■ Audiotape yourself telling a story to a child, whether a client or not.
■ Make a note of the differences in your
■ modulation of intonation, and
■ adjustment of volume.
■ Where do you use these changes spontaneously?
■ How can you make use of them constructively to better communicate the story?
Voice has a volume control just like your television, home stereo system, or car radio. We turn the volume up and down depending on the circumstances and the messages we want to communicate. It is a useful exercise to observe how children use their voices spontaneously and then consider how those volume adjustments can be utilized effectively to express your story. Children often whisper when sharing a secret, shout when cheering for a sports team, speak in hushed tones when confessing guilt, raise their voices when angry, and sound flat when sad. For adults, while there may be cultural differences, speaking in soft tones to a lover implies a message of intimacy, a bonding of two souls, and loud shouting is commonly seen as an expression of anger. A raised voice, generally, is something people find uncomfortable and want to avoid, yet communicating quietly tends to trigger a listener's acuity—unless the volume is so low that the listener has difficulty tuning in.
As well as observing children's adjustment of volume, notice how you tune in to or switch off the volume of voice of other people in your life. Listen, too, to the way the volume of your voice communicates the message of your story. How is it affecting your child listeners? Are they craning to hear, or backing away? Is it facilitating an appropriate listening response from the child?
Ifyou have the opportunity, observe how an infant reacts to a smiling face and a frowning face, perhaps with a game of peek-a-boo. Developmentally, children express and relate to affect long before they discriminate the sounds and meanings of words. Incorporating appropriate emotion into stories for children taps into a natural childhood process of experience, contributes to the reality of the story, involves the child, and effectively communicates the story's message. If the story is set in summer, allow yourself to feel the heat and let your voice express it: "Phew, it is so hot." If you are describing an activity that you really love or feel passionate about doing, bring the passion into your voice. If your story begins with stress and arousal, experiencing the arousal yourself will allow it to be reflected in your voice. As you lead the content of the tale into a state of tranquility it will be heard and experienced more by your listener if you are also experiencing and expressing it.
Your story will have greater reality for the child if he or she can really feel what is happening instead ofjust hearing the words. Hearing the content is a cognitive experience, whereas feeling the emotion is an affective experience—and affective learning is often more powerful. For a child, encountering a big, barking dog (hopefully secured behind a fence) is more likely to induce fear and avoidance behavior than a parental warning to keep away from strange dogs. The feeling of achievement from scoring a goal for your school at a sports event can be a more powerful encouragement to train than any parental nagging. Ifwe combine both the cognitive and the affective we maximize the potential for effectively communicating the story's message.
By aligning affect, I mean that the story needs to tell of the same emotion in its content as in the storyteller's voice, that the expressed emotion is congruent with the emotion of the story. Children, being emotionally responsive, are quick to read any misalignment of emotions. Take the example of little Johnny, who has accidentally broken Mom's most prized possession. She has heard the crash, races into the room, and sees the shattered pieces of her beloved object. Within a nanosecond, her jaws have clenched, her face reddened, her teeth clamped together, her hands knotted in fists as if ready to punch his lights out. She says through gritted teeth, "Don't be frightened. Come here to Mommy." What do you think little Johnny is going to believe and respond to—the emotion in her body language, or the content of her words? If he has any sense of self-preservation, he is probably out of the door and running.
People read body language and affect long before they hear the words. In infancy, prior to the development of speech or the understanding of words from the parents, children survive by reading the overt expression ofemotions. There are times to be close and times to back off. Times to express your needs and times to be quiet. Learning to discriminate between them is important to our early and subsequent well-being. What this means for the storyteller is that we need to ensure we not only have affective involvement in the story, but that the involvement is appropriate, and the feeling tone is aligned to the story's content.
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