Storytelling at Home for the Holidays

Christmas storytelling with your kidsWhen it comes to parenting, sometimes less can be more. The same holds true for the holidays. We all talk about making the holidays simpler and more family-oriented, but then we always get hung up on what to buy the kids or where to take them. In the end, we spend too much time on shopping, entertaining, and shuttling around and too little time with the family. But is there an alternative?

“Absolutely,” says John McCormick, a DC resident and local author. “Try storytelling at home with the kids. It’s the perfect activity for the holidays.”

McCormick and his children co-authored the book ‘Dad, Tell Me a Story,’ How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children, which helps educators, parents and grandparents relearn this ancient art. The book is a blueprint for helping instill great communication skills and a love of reading in kids. Storytelling allows kids to be active, encouraging them to conjure up their own mental images and, in the process, stimulates creativity and imagination.

McCormick is not the only fan of storytelling with kids. Many schools of education, such as the Waldorf School, use storytelling as a key component of their curricula. And storytelling is documented as an effective pre-literacy activity, teaching kids to play with words and extend those words into sentences. (See MIT literacy study @ Ryokai_Vaucelle_2003.pdf)

But it’s not just kids who benefit. “It’s a great way to spend time with your kids and it doesn’t cost a cent,” says McCormick, who credits the hours spent with his boys developing stories together as one of the great treasures of his life. “It’s given me lasting memories with my boys, and insights about them I’d never have otherwise.”

McCormick and his two sons developed the tales in their book over several years. And the result is delightfully illustrated by the McCormick boys. The book is a step by step how-to for those who themselves want to start a storytelling tradition with their kids.

We’re not talking about retelling Jack and the Beanstalk night after night. According to McCormick, the key is not to make up stories for your kids, but to make up stories with your kids. “It’s the interactive quality that keeps the stories creative and spontaneous. I’ve made up stories with my sons just about every night now for over ten years, and I couldn’t have done this without their ideas and help.

Creating stories together is actually pretty easy. Start by asking your children what they want tonight’s story to be about. At first, most kids say ‘I don’t know.’ But don’t let them off the hook. Instead, encourage them to go with the first idea that pops into their mind.”
McCormick’s book helps you build the story from there. He gives tips on working with kids to set the scene, develop characters, create tension, and add a challenge for the story’s hero or heroine. Challenges for the hero are then resolved in ways that are humorous, enlightening, or teach a lesson.

“By involving your kids in the storytelling process, you can never predict the whacky stories or crazy endings that will result,” McCormick says. “Every story isn’t going to be an award winner. But kids don’t care. What matters is that you’ve come up with a story just for them. One no one else has ever heard. That’s what makes interactive storytelling so special.”

So what are McCormick’s favorite stories? “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “My kids and I love making up holiday stories. Whether the stories you make up for your children are about Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, they’ll add magic and excitement to your family’s holiday.”

Does your family have a storytelling tradition?
Who is the storyteller in your family?
What role does storytelling play in your family’s holiday celebrations?

Here’s a link to one of the McCormick Family’s favorite Christmas stories. ( For more information about storytelling with kids, or how to start your own family storytelling tradition, visit