I once told a mother that her eight-year-old daughter had an amazing imagination, and the response was almost one of disappointment. This wasn’t an important skill, apparently. If only, the mother lamented, her daughter was good at something useful, like maths. In truth, the whole conversation left me feeling a little sad. It was such a shame that this particular mother couldn’t see any value in imagination.
My praise for her daughter was genuine, too. This child really could engage with stories. She could invent a complete background for characters and analyse their motives in a way that eludes most adults. Her greatest feat of imagination was, however, the way that she could retell a story. She once retold the Gingerbread Man so that it concluded in a way that was more satisfying for her.
Retelling stories is actually a significant part of a child’s development. It takes a lot of concentration to remember and retell the events of a story. With practice, children learn to organise events and to expand their ideas. Once this skill has been mastered, children are only steps away from being able to create storylines of their own.
So, what is the best way to encourage a child to retell stories? Well, the first step is to get the child to participate in the story. This is easy to do when the story has repetitive phrases or repeated sequences. The child will soon be able to anticipate what is coming, and with encouragement, they will join in with the narrative. It helps to read the same story over a period of time. The more familiar the child is with the storyline, the more likely they are to join in.
Another way to support the retelling of a story is to ask questions. Asking what happened next encourages the child to continue with the tale, and if they get stuck or a bit lost with their retelling, a question can get them back on track. Creative activities, such as drawing pictures of the characters or acting out some of the events, also help with the retelling process. These types of activities allow children to build upon their understanding of a story, and that takes them closer to using their imaginations to create stories of their own.