Spontaneous Storytelling with Children, Part 2: Creation and Receptivity


1176923_books_2Editor’s note: Today, we continue a four part series by Rhonda Ortiz. Find the first part here. LMH

My first question,

What does oral and spontaneous storytelling foster in the child – and in the adult – that the board or picture book cannot?

prompted a reflection on the relationship between creation and receptivity.

Reading a book is, in many ways, primarily a receptive activity. This isn’t to say that our wills are not engaged when reading:  we choose to read what we read, we choose to suspend disbelief, and we choose to become emotionally engaged in a story.  But the story (or biography, or poem, or newspaper article) works upon us, its words drawing us into its realm and giving us what it has.  It dictates its own terms; we have only to accept or reject them.

Hearing a story told, without accompanying illustrations, is also a receptive activity.  However, its “terms” are more flexible than those of picture books.  When a child hears a story told, he or she supply images for the characters and the setting, whereas picture books provide their own images.  When reading a picture we – adults and children alike – have less “work” to do.  Again, it dictates its own terms; we have only to accept or reject them.

There’s nothing wrong with this.  Receptivity to good books and art is right and well.

Good books stretch the limits of our understanding and imagination.   They bring realities into our lives that we might not have by direct experience.  Likewise, good illustrations teach us beauty and truth, adding to our knowledge and our imaginative repertoire. They are water and fertilizer to a freshly-turned and seeded garden.

On the other hand, when we tell a story, we draw upon our received experiences to make something new.  This is a different act.  And yet, for creation to be able to happen, we must have received experiences – direct experience and learned knowledge – to draw upon, for, unlike God, we do not create ex nihilo.

When creating, we discover a paradox:  stories both obey “divine” rules and play according to their own delightful whims.  My characters – the ones I make and delight in – have free will to act, but within and in response to the rules of my created world.  I guide the characters, like a mother hen her chicks, through the story structure, toward a climax and resolution.

When we tell stories spontaneously with children, and, even more, when we allow them a role in the storytelling – “What do you think happens next?” – we incorporate them into this very act of creation.  They are no longer just the receivers, but the creators as well.  We help them discover the “rules” of satisfying stories.  We help them discover and employ the internal logic of a story and a story’s world.  We teach them delayed gratification as we say “no” to the characters, only to say “yes” to them in the story’s resolution.

Receptivity leads to creation, and creation leads to love.  Creation itself is an act of love.  Why else would the storyteller tell, or the writer write, or the artist paint, or the builder build?  I suspect that most creators know this intuitively.

Creation is a grand act, for it participates in a Divine act.  God creates and recreates.  All our powers of creation – whatever we make, whatever we can or do imagine – already exists in the infinite mind of the Creator.   And He allows us to help Him bring it into being.

In whatever way we participate in the creative act – imagining, planning, building, maintaining, or restoring – and I’m speaking of more than just storytelling here – we participate in Love.

Telling or writing a story is an act of Love.  And hearing or reading that story is to receive and accept that act of Love.  Two sides, same coin, different actions.

Copyright 2013 Rhonda Ortiz


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  1. melanie jean juneau on

    As an avid storyteller, whose roots are Irish, I could not agree more. I have 9 kids and I am still telling stories even though they are all 17+

  2. I love that you wrote about storytelling with kids! This is something I have always done since my children were little. They loved reading books too, but it was more mysterious and exciting and interactive for them when I made up stories for them.
    It was also perfect for creating deeper bonds with both my kids. They each liked different types of stories, so we had special quality time together when I’d make up stories for each child individually.
    Storytelling saved me at bedtime too. When my kids were infants, they loved me to sing to them, though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. By the time they were two, it was, “Mommy please don’t sing! You don’t do it right.” So stories win.

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