of dinosaurs taking over the planet. I did have to step in and wind it up for him though, otherwise it was clearly going to go on all night!

What I found most eye opening was that Max didn’t care that my story was a bit on the dull side. It didn’t have interesting plot twists, beautiful pictures, or clever rhymes, but it was geared exactly to what he was interested in at that moment, and that’s why it worked so well for us. I’m hoping that we can continue using some of these tips to make our bedtime story a much more fun and less stressful experience. And I’m sure over time my stories will become more interesting!

Disclosure: We were invited to Story School and Chessington for the day, but were under no obligation to write this post. All words and opinions are my own.

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