Kids As Storytellers

This is the first episode of a webseries called “Written By A Kid,” in which children tell stories and adults create short films of the children’s stories. It’s one of the few places where I’ve seen children’s voices be respected instead of cooed at or ignored.

Kids’ voices are often silenced by adults because they are seen as unimportant, or insignificant. But when kids get encouraged, asked, or even required to tell stories, it gives them an opportunity to engage with the world around them. For example, I used to work at a creative writing workshop for kids. There was one eight-year-old who often wrote exuberant stories of fantastical worlds. But one day, she came in and said that her class pet had died. She emphatically did not want to talk about the pet or how she felt about it. But she wrote a story about a dying animal, and it allowed her to engage with her own emotions in a way that she was unable or unwilling to otherwise. Encouraging children to listen to stories gives them the opportunity to empathize with and learn from adults. But giving them the opportunity and tools to tell stories allows them to understand themselves exactly.

–Lena Jo Beckenstein

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8 Responses to Kids As Storytellers

  1. Amara Taylor says:

    I love the imagination of children. They’re so bright and full of light and happiness, and when they’re given a prod, they really do explode with imagination. Programs like this are awesome because they give children the opportunity to channel their thoughts in a productive way, and encourages them to do it. The creativity of children is amazing, because they could envision something one way, and then develop it immediately and change their ideas to fit whatever they wanted. And when adults speak to children like adults, taking their ideas seriously and not just brushing them off, it makes it even better, because the children feel mature enough to say whatever they want to say. Mature children have some of the best ideas in today’s modern world.

  2. Miriam Beit-Aharon says:

    I really like this, and thanks for posting it! I think this program would be even better if they filmed the teller recounting the entire story, and then annimated the entire thing into an established non-child based movie form. It is clearly a program meant for little ones, when their ideas are not only useful for their peers. They have a different take on the world, and it can actually be quite helpful for us too sometimes when we listen. Some exposure of a few of their imaginative ideas however, is better then none. Providing the resources and technical knowledge that would otherwise be unavailable to them is wonderful. This is fun, and of course brings up something that will be important for us!

  3. Megan Saks says:

    Thank you for finding this gem! Besides being purely and truly enjoyable, this video gave me a lot to think about. At first I felt a bit uncomfortable when I realized that the adults were guiding the story in a way by asking the kid questions. I think adults tend to influence children by asking them questions that they will answer in a specific way, a way that the adult intended. I thought this was an absurd thing to do in a project that was focusing on the kid’s story. I then realized that often times the adults seemed surprised at the child’s response, making them in turn respond with wonderment. When the adults responded to the child’s decisions about the plot with fascination, it made the child more confident and comfortable. I could see this reflected in the creativity of the story and the body language of the kid. At the end of his story, the adults say “that was a really great story,” and Brett, the kid, actually sits up taller with a big confident smile spreading across his face. I think by watching this video I learned a lot about the importance of encouragement in storytelling.

  4. Nate says:

    This story was fantastic! I wanted to agree with what Megan stated about the adults influencing Brett’s storytelling decisions to a degree. Even though they asked Brett questions about the story, I feel as if the story was pretty much Brett’s own invention. I feel as if that action gave Brett more importance in the storytelling. They two adults took the backseat and let him construct the story on his own, going along with everything that went out of his mouth. Something that I’ve noticed when kids tell stories is that they often have a hard time constructing the setting in a clear and consise way. I feel like what the adults were doing was helping Brett along with that. In a way, it ensured that the story came full circle in the end. By doing so they also asked him to clarify certain events, much like children might do with adult storytellers. I didn’t see it as a negative aspect for the most part. On a side note though, I find children intruiging because Brett without hesitation killed off the protagonist without a care in the world. It kind of fascinates me how different stories can be, and in vastly different ways.

  5. I watched several episodes of “Written by a Kid,” and I found them all enjoyable and imaginative, as other people have stated. I think watching kids can help adults remember that you don’t always have to have everything figured out right at the beginning. I often get very nervous public speaking and telling stories, especially if I haven’t practiced enough so that I have basically memorized the material. But kids are able to just start telling a story without thinking too much. I don’t think the adults’ questions influenced the child telling the story at all. Like Nate said, I think it was just to help keep the story on track and find out more details to help the story flow. At the same time, if I was asked questions by the audience during my story, I would not be able to reply so quickly without faltering. In one of the stories about a half ghost/witch and a half vampire/girl, the girl telling the story mentioned how the ghost/witch was funny and told funny knock knock jokes. The adults asked what kind of knock knock jokes she told, and the little girl came up with one, which didn’t necessarily make sense, but she still had the same confidence and could keep telling the story strong. I wish I had the confidence a child has when telling stories. I also love how children’s confidence can make the adult feel and think “why didn’t I know that” because the kids are so confident and are almost saying “duh” or “obviously” that’s what happened. Sometimes I wish I could harness my 8 year old self because I think I had a lot of great ideas that seemed to disappear as I aged.

  6. Megan Howard says:

    I have to agree with Nate for the most part. I think the adults act as supportive sound boards and this appears to encourage Brett in gaining story momentum. I am in awe of Brett’s confidence and fluidity of ideas. Wonder if he had an idea that he was going to be telling a story or if it was a spur of the moment creation. If he had time to think about it did he talk it over with people or did this whole story just stem from his thoughts and experience at that moment in time. He seemed very sure of himself as a storyteller and the story as a valid creation. I know that he must have been responding positively to the fact that the two adults were giving him the floor and speaking without being condescending dismissive or controlling.

  7. Ian L-S says:

    I think that a lot of the power that kids have to tell stories comes from their ability to not second guess themselves. Children, before adolescence, haven’t fully developed the ability to question why they do something. However much this skill is important, its lacking also means that they haven’t starting doubting themselves and what they are doing, which is a habit typically learned during the slow entrance into adulthood. This is one reason why the stories of children are more unrestrained than those of adults, who can have more difficulty letting their creativity flow freely.
    This video does a great job of taking advantage children’s creative potential, however it is important to remember the important part editing played in manipulating the time it took for Brett to tell his story. The content of the story has been invented by Brett, but the adults have chosen what to present and have shaped his material into the story in the video.

  8. Rachel Siegel says:

    I think that things such as this production are incredibly important to creating a diverse spectrum of perspectives in relation to storytelling. Often times the stories children come up with are unique and more adventurous than that of an adult mind, this perspective is one that we lack in the realm of storytelling. We have stories that hold multicultural ideals and perspectives on different race, gender and classes, but there is a real deficit of perspective from young audience.

    Within the clip shown the hosts are continuously asking questions to the young boy, asking him to further define and deepen his story. I think that this technique is extremely important in getting children to see further into their minds eye, creating the real perimeters of a world within their head. Kids always have more to say, they always have more that they’ve thought up than is stated, and in our world, what they’ve said is often all we want to hear. Taking a real look into the thoughts of a child is something I have seldom seen before but would like to see more of in the future.

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