How To Tell Kids a Story

John Roozen

Actually, there are so many ways to tell a story. This is just one of those ways. I suppose that my technique could be described as visualization, since it involves seeing and living the story. I don’t usually tell the story in the 1st person, but I am heart and soul with the main character. If at all possible, I make my voice match their emotions.

I think my main focus is always a plot – a simple conceptual plot.  ‘Kid gets stolen.’ That’s all. That’s enough to get started. And by that I mean that you start the story. The complexity of the plot will just flow as you go along. Any forethought as to the plot may even need to change as you tell the story or as time gets away from you and you realize the plot is too complicated. Sometimes the kids look drowsy and you know you better cap things off. Then there are those times when the kids get disinterested and so you need something to grab their attention. It helps if the plot is not set in stone. The cool thing is that the plot can unravel scene by scene and you can control it.

The second element is the main character or characters. Get a character in your mind, maybe a Dennis the Menace type. Someone you know – a family member. Use their name if you like, the kids will enjoy that. I sometimes shy away from using the exact name as I like the flexibility of adding characteristics that that particular known person would never have. But again, kids would love a story with their aunt or cousin or neighbor as the main character.

Picture the character. Describe a few characteristics. “Toby was fearless. Why? I don’t know, but it really seemed like he was not afraid of any person, animal, or situation.”

Third, grab their attention early. “Toby was fearless,” is not a bad one, especially if you say it with some emotion, as if you know Toby, as if his fearlessness is going to be a problem. “The wind had never blown like this before!” “It was dark, real dark – so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face.” These may seem corny by some literary standards, but do your kids a favor and introduce them to old favorites.

Fourth (okay, I’ll quit numbering), narrate on the side to explain things to your kids. This is the really cool opportunity that stories provide. You get to teach, letting them know that you are a super smart person. The stories are giving you an array of situational ethics that you can explain or slant or emphasize, however you like. You can ask the kids questions, give them some esteem for what they already know. “Do you guys know why they built castles?” Watch them ponder and think. Watch that feeling of pride shine on a face when they come up with an answer and when you show some approval.

How about sound effects? Kids love it. It is usually fun and it makes the story have a spontaneous nature. You don’t need to voice every character, nor any character really. But throw in something unexpected. For instance , if the story says, “He had a gravely voice almost like he was a frog.” ‘Hey kid!’ You give in your gravely voice. Give odd characters a high pitched voice, or make someone scream. Let the kids do it.

Like I said, this is just one technique – one that suited me. If I tell a good story and am asked to tell it again a week later, I have difficulty. It is NEVER as good. The second time I am trying to remember what I said the first time and the story is always choppy as I forget a part or lose a flavor. My technique is to visualize and move scene by scene thru the story.

John Roozen

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Bedtime Stories – Reading Tips

Bedtime Stories – Reading Tips

John Roozen

  1. Read the story extra slow. It gives your child a better chance to follow the plot and imagine the settings. Besides, if you read too fast, they’ll just ask for another story.
  2. Pause at commas and give a dramatic pause at hyphens to add suspense and atmosphere.
  3. If you don’t think your children know the meaning of a word, ask them. Expand their vocabulary. When they begin rolling their eyes, “Yes, we know that word,” you can stop asking.
  4. Pause to explain peripheral concepts to your child. You will never get better attention from them than during a story. It’s your time to show how smart you are.
  5. The author can’t help but have a bias in their opinions and ethics, but there is plenty of room for you to give your slant to your kids.
  6. Use sound effects. Kids love it. It is fun and it makes the story have a spontaneous nature. You don’t need to voice every character, nor any character really. Just throw in something unexpected – a gravely voice, a high pitched scream, a whisper, and of course the BAM! – slam of a door.
  1. Feel free to improvise on the story, making it is your own. If the author doesn’t give the town a name, give it the name of a neighboring town. You know – where those strange odd looking folks live.

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Listening Tips

A Few Listening Tips…

John Roozen

  1.  There are no listening tips – just tips to make your kids get in the mood to listen.
  2. It is all about the mood.  Wait for the noise to simmer down. “Ready, kids? “ Let your voice get low, maybe ever a whisper so they have to listen closely. “The Mood Glasses. I wonder what this is going to be about? I think your grandmother has a pair of these.”
  3.  Tell the story slowly. There is nothing like a long ominous pause to make them think something scary is going to happen. You will likely pause at the wrong spot and nothing exciting will happen, but it helps the atmosphere anyway.
  4. Give the kids a glancing look. It is the look that something is about to happen. You know it, and now they know it too.
  5.  Let the kids make a guess at what is going to happen next. They feel so smart when they get it right, and it is fun when they are wrong.

