This article first appeared in the August 15 edition of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. Dr. Sam Ayers served as a teacher and as an elementary, middle school, and high school principal in Lubbock ISD. Today, he prepares students to become future teachers and principals at Lubbock Christian University.
We were an hour into a three-hour road trip when our young grandsons awoke from their naps. From the back seat came the question, “Can you tell us a story?”
The boys were spellbound the rest of the drive as they listened intently to my dramatic telling of stories from memory. I shared The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Jack and the Beanstalk. I recounted a couple of favorites from my Captain Kangaroo childhood television viewing days. This included Caps For Sale and Stone Soup. Then came some Biblical favorites—Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, Samuel’s anointing of David as the future King of Israel, and David and Goliath. After each story came the same request, “Can you tell us another story.”
Storytelling is an important part of the development of preschoolers. Preschool teachers include storytelling in their daily routine, but educators can also encourage parents and grandparents to support educational development by engaging in storytelling with their children and grandchildren.
Educator John Stewig suggests that storytelling allows the adult an opportunity to better bring children into the literary experience free from dependence on a book. I knew this made sense, but this was a truth I experienced firsthand during the road trip with my grandsons. I didn’t have books easily available, and I could not read them books while driving. Still, I could take advantage of our time together and contribute to their literary appreciation.
Master storyteller Jim Weiss states, “When I tell you a story, it hits you in the head and in the heart.” There are several benefits to storytelling that address the head or intellect. These include:
- Improves listening skills – As children listen to stories they are encouraged to concentrate and focus on the topic.
- Broadens vocabulary – As children hear new words and phrases in context, they later use these same words and phrases to better express their thoughts and feelings.
- Develops cultural awareness – Hearing stories about different places and traditions helps children gain understanding and appreciation for their own and other cultures.
- Contributes to future academic success – Again, as children listen to stories they are encouraged to concentrate and focus on the topic, setting the stage for vitally important skills necessary in all education settings.
- Fosters critical thinking skills – Children’s comprehension increases as they listen to stories with characters, plot, and theme. As children listen to stories, they anticipate the actions of characters. A brief follow-up discussion can encourage children to reflect on the motivation of characters, and appropriateness or effectiveness of the character’s actions, and why they would or would not have acted in a similar fashion.
The intellectual benefits may be reason enough to make storytelling a priority. However, according to Jim Weiss, storytelling not only addresses the head, but the experience can also target the heart or emotional response. These benefits include:
- Promotes a desire to read – Many stories shared orally with children come from books. These storytelling experiences lead children to want to see and read the books with these same stories for themselves.
- Stimulates the imagination – Children learn to picture the stories in their heads as they listen to stories being told. The skill can transfer as they hear and eventually read stories from books.
- Contributes to a love of language – As children are exposed to interesting words, they become interested in using these same words or phrases as they retell the stories or use language to communicate about their experiences with others.
- Contributes to emotional development – Children empathize with the plight of characters as they listen during the storytelling experience. They develop an awareness of how their own words and actions can affect others.
Not everyone is naturally comfortable with storytelling, at least not initially. Still, adults can maximize the storytelling experience for their children by implementing a few strategies.
- Speak clearly – Model effective communication, enunciating words while speaking at a conversational place.
- Maintain eye contact with the listeners – This ensures the storyteller that young listeners are alert and attentive.
- Use a variety of voices for the different characters – This makes the story more interesting for the listener, and more fun for the storyteller. It can also allow for the elimination of repetitive phrases such as, “she said” and “he said.”
- Exaggerate facial expressions and characters’ gestures – This animation makes the storytelling experience more enjoyable and can reinforce the meaning of words or phrases for young listeners.
- Invite the listener to participate in the story – Interactive audiences are typically more engaged audiences. Children welcome opportunities to repeat phrases, clap their hands or shrug their shoulders.
My young grandsons have continued to request that I retell them stories they heard on our road trip, as well as new stories. They have enjoyed hearing the stories when we can be face-to-face, but they also enjoy these experiences virtually when we cannot be together. The storytelling experience for them and all children provides opportunities for developing their literary appreciation and linking the home and the classroom.