Everyday, we tell stories. Whether it’s on television, radio, film, the internet, in books or in newspapers, we communicate details of a happening. Sometimes it's personal and other times it challenges our perception of the world. Interesting stories capture our attention and imagination to the point where we frantically ask, silently or out loud, “and then what happened?”
It’s a familiar question, so many us asked about stories we (who are now adults) heard in our childhoods. My parents share stories about growing up across the ocean; teachers read daytime stories in the school library. Picture books were a game of carefully flipping the pages, making sure to not miss any of the detailed drawings, colours and big bold words.
I remember loving storytime as a child because it was a chance to escape to a world I could only imagine. Yet, it fed so much of my creativity. I could draw all of the things that captured my attention about stories, such as characters and settings; I had a better understanding of my own heritage; I could write my own stories. That is the power of storytelling.
Storytelling encourages the development of critical thinking skills. Stories with a message give kids the opportunity to make sense of values and virtues that are important to have, such as courage, honesty and self-worth. A story like “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch is a great conversation starter for the importance of being yourself. The story follows a princess who falls for a prince who doesn’t appreciate who she is. The princess then realizes her mistake as she faces a fire-breathing dragon. It is a critique of the ‘damsel in distress’ trope of a girl helplessly waiting for a boy to save her, when all along she was capable of saving herself.
Stories like these can be especially empowering for young girls to see their own power and stand up for themselves. The after-effect is girls being able to recognize their own strength in spaces where it is often dismissed.
Storytelling is a great tool for improving vocabulary and learning abilities. Reading consistently is a form of practicing new words and expanding vocabulary. Kids that read regularly can better grasp the language and normalize it. This opens the door for them to name their experiences. I remember reading “The Berenstain Bears” book series as a child and feeling relieved that there was a girl character who had a brother who got on her nerves too! Since there are many books in the series, I could read a story with a character I identified with all while learning new words, such as “bullying” and “unfair”.
Telling stories is also a great tool for self-discovery. Imagine a child being told stories by the adults in their lives, and eventually writing their own. Then imagine this same child realizing that they really love writing and want to do it for the rest of their life. That child was me. Stories open up a portal of possibilities because they will resonate with children differently. Whereas I knew I wanted to be a writer as a child, another child may know they want to draw.
Storytelling allows children to be curious and observe the world around them. So, for the generations of children that will come after us, it’s important to continue to tell stories that spark imagination and pass on history.