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Pros and Cons

Pro and Cons

 John Roozen

Virtually every decision will have pros and cons. That is, different sides of an issue will have a mixture of good points and bad points. Very few issues, if any, will be truly black and white.

Often enough, one side of an issue will have an abundance of pros and fewer cons. That decision will be easy. Other times, one side will have an unacceptable risk. “You could die if you eat that!” It is good to avoid those choices.

There is another kind of easy decision. They are the ones that really don’t make any difference. “Should we bowl or play putt-putt golf?” Yes, I know those people, too. Every decision is pivotal to some folks.

What’s interesting is how we all tend to forget about the pros and cons. Rather, both sides argue like they have the definitive, absolute, and unquestionable answer. We argue like we have the TRUTH and not just an opinion.

If we recognize the existence of pros and cons, we then can acknowledge the other side’s point of view. We can listen to their logic, concede their facts, and challenge the problem areas. We can question the validity of their information and defend our own body of evidence.

That would be the best conversation – back and forth the ideas would flow. The logic would weave among the facts and ideas of both sides. If we both went so far as to be willing to change our positions based on what the combined logic revealed, that would truly be exciting.

Yet it will only take place if both sides embrace this concept of pros and cons. It has to start somewhere – why not you.

 John Roozen  © 2007

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Pressurized Persuasion

Pressurized Persuasion

John Roozen

You should be aware that there are techniques that people use to sway your opinion. Yeah, you know this, I know – peer pressure and all. But it goes far beyond that, it is rampant, it is everywhere, it is right here in my writing. It is on the tube, at the dinner table, from your boyfriend or girlfriend. Watch it between your parents, in office meetings, in the debate among friends.

And since we all do it, maybe we should say that it is acceptable behavior. Maybe we shouldn’t fight against it. Maybe persuasive techniques are tools that we need to have in life. But if you want in any way to see the truth (small “t”), or have a better understanding in life, you’d better at least be aware of these persuading techniques. Because, the more you recognize the techniques, the more understanding you will gain.

Below are just a few techniques that people use. It is to wet your appetite, so that you begin to listen to people with a more critical ear.

“Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (though not always) display emergent properties.” – Wikipedia “Self-Organization”

Say what? There is not a word in those sentences that I don’t know, as far as their definition. Yet, while I can guess at what it means, I may just as easily be absolutely wrong. My subconscious conclusion is that the author is way smarter than me, and so everything the author says hereafter must be correct.

Ever read a magazine article that is filled with terms that you have never heard? The inference is that you should know these terms. The author is assuming that everyone knows these terms. Since you don’t, you must be lagging behind everyone else’s intellect or education. “So sonny boy, just sit back and know that I am smarter that you. Listen to my words, don’t doubt – just believe.” Most of the techniques in this magazine article are striving to this same psychological end. “I am the expert – you are not.”

First off, remember those times in class, when you were finding it difficult to follow the logic of the teacher? Everyone else sat quietly attentive, so you assumed that you were the only one who didn’t understand. No way were you going to raise your hand and reveal to everyone that you were at the bottom of the heap. Finally a hand goes up, and someone feebly tries to formulate a sensible question. Look around. There is a sigh of relief on so many faces, just like the one on yours. “It’s not just me.”

Here’s a tip. Instead of trying to formulate an intelligent question, trying to show that you have some understanding, throw it back at the teacher. Keep in mind that I am also saying to throw it back to the guy in the office meeting, to your buddy, to your spouse. “I’m listening to you, but I have no idea what you talking about. You have completely lost me. Can you try to communicate a little better and lose those acronyms and cryptic terms?”

The point is that using specialized terms can just be a technique. Using acronyms or letter abbreviations has the same effect, when not everybody has the same familiarity. Why say ROI, when half of the people have never heard the term for “Return on Investment”, and others have to struggle at that moment to remember what it means. Basically, the speaker has said that it is more important for them to come across as intellectually superior, than it is to communicate an idea. “I thought everybody knew that term.” Yeah, right.

 

“The CIA is breaking laws every day. That’s a known fact.”

Maybe it is a fact,  and maybe it isn’t.  All that I know is that someone saying that it is a “known fact” is not enough. Is the CIA breaking US laws or laws of other countries? Are they laws that would outrage me or just lesser infractions? I’m sure that they do bypass laws and I suspect that they break laws that would infuriate me. But that is not the issue here.

