The Tradition of Oral Storytelling

14134388517_b65d0cae99_zOnce Upon a Time Circa 1950

I think I have always been a storyteller. When I was a child, even before we had electricity, I looked forward to the evenings with my family when we would sit around the kitchen table and talk about the day’s events.

I can still see the warm glow from the gas lanterns casting shadows on the walls. Sometimes I would make up wild adventures about a ferocious alligator living under our dock. Or scare my sisters with tales of a mysterious creature lurking in the icehouse in our backyard.

That was all before hydro wires reached my house and “I Love Lucy” invaded my living room, and when Apple was still just a fruit.

Tuning Out is Way Too Easy

I believe that television and other electronic mediums so readily available now in every home, have contributed to shutting down the human voice. As many of our children are growing up on a diet of bland TV sitcoms and computer games as their intellectual junk food, they become desensitized to the tug of their own emotions.

It’s very hard to return to the traditions of oral communications in a world of sound bites, where we simply ‘turn off’ or ‘tune out’ if we don’t like what we hear or see. It’s much too easy for children to transfer this behavior into real life situations.

 Stories Help to Connect the Dots

It hurts my heart to know that oral storytelling is becoming a dying art for many families. In my view, it’s the most practical and natural means of talking about ordinary or profound matters that would otherwise never be discussed.

It’s a way to teach children and adults how to listen respectfully to each other’s voices and to feel connected by hearing our own feelings expressed by others. And as sure as a love of stories is connected to a love of reading…oral storytelling is connected to building confidence and self-esteem in children.

Now how cool is that?

When a Story is More Than a Story

It’s my belief that teaching the art of oral storytelling is an investment in the futures of our children and grandchildren. It gives them a basic training in sequencing events, and organizing thoughts and experiences into chunks; an invaluable skill to have at any age. And it teaches them how to listen and be heard; a basic ability so many adults have never mastered.

Children tell stories as a way to solve problems and understand the world around them. If you want to know what your child is thinking about, listen to their stories. So maybe it’s time to put away the tablets, cell phones and laptops and let our imaginations do the talking.

Welcome to Storytelling Boot Camp and a Few Creative Exercises 

  1. Young children love to hear stories about themselves, especially when they were babies. Repeat the stories often and ask them to tell you the stories back.
  2. Have the child “picture read” from a favourite book; don’t read the words. The child will go from page to page telling you the story from what they see.
  1. Write story starter ideas on strips of paper and create a story jar. Take turns choosing from the jar to tell your stories. (IE: If I had a magic carpet, I would…)
  1. Tell them lots of stories from your childhood, and add funny details that will appeal to young listeners. They will love to hear the shenanigans you got up to.
  1. Ask the child to choose 3 things they want in a story. (IE; a bear, a kite and a boy.) Make up a tale that includes these items, then ask the child to tell you a story with your 3 things.
  1. Put together a storytelling tray by gathering a variety of small objects from around the house. Take turns choosing an object from the tray and make-up stories about each of them.
  1. Have fun telling continued stories. This can be done with one of more children, as everyone adds a portion of the same tale as the story progresses.
  1. Create a magical space to tell your stories. This can be anywhere – like in a soft cozy chair, under a favorite tree or on a simple blanket on the floor. Special snacks can also set the mood.

The Hidden Rewards

Two of the most important skills we can have as adults, is our ability to adapt to change and be proficient in public speaking. It’s been said that some people would rather choose death over speaking in public! Now how silly is that?

By consistently developing our narrative skills from an early age, we become comfortable with shifting plots and thinking on our feet, as it were. And as we mature, we learn to embrace change and gain confidence in our ability to speak out and engage others.

These are huge life-skills that go a long way in helping children to become successful adults.

My Final Word on the Subject

Through oral storytelling exercises, I believe the power of language can help to develop thinkers, imaginers and status-quo shakers. By exercising our creative muscles from an early age, we learn to be inventive, ask questions and look outside the lines.

