Why Children Like Stories
The Power and Magic of Stories
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” (from 'The Secret Lives of Bees' by Sue Monk Kidd).
"Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” (Eudora Welty from her lecture 'One Writer's Beginnings').
Children love stories. They love to listen to them, read them, invent them, write them. They always have. The growth of electronic forms of communication has not diminished this love; indeed, arguably, it has enhanced it. DVDs, computer games, and internet access to information are presenting children with stories in new visual forms; forms that can take their imaginations and creativity in new directions now in the future.
So what is it about stories that appeal to children - and adults, too? Do we ever lose our capacity to be thrilled, delighted, stimulated by a good story told or written?
Let's hear from teachers, children's writers, storytellers, and, not least, from children themselves.
But before we do, sit back and enjoy the children's song, 'One World, Many Stories' (link below).
One World Many Stories
Storytelling in the Classroom
"I work with 4-5 year-olds and quite often tell them stories using colourful storybooks to illustrate the plot. Children acquire lots of new words easily because repetition is typical for storytelling. In addition, performance skills of a narrator actively involve the listeners and they often articulate words or mime the actions together with the storyteller." (Elena, Teacher, quoted on the BBC 'Teaching English -Storytelling website).
Storytelling today still occupies an important place in the development of children's imagination, vocabulary, and view of themselves and the world around them.
The British Council and BBC website: 'Teaching English -Storytelling' summarise the importance of storytelling in two main areas of a child's life: 1. Cultural Awareness and 2. Skills Development
- Storytelling allows children to explore their own cultural roots and to experience the customs and cultures of others. They start to recognise they share a common humanity, life experiences and values with others.
- Storytelling also encourages children to understand how wisdom is not confined to their own cultural heritage, but is to be found in all societies and communities.
- Storytelling helps children to understand and consider new ideas and approaches to life situations.
- Storytelling in the classroom helps children to relax, makes them more receptive to the ideas behind the story, and encourages them to communicate with the teacher and other children about their own experiences.
- This in turn helps to develop language skills and encourages creativity and imagination.
- Listening to responses of others to the story helps an individual child learn about alternative responses, which in turn encourages cooperation and friendships.
The link below will take you to a short film demonstrating the relationship of storytelling to the development of language, imagination, and mathematical ability.
Storytelling and Maths
Writing Stories for Children
Michael Rosen, Professor of Children's Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a writer of children's books ascribes his love of storytelling to his childhood experiences:
"I think it must be from my father and mother. They were teachers and my mother read to me when I was very young. She read to me every night and I can remember many of the stories and I've even got quite a few of the books she read to me. She had a sing-song voice and I once told her but she thought I was criticising her and she got a bit humpy with me. My dad read to us when we were older, but he helped me a lot with writing and studying. We spent long hours talking about the world, politics, books and football. He was also very funny, very good at jokes and could speak several languages. All this influenced me." (Source: Michael Rosen's website)
The Writers Bureau offers a home study course, 'Writing for Children', and suggest that listening to stories encourages children to read and develop important skills for life:
"Stories are a great way to introduce new words and ideas into a child’s language – starting with picture books for the very young, working up to more complex novels for teenagers. Stories can help children learn about concepts such as shape, size, space and colour, up and down, inside and outside, numbers and the names of objects. They can also teach children about everyday tasks, such as how to brush their teeth, taking care of animals, cleaning and tidying and preparing food." (source: 'The Writers Bureau' - website - see link below).
But children also like stories about fantasy worlds. The Bureau suggest that fantastical worlds helps children stretch their imaginations beyond the ordinary, which in turn encourages them to imagine themselves in places or situations outside the known and familiar. In the longer term this can help them to imagine and aspire to careers that stretch their talents.
Writing for Children
Jerry Harmon - 'The Smoky Mountain Gypsy' - singer, musician, storyteller from the US, spoke to us at Settle Stories about his own love of storytelling after hearing relatives tell the 'Jack Tales' of the Appalachian Mountains where he lived. The stories were often accompanied on guitar.
