In all of my time teaching preschool and primary/elementary school, there’s only a handful of ways to get the attention of the entire classroom. Telling a story is the most effective. In fact, you can get an adult’s full attention by telling a timely story. In fact, marketing and advertising experts are beginning to use this to capture their target audiences attention. However, young children are wired to be intrigued by language. Listening to stories and encouraging children to tell stories have a wide variety of effects on their language, social behavior and even their citizenship.
Stories and poetry will expose children to new words for them to play with. Children love to learn new words and will feel a sense of accomplishment when they’ve used it in proper context. For example, Monadnock Waldorf teacher Betsi McGuigan fondly recalls when an upset five-year-old, recalling a line from a previously heard fairy tale, cried to her, “Get away from me, you odious frog!” (McGuigan, 3).
Studies show that both listening to stories and having to recall, retell and create a story increases a child’s memory capacity. A child will be able to recall more items If you tell a child a story about the items vs. just giving a child a random list to memorize. “The human brain has many remarkable skills, but one of its most outstanding is its pattern recognition facility. Filed away in memory, stories provide patterns students can use for comparison with their own experience, even when they are not consciously aware of noting similarities.”
Telling a story will tap into a child’s cognition and problem solving skills. As they hear stories and learn to tell them, they will recognize how to sequence events, that many stories have a problem and a solution. Children can be quite creative with both the “problems” in their story as well as the “solutions”
The Social Reasons
For many children, they have a hard time expressing how they feel, what they are thinking and will often resort to tantrums or emotional outbursts. Encouraging a child to tell a story or listen to a story will often give them new ideas on how to express themselves. This reminds me of the time that my mother yelled at my sister for spilling milk and she responded by singing “Everyone makes Mistakes” from Sesame Street. Yes, it’s not exactly a story, but many stories incorporate singing and poetry as well.
Stronger Communication Skills
Armed with an increased vocabulary and skills, a child can communicate to both their teachers and their peers with more effectively. Effective communication develops leadership skills, fosters good relations and gives others the impression that you are more intelligent.
Emotionally Understanding and Engaging their Peers
Being able to effectively tell and retell a story gives a child a strong tool for engaging and entertaining their peers. Children will also be more understanding of different cultures and diversity. Children will be able to learn about the values and similarities in other cultures and gain an appreciation for them. Stories show that problems and motivations are actually similar if not the same throughout the world and children will learn to be more aware and more sympathetic towards a diverse group of students. (California Reading Association as cited in Geisler, 32).
The Mental and Emotional Reasons
Begin discussing a life-experience
One of my favorite children’s books is Robert Munsch’s “I have to go” which is about a little boy who has to go pee. It is perfect for 2-3 year olds who are going through toilet training. They can understand that they are going through a similar situation and it’s a good way to discuss going to the toilet with a 2-year-old.
Safe way to work through fear or trauma
There can be many traumatic events that occur in a child’s life. From a grandparent dying to divorce to monsters under the bed. A child can work through theses events by reading stories. It can be a way of coping or a way to open discussion.
Storytelling is such an amazing way to encourage the development in the whole child. So next time you want your child’s (or classrooms) attention or you just want to do something good for them. Start off with “Let me tell you a story…”
Lakshmi Gosyne is an author, illustrator, web designer and teacher. She worked as a preschool and primary school teacher for 16 years before writing two yoga story books: Jungle Walk: A Yoga Story for Kids and Waiting for Dad: A Yoga Story for Kids. You can find out more at www.lakshmigosyne.com