Once upon a time there was a celebrated day, and this day was very special. On this day the peoples of the world gathered together as one to share stories, knowledge and tales. Stories of wonder and daring, tales of knowledge learned and tales of warning. Children and adults of all ages, listened with wide eyes and open mouths as their imaginations wandered into lands unknown, where geography and culture knew no borders, where language was not barrier to understanding and shared words untitled the world in a crescendo of peace. And, due to the stories told that day, because of the wondrous sights described and the knowledge shared, everyone lived a life of harmony and understanding. The world, and its people, lived happily ever after…
National Tell a Story Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom every October. It is a day where people from all over the world, regardless of culture, location or language, gather together to share and to celebrate the importance of stories.
“Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. It bonded the early human communities, giving children the answers to the biggest questions of creation, life, and the afterlife. Stories define us, shape us, control us, and make us. Not every human culture in the world is literate, but every single culture tells stories.”
Yash Patel, The Importance of Storytelling in Child Development, 2018.
Humans have always been storytellers, and the stories told have been communicated through many different mediums. From rudimentary cave markings and paintings created by early human to the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, designed to the preserve the story of Egypt’s power and dominance. From the Bayeux Tapestry intricately woven to depict, preserve and re-tell the story of a historical battle to modern day songwriters whose poetic lyrics are designed to provoke a specific emotion from their audience. Stories are not simply the written word and can appear in many varied forms such as poetry and plays, dance and movement, films, songs and pictures. Each one is as important as the other in the creation of the narrative and the conveyance of information.
Stories are an essential part of a person’s development. They are designed to develop connections at an emotional level with their audience, therefore allowing any information conveyed to become more memorable. Storytelling begins the moment a child is born. Through cries and gestures a newborn can tell a story of hunger, loneliness, frustration, contentment. Early babbling tells tales of conversational mimicry as the child is practicing language whilst parents listen on wondering at what tale is being told, encouraging the child between babbles with, “Really? Tell me more.” Children learn to use stories to gain attention from parents/carers using a narrative that is developed, worked on and delivered in such a way as to curry favour over siblings and peers. We discourage it and tell them to, “Stop telling tales on your brother/sister/friend,” when the reality of it is that they have developed such a firm understanding of the power of a story, they have simply manipulated it and used it for their purpose. Stories hold such immeasurable power.
Storytelling and its importance in a child’s development, holds a firm basis in science. Research discovered that chemicals such as cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain when we are told a story. Cortisol assists with formulating memories and making any learned knowledge stick. Dopamine regulates our emotional responses and keeps us engaged. Oxytocin is associated with empathy, allowing for building, deepening, or maintaining good relationships.
Storytelling can also help a child to learn simply because stories are easy to remember, and we need to be keenly aware of this as teachers, using it to our advantage. Organisational psychologist Peg Neuhauser found that learning which stems from a well-told story is remembered more accurately, and for far longer, than learning derived from facts and figures. Similarly, psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggests that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.
Consider a science unit where the circulatory system and the heart are to be explored. Malorie Blackman’s book ‘Pig Heart Boy’ tells the story of a young boy who needs a heart transplant and could be read for pleasure alongside the unit, supporting children’s learning subconsciously. Through the story, children encounter scientific vocabulary, all used in in context, such as heart, circulation, nutrients and cells as they learn about his only chance of survival, experimental and controversial xenotransplantation. Reading the story helps a challenging topic really stick!
Some of my favourite texts to use to tell a story and support learning are:
“If you want your children to be smart, tell them stories. If you want them to be brilliant, tell them more stories.”
As well as supporting wider curriculum learning, storytelling inspires conversation and raises enthusiasm for reading. This in turn initiates writing as children want to become authors of their own stories, they want to tell them and share them with the world. Storytelling also allows the development of listening and oracy skills in the classroom. Stories are not restricted to being enjoyed only at certain ages, all children from birth onwards into adulthood enjoy listening to and experiencing them.
Some of our favourite storytelling texts, where children can choose to tell their own stories are:
“Children have an innate love of stories. Stories create magic and a sense of wonder at the world. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others. Storytelling is a unique way for students to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, and can promote a positive attitude to people from different lands, races and religions.”
Paula Stoyle, British Council, Storytelling Benefits and Tips.
Through stories humans can make sense of the world, they are a part of our everyday life. They act as inspiration, as warnings and as solutions to challenges. Stories teach us life skills, they teach us to reflect on the world around us and to look closely at ourselves and at others.
Why not consider adding storytelling to your timetable, recognising and highlighting its importance, and protecting it as part of your daily classroom routine?
Our first Literacy Leads Network of this academic year takes place on the 8th November and focuses on best practice in Vocabulary and Reading teaching. To find out more or to book your place, please click here.
Storytelling is all around us, in our everyday life, in everything we do and everything we are. Stand up, take a deep breath and tell your story…the world is listening.