As a newbie father, storytelling is one of the best opportunities I could spend quality time with my two toddlers. They actually love hearing stories even ones my wife and I just made up.
We tell them stories all the time, including days when we have to tell them or make them do some things, so we’ve piled a stock of characters in our arsenal to use when needed. There is Boy Tsoko to encourage them to brush their teeth, there is Ana Liit to keep them eating whenever they feel picky sometimes.
Of course we tell them the classics as well. They love to hear (again and again) the story of the Three little pigs which teaches them the importance of siblings supporting each other; The wolf and the seven goats reminding them of never letting strangers in the house.
I wrote this post to encourage parents, teachers and anyone who have children under their charge to tell them stories, regardless whether you read or narrate to them.
We all know how these stories could positively benefit our kids. Aside from bonding time, we as parents are able to accomplish our responsibility of being the kid’s first teachers. By telling them a story, we could impart a great deal of knowledge to our children and teach them values which could help them become better persons when they grow up, or at least the kind of persons we envision they should be.
Many great people are great story tellers. Aesop made fables that teach moral lessons; Jose Rizal popularized the folktale about the turtle and the monkey; Jesus uses parables to teach. But one might ask, who invented storytelling and how did it start?
A brief history of storytelling
I recently ran across an article by national artist for literature Virgilio Almario entitled “Once upon a time sans radio and movies”. Almario briefly presented a history of storytelling as part of the rituals of ancient humans. No one knows for certain who wrote the first story but we all know that storytelling forms an important part of what we call oral literature used in the early ages as an exchange of experience, tradition and knowledge. Also, according to Almario (himself a storyteller), there are two main aims of storytelling: to entertain and to teach.
One part of his essay which struck me the most was his explanation on why storytelling as an institution in the family is fading: the growing improvements in modern day technologies. This article was written around 1983 yet proves true until today!
On the other hand, you would be surprised to note what Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz said about the beginnings of children’s literature in the Philippines. In her article published by the NCCA, She described that:
“The formal beginnings of children’s literature in the Philippines have been attributed to Jose Rizal whose now well-loved tale, “The Monkey and the Tortoise,” was first published in July 1889 in a London publication. It is acknowledged to be the very first Filipino tale for children. Least known of his many talents is his having dabbled in children’s literature as well. He translated five fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen into Tagalog and mailed them to his nephews and nieces together with his own illustrations…”
There are many theories explaining why we tell stories. Some say it is a result of man’s attempt to understand nature and his surroundings, others say it is a result of man’s meditation on his beginnings; still others posit that it is a means to pass on knowledge and experiences. Similarly, particular events in the history of mankind have helped shaped the way we tell stories and what stories we tell and why we tell them in the first place.
How storytelling benefits our children?
According to some sources, here are possible ways storytelling could benefit our children:
- Storytelling helps develop children’s language skills and improve their memory;
- Stories open kid’s minds to new worlds, to places they’ve never been to, thus developing their imagination and their creative thinking;
- Storytelling allows children to explore their own cultural roots and to experience other cultures. It is a unique way for children to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, and can promote a positive attitude to people from different lands, races and religions;
- Storytelling enhances listening skills and increase children’s willingness to communicate thoughts and feelings;
- By telling your child stories that come with a meaningful message, you can definitely instill in them virtues like wisdom, courage, honesty, etc. from an early age.
These are just a few of the many benefits of telling your children stories. Researching further will help us discover more of its advantages and benefits which I may have failed to indicate in this post. Interestingly, reading stories with children has benefits for grown-ups too for this activity with your kids promotes bonding and helps to build your relationship and actually prepare your child into later developing social, communication and interpersonal skills.
Storytelling for your kids is a much needed family activity particularly in a world pervaded by utter dependence to electronic devices. We sometimes feel like it’s impossible to live life without these gadgets that many times they substitute for the role of a baby-sitter. (Yes, I’m referring to that moment when you had to leave your child with the tablet or your smartphones because you had to do something else.)
I do not advise you, however to completely take those gadgets away from your kids; no one wants to bring up children totally ignorant of technology (that makes us bad parents either). In fact there are a lot of applications that can be used for story telling (but for now, let’s focus on the traditional way, we’ll leave that topic for another post in the future) Moderation and balance is the point, I should say.
There are a lot of good stories to choose from, start with what you yourself know. Let them use their imagination, and when they ask questions, be willing to provide good answers, tell them what they should know. Don’t lie, tell the truth, demystify beliefs if you had to, but don’t rob them of their ‘sense of wonder’ unnecessarily.
Spare the use of non-verbal languages which help turn the stories to life. Remember the pitch, tone, posture, gesture and facial expressions when you read of narrate to them.
You’ll be surprised to hear your kids use the words from stories you tell them even those concepts that seem difficult for young children to understand.
You don’t need to be confined to using books, remember, true storytelling never needed books; the spoken words is enough to convey ideas and to bring stories to life. Stories are powerful; it can build a person or break an empire.
Parents (and teachers as well), let’s reclaim our role of teaching our children positive values snatched away by the other nasty agents of change out there.
Take time to read, to tell your children stories so when they grow up they become better readers and better storytellers themselves, and make sure you do after reading this post.
Myers, Pam. (2012). Storytelling for Children. Child Development Institute. Accessed May 30, 2016 via childdevelopmentinfo.com
British Broadcasting Corporation. (2003). Storytelling-benefits and tips. Teaching English, British Council retrieved from https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/storytelling-benefits-tips
Children’s Communication Center (1983). Story telling for young children. Children’s Communication Center
Sta. Romana-Cruz, Neni (2004). In Focus: Door to the World of Reading Must Be Unlocked for All Children. Retrieved from http://ncca.gov.ph/about-culture-and-arts/in-focus/door-to-the-world-of-reading-must-be-unlocked-for-all-children/
Raising Children Network (2016) Reading and storytelling with babies and children. Raisingchildren.net