Writer and mum-of-two Katie Gregory took this month’s story box all the way to Italy…
December’s story box joined us on an extra-special journey this month. We took the latest instalment – The Watery Tale of Wilma the Whale – all the way to Piedmont, Italy, for a post on my family travel blog. And, along with lots of colouring-in and some well-timed DVDdan-watching, both the story and the activity book kept my five-year-old entertained on the plane journey there and back.
We were visiting Italy to write about an event called il Magico Paese di Natale, which roughly translates to magical Christmas village. It takes over the small town of Govone every year from the end of November right up to Christmas, and visitor numbers soar to around 180,000 from a population of just 2,000.
Visit during this time and you’ll find street markets, a long list of festive performances and lots of workshops for children – from gingerbread-making to Lego-building, both of which my children tried and loved. In fact, what struck me most while we were there was the way the kids joined in, despite the language barrier. Not only that, but they picked up new words through storytelling far quicker than when I actively tried to teach them.
The gingerbread-making workshop is a case in point. We sat and made our dough as Daniela Febino from Collettivo Scirò wandered around the room full of kids telling a funny story in Italian about a little gingerbread man who didn’t want to be eaten.
I explained the basis of the story, and the kids – who don’t speak Italian (apart from ciao, which they say approximately every 20 seconds while in Italy) – followed along through a combination of mime and repetition. Every time the gingerbread man ran away from his fate, for example, Daniela would shout ‘scapper scapper scapper!’ and the children excitedly stamped their feet.
As we carried on mixing ingredients, Daniela brought spices round one by one, asking the audience to name each one by smell. ‘Ginger!’ shouted my little boy when he found a familiar scent. ‘Zenzero!’ she smiled back, swapping the English word for the Italian, ‘that’s right!’
When he still remembered the word later that day, I realised just how effective story-telling can be when it comes to learning a new language. I must have tried to get him to say ‘grazie’ or thank you, about 850 times over the weekend, but he still looked at me blankly every time. Yet, this fairly complicated word had stuck firmly in his mind because it featured so strongly in the story, and he had an edible association to boot.
While we can’t bake biscuits every time we learn a new word, we do have another secret weapon: One Third Stories. The thinking behind these is exactly the same – language-learning through storytelling – and I can vouch for how well it works.