The statement, “That’s a known fact,” is just the speaker insinuating that they have seen the proof. Used in context, it also implies that the proof is so far-reaching that anything the speaker wants to accuse the CIA of doing, is also irrefutable – known fact. Between the lines, it implies that they know something that you do not – that proof. Therefore they must know more than your and be more correct than you.

A decent reply might be, “I bet you are right. They likely have broken some laws. Neither you nor I know how extensively they have broken laws nor do we have a list of which laws. Do you? We can make some probability assumptions and go on from here”

 

“Virtually every economist believes this.”

“I guess that’s it. You have every economist on your side and I just have my opinion. I guess you win.” NOT! My son always accused me of this technique whenever I said, “Every parent thinks this way.” Even when I modified it to, “The majority of parents think this way,” he would call me on which scientific poll I was referencing. But of course my payback would come when he claimed, “All of the kids do it.” Which poll?

 

“Everyone today that does not believe in Evolution is in denial or an idiot.”

This is just a twist on the previous technique except that it puts virtually everybody on their side – except you – the idiot. It is a technique with an extra twist of a dagger–you are an idiot if you are not on my side.  I have even heard comments like these from professionals and scientists. I want discussions, not pressurized persuasion.

The bottom line is, are you trying to win the argument or trying to determine the truth.

 

“The Democrats will run this economy into the ground.”

Hmmm… might I say that’s an exaggeration. Wouldn’t it be more fair to say, “I believe that more government spending will raise taxes and leave less money for the individual, thereby slowing down consumer spending.” With the second way of saying it, you could further discuss how the government could be spending instead of the consumer, and so at least the money is getting into the economy somehow.

Ever notice how the people that are the most confident in their opinions and so emphatic in how they speak, are taken as the most knowledgeable? For me, I know that I don’t really know the absolute answer to most issues. I hedge and say things like, “in my opinion,” and “it’s my understanding.” I’m not saying that you should be like me. Be forceful. You’ll get more respect, so why not. All I am saying is to remember that people who are forceful in their talk, do not always have the knowledge to back it up. It is their personality and their technique.

 

“These are the facts.”

Can you give me your source and maybe write down those facts verbatim for me? Just saying that these are the facts does not make them so.

 

Gestures

The slow head shake, a roll of the eyes, a breathy sigh by the listener. They all communicate something, but not logic – not reason. It says that the speaker is wrong before they even finish a sentence.

How about the constant interruption that essentially says, “whatever you are saying – it’s not important. What I have to say is important.”

Then there are the badgering comments like, “yada yada yada,” “blah blah blah,” “that’s just the party line.”

Here’s one. Have you ever talked with a person who is constantly attacking anything that you say, even if it is off the point of the conversation? For instance you can be discussing the economy and when you mention a newspaper, the attack shifts to who can trust a newspaper. Then when the word “statistics” is mentioned, the attack shifts to the reliability of statistics. The topic was the economy. The attacks are just a technique to waylay on a side issue. Consequently, these kinds of conversations go nowhere.

 

Quotes

Why is it that if we quote someone else, it supposedly gives our idea radically more credibility? If we quote someone famous or someone with great credentials, then it provides even more credibility. You see this in writing all of the time. Rather than just expounding on their idea, the writer will throw in quotes. Watch for it in writing and it will jump out at you. It is pervasive. You will note that the quotes could easily be taken out of context. Plus, the quote is usually only supporting one aspect of the argument and not the entire premise. It is just an unnecessary technique to sway you, not based on the points of argument, but rather because there are “people” on our side.

 

Motives

Everyone, at every moment has motives for what they are saying and how they are saying it. It does not have to be sinister, nor too important, but it is there. There is pride and competition behind those words. Power is involved and manipulation too. There is something to be gained if their argument wins. There is collusion and positioning going on. Is that vanity or do you really just like the sound of your own voice?

Be aware of the motives, recognize the techniques, and you get a little closer to the truth in every conversation.

 John Roozen © 2008

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Looking life and death right square in the face

Looking life and death right square in the face

 John Roozen

I believe that this is the most important thing that I can tell you. It is my pearl.

There is something that I would like to share with you, with the hope of getting you to experience a certain sensation. It is a sensation that I have found so powerful that it changes my perspective about life. It is in essence, a moment by moment state of being that is hard to attain and definitely hard to maintain. I have no idea whether you will feel this same sensation. Maybe it is like taking someone to a vantage point where the sunset is spectacular, and saying, “There – do you feel that – are you feeling inside what I’m feeling?” Everyone is different, and has their own way of thinking. But maybe with this one sensation, it is simple enough and basic enough, that it can be shared. This is especially true since it involves leaving your personality and personal story behind, thus getting us to common ground.

