Storytelling with children and families – three useful tips for services

People have been telling stories for thousands of years, sharing tales between each other orally before they were written down.

Storytelling is a crucial part of how we make sense of the world around us. It allows us to organise information into a recognisable pattern and helps us to understand one another. Storytelling techniques are now used in everything from fundraising to communicating with policy makers, and describing the impact of a service or programme.

In August, CES ran an online storytelling workshop for the Reaching Out Supporting Families network of community organisations in Northern Ireland. We shared learning and resources about the psychology of storytelling, what makes a good story, how to create a narrative with emotional impact, and how to create compelling stories on a limited budget. Here are three things we learned about how storytelling can be a useful tool for services working with children and families.

Stories can illustrate the difference made by your organisation

Structuring information into a beginning, middle and end, and including conflict characters and a resolution can create an emotional connection between your organisation and its audience. It’s important to connect your ideas with emotion to convey the worth of what your organisation does, create a sense of empathy in your audience and keep them invested in what you do.


Your story should grab attention from the start

In an increasingly busy online world, your story should grab attention in the first few seconds in order to compete. Whether you’re writing an article, recording a podcast or filming a video, keep your key message in mind and try to inspire, educate or entertain. An effective story can also be told using text and imagery on social media alone. There are plenty of online tools to help you create attention grabbing imagery to draw attention to your story, for example Canva and Adobe Spark allow you to create free, attention grabbing images that can draw attention to your message and help you tell your story.

You don’t need a large budget to create video stories with impact

You don’t need to have fancy equipment to tell compelling stories using video. Since the Covid-19 crisis, organisations and individuals have been putting their creativity to good use, and telling stories using little more than a phone camera and an internet connection. Once upon a time it was thought that if you didn’t have a large budget, your story would have less impact. However, recently people have shown that you can create compelling content without loosening the purse strings. You only need to look at TikTok for ideas on how to create short, attention grabbing videos without a budget. Some budget friendly videos include this from Concern Worldwide, which communicates its message by framing it as a challenge to fit in all the key information about the organisation in 90 seconds. Other companies like the Guardian in this video, have used a piece of folded paper seemingly being passed from one journalist to the next as a creative way to communicate the value of journalism.

CES is contracted by the National Lottery Community Fund to support projects funded by the Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme.