Hearing others’ stories and telling one’s own is a powerful way for children to connect spiritually. Personal stories reveal details about children’s personalities. They give others a glimpse of how a child experiences and makes sense of the world. Exchanging stories regularly creates equity among children: everyone gets to share and make connections with everyone else. Over time, children learn about their values, identities, inner critics, and ethical rationales by listening to each other tell stories.
But good personal story exchanges require guidance and support from adults, especially when the focus is spirituality. Children need to feel safe and believe that others will listen respectfully as they talk about their spiritual experiences. If they are afraid someone will laugh or tease them, they will decline to participate.
To set the stage effectively for telling personal stories, try these strategies, adapted from the work of Practice Space, a non-profit devoted to helping children and adults learn good communication skills.
- Invite children to listen for times when people around them tell spiritual stories. They might keep a log for a day or week of when and where they hear stories. Compare notes to see what daily activities or occasions seem to prompt spiritual storytelling.
- Encourage children to actively listen when others are telling their stories. They can give a ‘thumbs up’ or nod to show agreement, or punctuate a description of a frustrating experience with groans and frowns.
- Prompt children to ask questions that encourage self-reflection (e.g. “How did you feel during this experience?” or “What did this experience influence your values?”).
- Suggest that children make connections with others’ stories by responding with statements like “I had a similar experience when…” or “Your story made me think about…”.
- Provide children with a storytelling prompt or sentence starter ahead of time (e.g. “Tell me about a time when you felt joy bubbling up inside you” or “Take a boring experience and imagine what would have made it more meaningful”).
- Offer key words (e.g. courage, anxiety, justice) or objects (e.g. a mirror, cupcake, image of a tree) from which children can choose a story theme.
- Set a three-minute time limit and encourage children to think about which details are most important for telling their story.
- Give children the option of telling a story about someone they admire or a true event if they are too uncomfortable talking about themselves.