Using Family Pictures to Teach Storytelling

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The mother and her three year old son were huddled on the couch and looking at pictures of the family’s summer vacation at the beach.

“Oh, this is a good one. You were just finishing your ice cream sandwich when your brother started chasing you with the hose,” said the mother.

Her son looked at her expectantly and asked, “What happened next mom?”

The simple act of sharing family photos can have a profound impact on children. At its most basic level, looking at family photos creates a shared experience and a bonding opportunity between young children and their parents. These bonding opportunities lead young children to healthy attachments with their parents which have a positive impact on their development throughout childhood.

Another impact is the process that parents go through when they are looking over the photos with their children. Typically a photo requires an explanation of what was going on in the photo and often requires some context of what happened before and after. In other words, a story often goes along with each photo.

The use of family photos is an excellent way to expose young children to the storytelling process. Storytelling is important for young children to learn as it plays a large role in how memories and experiences are organized and told to others. Young children are notorious for talking about their experiences out of context and leaving adults either baffled or having to fill in the gaps.

As children get older, they start to get better at storytelling. Children who have been frequently exposed to storytelling are going to pick up the skill faster and be better at it than other children. Personal stories make the storytelling process more relatable to the child. There is nothing like having a story about the child or his family to make it easier to remember.

Once children get better at storytelling, they can start to lead the conversation when it comes time to look at family photos. Often children will go off with their brothers or sisters to have their own viewing time of the family photos. It is interesting to hear how they remembers certain family events.

Parents interested in advancing their children’s storytelling skills further can encourage their children to assist in organizing the photos. The creation of photo-books and scrapbooking serves as a way to organize family stories so that they make a cohesive whole. In the process, children will need to become more advanced in their ability to weave a story narrative together over longer periods of time. This helps advance the child’s skills and gives the family a timeless keepsake.

As time goes by, talking about family photos and organizing them will evolve into family stories that can stand on their own. These stories frequently get passed down from generation to generation and become part of the glue that hold a family together.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on April 19, 2015

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