What a simple but powerful gift we can give to our children and grandchildren – a gift that will keep on giving for many years to come. Now isn’t that a legacy we would all like to leave behind?


See you between the lines and on Twitter @PatSkene

Note: This post was originally created and published in Feb 2016 for


Once Upon a Cold Winter Night…

What a Hippopota-Mess Cover

Winter Greetings!
I’d like to share one of my stories from What a Hippopota-Mess! (compliments of Orca Book Publishers) about a moose who turns blue from the cold. What’s ‘Muckles’ the moose to do when sub-zero temperatures of the Yukon are totally ruining his life? How will he survive year after year? Will he ever be warm again?  Well, put on a fire, curl up with the kids and read all about it. Don’t miss all the fun facts at the end.

Blue Muckles Brown                

by Pat Skene

Away up in the cold white north,
nearby a Yukon town,
there was a moose out on the loose,
they called Blue Muckles Brown.

Folks recognized him right away
because his hide was blue.
His antlers drooped with clumps of ice.
He shivered all day through.

Now, moose lore spread for miles around
about this blue-moose sight.
And tales were told how he was brown,
but changed to blue one night.

They say it happened when the land
was gripped by bitter frost.
When piercing purple skies grew dark,
poor Muckles – he got lost.

Continue reading “Once Upon a Cold Winter Night…”

Halloween Story for Home and Classroom

Rhyme Stones CoverHave you ever met a Halloween witch who couldn’t fly on a broom? What weird things do witches stir into their cauldrons? How did all these scary Halloween traditions get started in the first place?

To answer these questions, I would like to share a story from one of my books.

Halloween for Ernestine is one of six rhyming stories from Rhyme Stones. Read, Print, and Enjoy! (Compliments Orca Book Publishers.) Don’t miss the Interview with Ernestine and cool Halloween facts at the end.


It happened every Halloween –
a little witch called Ernestine
was so afraid of being seen
because she couldn’t fly.
She tried to fly.
Could she be shy?

She sneaked about her witch’s lair,
pretending that she wasn’t there.
She hid behind her orange chair.
But all the witches knew.
She knew they knew.
What could she do?

Continue reading “Halloween Story for Home and Classroom”

Are Your Children Internet Safe?

revenge_cover_300x375 Kelly smTeaching Through Story: What would happen if a slithering cyberwoozle oozed its way through the back door of your computer and in one big SLURP, you were sucked into the Internet?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to surf-suckers Henry and Fanny Farkenworth. Now with no way to get home, they’re in danger of being moofed and lost in cyberspace forever. Complete with purple murples, spamdunkers and pop-up hucksters, the net-lingo is fresh, cyber-cheeky and ripe for a now generation of kids, living in a universal world of computers.

What the experts are saying:
“Pat Skene’s delightful new story will not only help your child think more critically about their choices, but keep them engaged and entertained along the way. I highly encourage every parent to rush out and add Revenge of the Mad Hacker to their child’s reading list.  – Samantha Wilson, President, KIDPROOF CANADA

Check out the Exclusive Interview with the Mad Hacker at the end of the story…and the Safe-Surfing TIPS for Parents and Kids.

For ordering information, go to Ages 8-12

See you between the lines and on Twitter @PatSkene

The Sewer in the Sewer – Fun with Heteronyms

images-3Double trouble: I’m sorry to subject you to the subject of the english language when you’re probably having a nice soft day. But sometimes I think the word-inventors were verbally insane or just plain lazy. Why else would we have so many words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings? Was the project team simply lacking in brain cells and imagination? Or did they become bored halfway through the job? Perhaps it was an early attempt at recycling to save endangered letters?

These words are called heteronyms.  To better explain what I’m on about, there is no time like the present to present you with my story. Happy reading!

spool threadThe Sewer in the Sewer

Once upon a time, there was a Polish seamstress who liked to stay home and polish her husband’s boots. Okay, so she wasn’t very liberated, but she was working on it. She was a lovely little woman who would shed a tear every time she saw a tear in her man’s work clothes, hanging in the shed. Wasting no time, she would always repair to her sewing room to repair the damage. The little sewer also liked to grow vegetables and could produce lots of produce for her family. But she drew the line at taking out the refuse and would refuse to carry out the garbage. And try as she might, she could never teach the sow to sow. But that’s a story for another time.

