Why storytelling matters

I love stories in all forms; picture books, novels, blockbuster movies, comic books, radio plays, pantos, TV shows, musicals - we are surrounded by them. Although in 2021 we seem to be as addicted to stories as ever, the oldest form of story, those told orally, travelling from person to person, down generations doesn’t feature heavily in our lives.

This is strange as when you think about it - humans are born storytellers. If you have ever watched a child with an action figure whizzing it round, making it fly and fighting off baddies you will know what I’m talking about. Humans are hard-wired to tell stories and indigenous people around the world have told stories to learn about their world and culture for millenia. Scientists have recently discovered that stories are given ‘psychological priority’ in our brains. We are born to tell stories and hard-wired to remember those told to us.

Many of us interested in childhood literacy love a good book (as do I - and I have the bookshelves to prove it!) and there are plenty of studies that show a correlation between book ownership and children’s reading ability. While reading aloud looks a lot like storytelling, it is quite different.

So, what is storytelling and why is it so important? Storytelling is, quite simply, the oral telling of a story without any printed material. So simple! From having no pre-written words it’s like all the story rules have been taken away and all that is left is for the teller to weave his magic and create something from nothing. A challenge for the imagination that combines memory, culture and all the stories and words the teller has previously heard, turned into something new in a very ancient ritual. Without that written guide this story will probably never be told again and the same story will change subtly with every retelling depending on the mood, weather and 100 other factors.

In a time when all of us get so much outside input from every direction, storytelling can give us rest bite in our own minds and get us flexing our creative muscle.

If you would like to weave a little bit of storytelling magic into your family’s day here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Start with a story you already know, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Little Red Riding Hood. Just telling those from memory will give you a brand new story.

  2. Start filling your shelves with folklore, myths and legends from around the world - perfect fodder for future storytelling endeavours.

  3. Use something that happened during the day to create a ‘bridge’ into a fictional place. Little Johnny lost his gloves? Where did they go? Maybe a pesky pixie took them.

  4. Story dice or cards are a good way to ignite imagination and can take your storytelling in all sorts of new directions

  5. Tell stories of your childhood or your experiences of important days. Children love to hear these stories.

  6. And if you are still stumped ask your children what they would like to hear a story about, they will give you plenty of ideas and if you get stuck ask them what they think should happen next - the great thing about storytelling is you can tell the story together!

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