So here goes, please give it a shot. Get by yourself with minimal distractions that would inhibit your concentration. Read it slowly. Stick with it for a while to see if it works for you.

First, slow down time. Tick… tick… tick… every second is passing. Time keeps moving on, with each moment never to be lived again. Take a minute to watch it pass, notice it, as if it had some value and is worth watching it pass. Slow it down. Don’t think about the time that has past, nor think about the time that is coming. Make the “right now” the only thing to focus upon. Try and feel it? Sense it? It is you alive, experiencing time as it slowly moves along. Stop reading for a while and see if you can watch the moments go by.

Now let’s focus on a place. There is plenty going on in the world – everywhere – tons of stuff. But leave it alone for now. You are here and only here, so focus just on here. See yourself here, almost as if your eyes are floating out from your body a bit, turning around and seeing you in context of where you are. You don’t see yourself, of course, except for seeing your legs and hands and other parts. It is simply focusing and being aware that you are really here – right now.

Maintain the focus. Remember, try not to think about what’s going to happen or what you just did. Let it all go and just look at now. In fact, don’t think too much. Try instead to just sense yourself at this very place at this very moment. Do very little thinking. Tick… tick… tick… – here I am.

And finally, this is real. Wake up to the fact that you really are alive. You are in an amazing state called being alive. It is an experience that you get to have – being alive right here and right now. It is real.

That’s it. If you can focus your senses on these 3 realms (time, place, and alive), and temporarily isolate or postpone the normal flow of thoughts about your life, about the specifics of your surroundings, about occurrences from the past or plans for the future, then the HERE NOW becomes incredibly intense.

Stop and play with these 3 elements of time and place and life. It doesn’t take thought, but rather the sensation. It is not a bodily sensation exactly, nor really a mental exercise – it is something in between. It is some intense level of being conscious of yourself, maybe even being conscious of your being conscious. For a more interesting definition, you could call it looking life and death right square in the face.

That is indeed the crux of what I want to share. Hereafter, I’m just rattling on about things.

In the beginning, I found this sensation terribly unnerving. It made me feel alone, really alone, if you get my pun. And I felt dense. I was 19 at the time, very naïve, and already insecure about how much mankind knew compared to how little I knew. Beyond that, I was spending time in the deep woods of the Smoky Mountains where a person seems so insignificant and ill prepared Then with these “here now” sensations, it was as if I knew nothing about life itself.

As a means of comfort, I often reminded myself of the very phrase that I had used repeatedly to first help discover this sensation. I ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Then I respond to my own question with, “Answer it, John, you are life.” Now those words gave me some comfort to realize that I knew as much about being alive as other people – because I was looking at it. This is the experience of being alive.

The intensity of the sensation can be an eye opener. It can make the, often taken for granted, state of being alive, feel like a pristine privileged experience. The moment by moment experience can be so intense, that it makes days and years gone by, seem like they were lost in a flurry of mechanical thought – as if you had not even been paying attention to your life occurring.

But alas as I said, that “Here Now” sensation is hard to maintain. Fleeting might describe it best – in and out, momentary bursts of a new feeling.

I remember that at that time in my life, I was feeling quite aware of death. If this is life that I was being attuned to, then death is the anti-climatic end of it all. Death, as an abrupt end of existence did not seem right. It did not match the intensity of life. A short span of brilliance balanced with an eternity of non-existence.

Thereafter, I marveled at how nonchalant people were. “We’re going to die, and we don’t know what that means! We aren’t even paying attention to being alive! No one’s talking about it! It ought to be our most important and mindful topic!” These thoughts rattled me for a long time. And as I think about it today, it still rattles me, as I go along nonchalantly living my life, managing my affairs.

So what does it all mean – what do you do with this experience? I know that I made a mistake when I first stumbled on that sensation. It was having a big impact on my view of life. I was excited. I remember visiting my family in Miami, telling my mother about “this thing” that I can experience. Seriously, my explanation to her was not much better than that. Anyway, I visited a book store, and started browsing through a book on yoga. It was talking about the experience of the “true self.” “Eureka! That was it! That was my experience!” On further exploration I found that the proponents of eastern meditation also espouse a similar experience.

The “mistake” was that I then swallowed the belief that other people had digested this sensation, had already taken it to the great heights that I thought possible, and therefore they knew where it went. It was as if I had discovered the existence of a distant wonderful place, but was now meeting people on the way back. “We’ve been there,” they would say. “Here is what you will find, here are the rules and the way to travel,” and resolutely, “here is what it all means.”

