Stories and Story-Telling

The value of books and story-telling is self-evident but if one has to make a list of advantages it would include the extension of ideas, vocabulary, language skills, information, the enjoyment which comes from the close attention given each other by the teller and the listeners, the sharing of a common theme which can act as a focus or starting point for conversation and, not least, the physically relaxing effect this has on children. Looking ahead to later years the child who knows what books are, how to use them, where to find them, and who values them, will be more inclined to use them than the child who comes to school at five not knowing what books are for. The child who has enjoyed story sessions knows how to sit and listen, how to be part of a group and knows how to tell a story himself.

Story-telling must be one of the oldest forms of entertainment. Professional story-tellers today are more likely to earn their living by writing books so that a third person has to intervene between story-teller and the child who cannot yet read. The newer experiences of stories by radio or on television and the use of records and cassettes is slightly different although there is still this barrier between teller and listener. Success depends largely on the expertise of the teller and is a variable quantity. The common factor between all the possible variations we use nowadays and the itinerant story-teller of centuries ago is that the audience, however large or small, is always willing to meet the story-teller more than halfway.

In fact children need both. The advantage of using books is that pictures help very young children and older children enjoy them too. There is more likely to be variation in style and language if stories by different authors are read. If the only stories children have are all freely adapted and told by the same person this can be limiting. The disadvantage of using books is that very few have large enough pictures for use with a group of more than one or two children at a time. Telling stories may mean that younger children have nothing to look at to focus their attention on what they are hearing. The most useful point about telling rather than reading stories is that the teller can pay closer attention to the listeners. She can extend, elaborate or clarify as their reactions indicate the need. Contributions from the children themselves can be incorporated into the story. A great deal more non-verbal communication is possible.

For younger children at home a mixture of both is good, often with the emphasis on use of picture books for the youngest ones, then story-telling as soon as they will simply listen. Variety can be added by watching children’s story sessions on television, preferably with mother watching too so they can talk about the story afterwards.