There is an old Scottish saying, ‘A story should be told, eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart’ and that’s just the way Ulf & I love to tell our tales to children; No books, just the children, a story and us. And we have discovered that in this intimate space, magic happens…
Experts in the field of education & child development, while they may not believe in magic, they are now rediscovering of the ancient art of oral storytelling. Of course, story reading has long been recognised as a wonderful educational tool, however oral storytelling has now proven to have many extra benefits.
The oral storyteller focuses his or her attention on the listeners, ‘connecting eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart’. The storyteller brings not only their undivided attention but their own unique personality to the story telling. Ulf and I have very different styles of storytelling, I tend to be exuberant while Ulf has a gentle Swedish manner. The combination of personality and undivided attention gives the storytelling a sense of intimacy which children respond to.
The Storyteller is Free
The story reader is bound by the book and the text and occasionally looks at the listeners, while the storyteller is free to respond to the listeners’ reactions. The storyteller may even change the story, expanding sections when the interest is great or altering the story to fit the needs of the listeners.
The freedom afforded by oral storytelling allows Ulf and I to take any story and rework it for a specific audience. When sharing stories in early childhood we always add rhymes, repetitions and actions in which the children can join in. We also encourage their contributions by asking questions such as, “What would you put in the magic stone soup?” and incorporate the children’s answers into the story.
Children are Active Participants
Oral storytelling is a shared experience in which the child becomes an active participant in the creation of the story, while children who are shown illustrations and read to, are passive in comparison. Children listening to oral stories must exercise their imaginations, to create the pictures in their minds, that the storyteller forms with words, facial expressions, tone and gesture. There are many benefits to exercising the imagination such as, the development of empathy by the ability to place one’s self in another shoes and greater problem solving skills.
The ‘active’ nature of oral story listening supports concentration and comprehension skills. Recent research shows, that storytelling listeners retained more information and demonstrated better comprehension skills than children who were only read to. A mum recently wrote to us and said that her daughter’s preschool was amazed when her daughter, Gaia, consoled a young friend who had fallen over with a 10-minute story, complete with actions, that she heard us tell on the weekend. Later that week Gaia told another one of our stories to her grandparents! Even we were amazed at how much she retained.
Storytelling is of huge benefit to children who are not ready to read or are having reading difficulties, as it is an enjoyable activity which increases their vocabulary and teaches them the sound and form of narratives without focusing on the written word. And, if children have participated in oral storytelling, they would have experienced the joy of co-creating stories, generating an eagerness to learn more literacy skills.
Enhances Emotional Intelligence
Storytelling also enhances emotional intelligence. The reactions of the storyteller to the story, the teller’s tone of voice and facial expressions, model emotions and the appropriate responses to emotions. Learning how to recognise emotions and how to express them is a vital step in child development. Listening to oral stories, also gives control to the child over the level of fear they experience, as they create the images in their minds that they are comfortable with.
Watching emotions play on the upturned faces of our audiences is an absolute joy for us. Their expressions tell us that they are fully engaged with the story and us, the storytellers. We are truly on the adventure together, that is the power and joy of storytelling.
Now that you know just some of the benefits of oral storytelling, we hope you feel inspired to put the book aside and try telling a story eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart…it’s absolute magic.