I should never have let anyone tell me that. I had no basis to believe that “they” had achieved great insight and understanding or that their experience with this sensation had revealed to them specific religious truths. Yet, I bought it, hook, line and sinker. What I should have realized is that there is that chasm between what we know by this experience of being alive and what we choose to believe. That chasm has to be looked at very carefully.

I am not saying that “they” are all wrong, or that any religion is wrong. I only made the mistake of not recognizing the chasm, nor realizing that it is currently not breached with knowledge, but rather with a jump of faith. Had I recognized this, I would have analyzed it differently.

Again, it is not to say that any religion is wrong. I have great hope that there is something more to life than a simple birth-life-death existence. There is as much of a logical basis to believe that there is another side to life, for example a theory of God, as there is to believing that there is nothing extra at all. What we now experience as being alive and what knowledge we have of that experience, could change dramatically. What if God appeared? What if science proves some metaphysical twist in life? Things can change.

I find nothing wrong with using faith to adopt a particular belief. A person makes that choice based on their experience, their emotions, some common sense, an affinity for the resultant philosophy of life, and maybe, just maybe, a personal revelation that others are not privy to. Maybe.

Myself, I have wandered among the philosophies and religions. I even had what I term to be a revelation about Christianity. Yet I have backed off again to inspect the chasm. I have returned to the simple sensation that I described in the beginning of this article. Let me start again with “here I am, alive right now.”

I love this starting place. It is powerful. It tells me in a sensation, the basics of what I do know and what I don’t know. It has a special ability to make the troubles of our storied lives melt away or at least diminish in significance. I’m not getting along with everybody, work is tedious, life is not unfolding as planned, and the decisions are endless. Yet, I get to be alive, to see and experience life. No matter what happens or where I am, I still can sit and ponder that powerful sensation of just being here right now.

 John Roozen © 2006

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Six of One

Six of One

 John Roozen

You’ve heard the saying, “Six of one – half-dozen of the other.” Two options that are different, but very close in comparison.

“Should we take the highway or the back roads?” One way is shorter but has a few traffic lights. The other way allows you to drive faster but is prone to traffic jams. Six of one – half dozen of the other.

You can be sure, though, that virtually everyone has an opinion as to which way is better. That is not the problem. The problem is that most of us feel compelled to push for our six and roll our eyes at those who want the half-dozen. How much time is wasted in the pursuant discussion? How much animosity is felt by those whose half-dozen is being attacked? How many feel like it is always the six, and never the half-dozen.

In general, I am talking about the myriad of simple inconsequential decisions that we make daily with other people. Complex and important decisions should be analyzed and, if possible, talked through to a consensus.

So, wouldn’t it be better if these simple decisions are made quickly and easily, trading the right to decide back and forth between people? Someone expresses an opinion or suggests an option. You simply say, “Fine, let’s do it.” Later, you offer your opinion, or maybe you both offer your opinions, but the easy result is that everyone agrees to try your option. It is your turn – back and forth it goes. It lets things move on.

Want to have an excellent relationship with someone? Find a person who understands this principle of sharing the decision making. Of course, you have to follow the principle as well. “I like the forest green color on the shutters, but let’s try your steel blue. Hmmm, the blue does look good. Maybe (choke) even as good as the green.” You will love that relationship. It will soon feel like the two of you are of one mind. The other person is like an alter ego, maybe a riskier you or a more practical you. But the cool thing is that it will feel like you are making decisions together.

There ore other facets to this topic as well. Let’s take the principle to the office. A co-worker is given responsibility to create a street sign. They choose eighteen inch lettering. You had ten inch lettering in mind. If you bring that up to that staff member after the fact, you reduce their confidence and reduce the pride in their work. Remember, it often really is six versus half-dozen. It often is a petty difference. Keep your small lettering preference to yourself.

Let’s change that scenario a little. You are the boss, and someone in your staff has the responsibility to design the street sign. They come in with a mock up of the sign for review. You have some constructive comments and suggestions, maybe some first impressions. However, if your suggestions are just your side of the six to half-dozen equation, then you rally are micro-managing and undermining your staff member’s ownership of the project. Don’t you want a staff that will make decisions, and not come to you for every little opinion? Don’t you want staff to have the same creative enthusiasm for a project that you do?

The thing is, every decision has pros and cons associated with each option. It is rarely black and white. There are important decisions that have dire consequences. Spend time on those decisions. Chinese or Italian food for lunch? Who cares, choose one, let’s go.

 John Roozen © 2007

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