" I grew up listening to my grandfather Ben Harmon and my second cousin Ray Hicks tell the 'Jack Tales', and I was mesmerized by them."
This encouraged Jerry to learn to play the guitar himself, tell stories to other children in his elementary school, and eventually move into a career as a storyteller and musician.
Rona Barbour is a British professional storyteller who traces her own talents back to her parents, too, particularly her father:
“I loved to listen to my father telling stories and even now, to this day, have yet to meet his equal. He showed me the world, he took me to India, China, America and beyond - and we never left our front room.”
Rona now works closely with young people in special education units and uses stories to connect emotionally with them:
"I’ve had considerable experience working in these units and defy anyone to tell me that these young pupils, some as young as five, are there for any reason other than that they have not learned the basic communication skills of speaking and listening so they cannot communicate effectively, if at all. As a result of this they are easily frustrated and their frustration, naturally, leads them to misbehave which leads to suspension and eventually being excluded.”
Storytelling is a way for disadvantaged children to begin to articulate their own fears and to visualise ways out of situations that previously have got them into trouble at school, home or elsewhere - how to manage their anger, for example.
Mara Menzies is another professional storyteller with Scottish and Kenyan roots who often uses African stories in her reportoire. For her the importance of storytelling to children is in the way that stories cross cultural boundaries.
"I think the common elements found in the African stories are the same as in stories from around the world. All stories have the same intention regardless of origin - to entertain, inspire and inform. Certain ideas will have a commonality such as the tricksters: Anansi the spider in Ghana and the Caribbean, Sungura (hare) in East Africa, Loki in the Norse legends, Elegwa in Yoruba culture. The stories themselves will all vary naturally according to geography, language, religious beliefs and other cultural and physical differences."
Let's listen to what children have to say about books they like to read and why.
First though, let's start with a story told with great gusto by a young French girl (link below) that mixes reality with fantasy. It is interesting to watch and hear how she unselfconsciously develops the story.
In the next filmclip, young children in Lancashire, England, talk about the books they like to read and why they like their school libraries.
In the third clip (below) children at the Imam Bacchus Library, Guyana, talk about what books and their public library means to them.
Here are the top ten storybooks borrowed by children from the public library at Morecambe Bay, England, during Easter 2014:
- Paws And Whiskers – chosen by Jacqueline Wilson. A collection of short stories and extracts, written by a wide range of children’s books authors, on the theme of cats and dogs.
- Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. First World War story about the well-named, Thomas Peaceful and his life as a soldier.
- Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Baby Sophie is found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. Is she an orphan?
- House of Secrets: Battle of the Beasts by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini. The Walker kids do battle with the Wind Witch and an assortment of beasts and cyborgs.
- School for Stars: Third Term at L’Etoile by Holly and Kelly Willoughby. Molly, Maria and Pippa are back for another term at the L’Etoile School for Rising Stars.
- Middle School; How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill by James Patterson. Rafe Khatchadorian himself into trouble with his new cabin mates at summer camp.
- Dick and Dom’s Big Fat and Very Silly Joke Book collected by Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood. There must be at least one funny joke among the 500 daft, rude and silly ones featured here.
- Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done! by Stephen Pastis. The well-named Timmy Failure of the Greatest Detective Agency in the World is about to crack a new case.
- Scavenger 1: Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Space adventures on a mega-scale as a spaceship the size of a city embarks on a journey to find New Earth.
- Circus of Thieves and the Raffle Of Doom byWilliam Sutcliffe. Armitage Shank’s Impossible Circus is in town, turning Hannah’s world downside up.
If you like stories and storytelling, you will love our Settle Stories Storytelling Festival: three days of stories, music, and fun for people of all ages.
This year the Festival dates for your diary are the 10th - 12th October 2014, and the Festival is held in the lovely North Yorkshire market town of Settle. More information via the link below.