Copyright 2006 Paul Arinaga
This article presents a parenting tip for using sound, and especially onomatopoeia, with child stories. The benefits are:
1. they make child stories more interesting
2. stories become more interactive
3. making sounds is fun!
Why Use Sound?
As recently as a few centuries ago, stories were primarily oral/aural; they were spoken, not read.
Even today, good storytelling in writing is pretty much the same as good storytelling verbally. Unlike adult “stories”, children’s stories have always been spoken or read aloud, and still are today.
One way to make your stories more “verbal” is to use sound or onomatopoeia.
Onomatopoeia are words that imitate sounds. For example, a cow says “moo” or a clock goes “tick tock tick tock”.
Here are 5 ideas for using onomatopoeia in the stories you write or tell.
#1 Use them and add them
Kids love onomatopoeia and they add color to your stories. So, sprinkle them generously throughout your story.
Even if you’re reading someone else’s story to your child, you could easily ad lib and add in a few onomatopoeia here and there.
Different cultures have different sounds. It’s quite interesting to discover that in Japan dogs say “wan wan” while in North America they say “woof woof” or “bow wow”.
Borrowing sounds from other cultures is a good way to expose your children to foreign languages and the fact that people can be different (or hear/produce sounds in a completely different way). So, next time you come across “cockle doodle doo” you can mention that in French they say “cocoricoo” and in Dutch they say “kukelekuu”.
#3 Make ‘em up!
This can be really fun. You can have a contest with your kids to see what sounds you all can come up with. They’ll love it and it’ll help draw them into the story more.
#4 Start with a sound
Starting a story with a sound is a great way to grab kids’ attention right from the very beginning. Here are some examples:
“Whoo-eeee!” they exclaimed with delight. “Boom!” the explosion rocked the little town. “Cooka-looka-doo!” crowed the goofy rooster.
#5 Use sounds to build to a climax
You can start with a low rumbling noise that builds to a roar. This will be more effective than telling. Also, the contrast will really add excitement to your story just as dynamic contrast (e.g. crescendos) adds more excitement to music.
#6 Modulate your voice
Be loud, be soft, be high-pitched, be low-pitched.
The contrast will keep your kids interested in the story.
#7 Use sounds/onomatopoei to describe characters or settings
Onomatopoeia are not only for animals and things. You can use them to reveal emotions as well in your dialogue. Some examples are: “grrr” “augh” or “hmphhh”.
You can even use onomatopoeia to describe characters or settings. For example, “it was a hot day that seemed to sizzle: ‘ts-i-i-i-i-i…’”
One word of caution: pay attention to the phonetic spelling of your onomatopoeia so that people pronounce them more or less as you intended.
It seems like several millennia of human history have something to teach us: human beings love stories AND we love sound.
So, use sounds in your child stories as much as you want. A written child story will become almost like a multi-media document.
And above all, have fun with it!