Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Storytelling for Preschoolers

"Tell me another story!" The four-year-old boy before me bounced on the balls of his feet.

I lay my stuffed dog I had dubbed as Ulfilas in my lap. My goodness, I didn't think my Early Church historical story about Ulfilas the Goth who brought Christianity to the Germanic tribes in the fourth century A.D. was that exciting. I love the early stories of how passionate Christians through the power of God spread the gospel from the epicenters of Rome and Jerusalem. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat in Early Church History, listening to Dr. James North of the Cincinnati Christian University make history come alive through his vivid retelling of historical accounts. But was I crazy? Telling early church history to a four-year-old? Venturing where angels fear to tread, I plunged into my favorite, the story of St. Patrick, escaped slave who returned to his homeland of Ireland to evangelize his own people.

My enthralled listener begged again, "Tell me another story."

Preschoolers are a tough group of children to teach. The older I get, the more exhausted I feel. Their nonstop energy and their short attention span demand constant teacher attention. Sadly, I've seen too many preschool Sunday School classes and worship hours turn into glorified babysitting services because, let's face it, you have to have planned a different activity for every five minutes of class time. Also, teachers are unsure how much this age can learn since they aren't old enough to read.

Yet, my impromptu story time reminded me how this age group loves a good story. Storytelling is something anyone can do. Know your story well enough to not have to look at the Bible, put a bit of dramatic excitement in your voice, add a few sound effects, and you are in business. If ad libbing isn't your style, your local Christian bookstore sells inexpensive paperback bible story books you can use for talking points.

You don't have to wait for Sunday morning and you don't have to be an official teacher either. My student was a boy I babysat in the church nursery while his mother attended a funeral. Another time, I regaled a child with a story in a restaurant where a number of church members gathered for lunch after worship services and his grandmother looked on in grateful relief. Anyone can engage a child with a story, whether you are a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a babysitter or a fellow customer in a line at Wal-mart.

You don't have to know a lot of stories. Choose three or four stories that are your favorites. I am known for my retelling of Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5:1-18) and the Woman with a little bit of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7). Those two stories are my trademarks. What are yours? Choose your personal favorite stories then practice them until you can tell them well. Go into your bathroom, close the door and practice the stories in front of the mirror. True confession: another way I've practiced is to wait till the family is out of the house, then I've practice my stories in front of the dog. Being a Welsh Corgi, she is notorious for cocking her head at anything I say. If I can get through my story without giggling at her, I've got it nailed.

Finally, you don't always have to use stories from the Bible to share your Christian faith with a child. I gather stories from church history. I've told my girls stories that show our family's Christian heritage like the story about Great -Grandma traveling from Ohio to Arizona in 1920 on a train with four small children and a sick husband, fearing she would be a widow by the time she reached that strange land. I can hardly wait to tell my grandchildren about the time when my four year old daughter prayed for a sale on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and God answered her prayer in a significant way.

Recently I heard a Holocaust survivor say, "You should put as much in your head as you can because they can't take away from you what is in your head." If you fill your head with the great stories of the Bible and of your Christian heritage, you will have that with you always. When you give a child a story, you do not lose it; instead, you find it again and it becomes more embedded in your mind.

As Paul told Timothy regarding his preaching, "Be prepared in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2). When you have ready-to-serve Bible based stories in your head, you become a teacher in a mobile classroom, for your storybook is with you wherever you go, ready and available to build up and teach the next generation.

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