Continue reading “The Sewer in the Sewer – Fun with Heteronyms”

Why is Rhyme Critical to Children’s Literacy?

Book with starsCan rhyme teach children the rhythm of speech?
Have you ever wondered why we can remember nursery rhymes from our childhood? What is it about well-written verse that stays with us like a favourite song? Why do we love reading the same rhyming poems and stories we read as a child – to our children and grandchildren? To answer these questions, we need to get to the nuts and bolts of it all.

Here are 5 things I love about rhyme:
1. The sounds taste delicious on our tongues when we read rhyme out loud.
2. When a story is told in rhyme, the words seem to dance between the lines.
3. We learn to ‘picture-read’ as the story springs to life through sound bites.
4. The anticipation of rhythmic patterns adds excitement to the experience.
5. The beat stays with us and makes us want to read it over and over again.

Instant recall: Whatever our reasons are for loving rhyme, research has shown that children form stronger affections toward characters when a story is told in verse. Rhyme has a way of wiring our brain receptors to the rhythm of speech, so we can remember the words well into our adult years. Now let me expand on some of the points I made above.

Continue reading “Why is Rhyme Critical to Children’s Literacy?”

10 Steps to Making Children Life-Long Readers


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.
          – Margaret Fuller

What I Know: I am not a language expert, a teacher or professional speech therapist. But as an author and storyteller, I do know that speech is the foundation of all social life. Why then, do we take it for granted? Research proves that when pre-schoolers have difficulty with oral development, they could be experiencing an early symptom of reading disability. This is an important thing to know.

What this means: A child’s ability to read is an important predictor of later literacy development and potential for academic achievement. At no other time do they learn as much as in the first few years of life, so what can we do to help our children during these critical early years? I believe we should be reading out loud with our children everyday, to develop a love of language – together.

Getting hooked: Reading is a significant family activity that, unfortunately, seems to be losing its place of value in many homes. With the ubiquitous allure of the electronic world at our fingertips, it’s easy to fall prey to the ease, comfort and excitement of it all.  But are children losing the art of language because of it? And if so, how do we get them hooked on reading, instead of watching?

Let the reading begin: Most parents already know that any shared storybook reading between child and adult is an excellent way to promote emergent literacy. So how do we compete with the more seductive forms of family entertainment and increase a child’s motivation toward book-reading? A good start is to be pro-active and encourage the child to take an active role in the experience.

So What Can You Do? 

Continue reading “10 Steps to Making Children Life-Long Readers”

A Rhyming Story for Summer Reading

Welcome Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, and everyone in between. 
‘Tis the season for vegetable gardens to burst forth with delicious bounty, while we battle voracious bugs and vicious weeds!  So here is a rhyming story for kids – all about the joys and agonies of summer gardening. And there’s some real cool facts at the end of the story too.

So go ahead –  read, rhyme, recite and share, share, share…

Monster Lunch CoverAn excerpt from Monster Lunch

Written by Pat Skene, Illustrated by Graham Ross
(Orca Book Publishers)  ages 6 -10



Please excuse my attitude,
but you can keep your garden-food.
I think planting is a bore,
when you can buy stuff at the store.

One day my dad said with a grin,
“C’mon, let’s put a garden in.”
I dragged the tools down from the shelf
and kept my feelings to myself.

We found a sunny garden spot.
I worked till I was sweaty hot.
We turned the soil to make a bed.
“Now add manure,” my father said.

“Phew!” I cried. “Give me a break!”
He laughed and handed me the rake.
I sniffed and sniffed but must admit,
it didn’t even stink a bit.

Continue reading “A Rhyming Story for Summer Reading”