Storytelling Activities for World Storytelling Day

World Storytelling Day is celebrated on the spring equinox and during the following week. This year’s festivities kick off Friday, March 20th and the 2020 theme is “Voyages.”

Storytelling has played an integral role in passing on cultural knowledge, beliefs, and traditions from one generation to the next. Without cave paintings, Bard stories, or recorded myths, so much human history would be lost forever.

Consider the many ways storytelling enriched the lives of people around the world:

  • Thanks to early storytellers like Aesop and Homer, the ancient Greeks were familiar with stories dating back to 12th century BCE.
  • Ancient Egyptians told detailed narratives about life, death, and their belief in an afterlife in picture form, as preserved hieroglyphics show.
  • In medieval Europe, troubadours relayed histories and information about neighboring communities, as well as presenting topics for political debate.
  • The Norse Viking sagas were the culmination of nearly 300 years of oral storytelling tradition by the time they were finally published and shared with the world.
  • Storytelling saved the life of Scheherazade, the heroine of 1,001 Arabian Nights.
  • In West African regions, griot storytellers served as historians and politicians – a tradition still thriving in Mali, Senegal, and Gambia.
  • In Australia, Aboriginal storytellers were performance artists who entertained during the long, dark winter months.
  • The Native Americans used stories as a way of imparting values, character traits, and tribal identity upon their young.

What started as Sweden’s “Alla Berättares Dag” (All Narrators Day) in 1991 has now spread around the globe from South Africa and Singapore, to Canada and Croatia. As Indian storyteller Vyasa said in the poem Mahabharata: “If you listen [to a story] carefully, at the end, you’ll be someone else.”

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate World Storytelling Day in 2020, consider one of these activities…

1. Learn the art of storytelling.

The Art of Storytelling by Pixar was produced with Khan Academy to take students on a full curriculum of using human interest and emotion to tell a story. Filmmakers from Pixar share insights into how to develop storytelling skills that can be particularly useful in the elementary school years. The videos are just three or four minutes long per section and are followed by writing prompts and activities that facilitate learning. The idea that “we are all storytellers” is a meaningful point to share with our children.

2. Play a game.

The award-winning “Tall Tales” game inspires your family’s storytelling by providing thought-provoking settings and characters. The rest is left to your imagination! Younger children will immediately launch into free play, while older kids might find inspiration in the five rule variations. Small figurines come with the game, so it is recommended for children past the age of putting random objects into their mouths.

3. Write your own creative “voyage” story as a group.

Folding stories were classic 80s sleepover games. The story begins with a title or opening line prompt. Each person writes two lines of text. Ideally, the last sentence will end abruptly to leave a thought-provoking start for the next player. The paper is folded so each of the players can only see what the person immediately before them has written. Once the paper gets around the group a few times, the first writer will read the whole story from start to finish.

Here are 15 story prompt ideas to get you started…

  • I don’t know how I am going to get home. Worse yet, I am alone and have to…
  • The water is always calm when I go out at 4 a.m…
  • Many things get the hair on the back of my neck up, but nothing more so than…
  • From behind a lacy curtain she watched as four riders galloped toward the house…
  • There are a few rules to live by if you want to survive an overseas voyage on this ship…
  • When I opened my eyes, I found myself sitting…
  • The rain fell hard, for the third week in a row…
  • The moment I stepped out of the plane, I knew I had come to the wrong place…
  • I don’t know the first thing about flying a hot air balloon, and yet, here I am…
  • My hair blew back in exhilarating fashion with each beat of the Pegasus’ wings…
  • The only thing that could get me back to that island is gold… well, and love for adventure…
  • The entire city was in ruins…
  • “Pssst, wake up,” someone said into my ear in the dead of night. “I have a mission for you…”
  • There’s an island where all lost items turn up. I woke up, cold and wet, on the beach…
  • Humans return from Mars for the first time. But something is not quite right about them…

4. Read with your children.

There are countless literary “voyages” you can take with your children. Perhaps you have favorite stories you read in your childhood you’d like to share with your children. The New York Public Library’s list of most-checked-out books of all time is likely to remind you of a few! Otherwise, try these:

Why: Dive into 10 classic folk tales from India, China, Japan, the US, England, Scandinavia, Russia, Greece, the Middle East, and South Africa, which feature interesting characters like a talking tree, an ill-tempered genie, and a greedy witch. Kids will love the bold, colorful illustrations that accompany each story.

Ideal Ages: 3-8

Why: Geronimo Stilton is the publisher of The Rodent’s Gazette newspaper. In this colorful, 320-page adventure, he returns to the Kingdom of Fantasy to find the land plagued by endless winter. He travels by magical talking ship, hoping to restore peace and springtime to the land by contending with a threatening volcano and rescuing the Queen of the Fairies.

Ideal Ages: 5-8

Why: These picture books combine charming illustrations with simple explanations of the sights, character, and traditions of each region covered. 

Ideal Ages: 5-8

Why: In this chapter book, the voyage of Doctor Dolittle is told by 9-year-old Tommy Stubbins, a crewman and naturalist accompanying the animal healer to Spidermonkey Island. After surviving a perilous shipwreck, Doctor Dolittle, Polynesia the parrot, and Chee-Chee the monkey meet a wondrous sea snail who holds the key to a great mystery. Parents and children alike will enjoy this adventure from start to finish. Afterward, you can watch the movie!

Ideal Ages: 8-12

Why: The reader is not just a passive entity in these unique books. The reader acts as decision maker and storyteller as well, choosing which actions the characters should take to determine the end of the story. With the original R.A. Montgomery series, you and your child can journey through the jungle, Mayan ruins, under the sea, the highest mountain peaks, and even out of this world, into space. With the Oregon Trail books, you can voyage across America in a covered wagon circa 1850, while trying to avoid perilous conditions from wild animals and natural disasters, to strangers, and sicknesses – with 22 different endings to choose from. 

Ideal Ages: 8-12

Why: This treasury combines myths, fairy tales, and legends from around the globe with a story for every week of the year. The 12 chapters correspond with the 12 months of the year and match stories to important holidays, festivals, events, and seasonal themes.

Ideal Ages: 8-12

5. Speak with an elder.

If your child has grandparents living, plan a day to visit and hear stories from the older person’s life.

You can use these prompts to get grandma or grandpa recalling childhood memories:

  • What’s your earliest childhood memory?
  • Who was your best friend? What did you do together?
  • What places do you remember fondly?
  • Describe your mother’s kitchen. What were family dinners like?
  • Describe the most unusual place you have lived or visited.
  • Were you ever injured or ill during your childhood? What was that experience like?
  • Do you have any quirky relatives in your family tree? Tell us about them.
  • What values did your parents try to instill in you as a child?
  • What sayings or expressions did you hear often while growing up?
  • Describe your most memorable family vacation.
  • Describe your favorite holiday traditions.
  • What was your most beloved toy like?
  • How are you and your parents alike or different?
  • What personal achievements made you proud?
  • What was one lesson you learned the hard way?

All and all, World Storytelling Day is the ideal opportunity to focus on reading, writing, and recollecting. You can find many, many more ideas at StoryArts.org that are ideal for the classroom or at home. If you’d like to carry on the tradition, consider joining one of Shine’s workshops or year-round classes, where we combine storytelling, music, art, cooking, and play from cultures around the world.

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