As a 20-something in New York City, I would constantly encounter a person I came to call "The Zabar's Lady". Somehow, I'd see The Zabar's Lady everywhere: on the bus, in the subway, waiting for standing-room-only seats at a Broadway show. And every time, without fail, this slight, dark-haired woman would be clutching an old plastic bag from the specialty store, Zabar's.
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We never spoke. I never saw what was in the bag. But that didn't stop me from creating an elaborate story about who The Zabar's Lady was. I imagined where she came from, how she spent her days, and yes, what she toted around in that mysterious, wrinkled bag.
Whether we're three or 93, we're all suckers for good stories. Not just hearing them or reading them (or watching them — anyone else up 'til 2am last night, taking in "just one more episode" on Netflix?) ... but telling them.
It's easy to incorporate storytelling in to your family's everyday life. It will bring you closer, stretch your imaginations, and the best part? No props or technology are required.
Just as I did with The Zabar's Lady, next time you're out with your kids, pick a person you see — the grandmotherly woman squeezing cantaloupes in the produce aisle, the freckled, red-headed lifeguard blowing the whistle at the pool — and imagine what that individual's story might be.
Ask yourselves all sorts of questions about this person. Where does she come from? What's his most treasured possession? What's her greatest secret? Or, tell the story of everything this person has done today, up 'til now: What did he have for breakfast? Did she come here straight from her house (or apartment/cave/rocket ship/etc.) or make some stops first? What's his real reason for being here today?
Don't be afraid to let your imaginations run wild as you brainstorm. But one pro tip: Wait until you're out of earshot first.
Improv groups use these stories to keep their creative muscles nimble. Essentially, they go around a circle, making up a story, but each person can only utter one sentence at a time.
To tell your own circle story, gather up the family and choose a setting for your tale. Then decide the order of storytellers. The first person's job is to begin the tale … with just one sentence. When the next person takes over, he or she picks up from the last word and continues the narrative — again, with just one sentence!
Each of you should get several turns to add to the story. As you build your tale, think of ways to introduce drama or tension; encourage your kids to go for wacky surprises and unusual twists. As for when the story ends, well, let's just say this activity's perfect for when you have a limited amount of time on your hands. As soon as the bus arrives/cashier rings you up/microwave dings, the story is done!
Helpful hint: use a digital recorder to capture the Circle Story, then have the family listen back when you're finished. It's bound to be a fun — and funny — family memento.
Make-believe stories aren't the only ones worth telling. We all have our own true stories: from the moment we get up in the morning to the minute we fall asleep.
Toward the end of the day — dinnertime or bedtime — have your kids think back on their day. Consider your own day, and get the ball rolling by sharing a particular moment. It could be the highest point, the lowest one, the most memorable, the funniest ... then ask your kids to do the same. Help them turn that moment into a story by gently eliciting information through open-ended questions: "What happened after that?" "And then what did she say?" "What did you make of that?"
Alternately, you can play this game first thing in the morning, reflecting on the day before.