We are all storytellers. We only need to think about the story we were told by a colleague in the office today or the one we discussed with a friend at the weekend. Storytelling gives us the opportunity to express our emotions and gives us the freedom to stretch our creativity and our imagination.
At Little Einstein’s Kindergarten, we find storytelling entertains, enchants and on occasions even soothes, but this ancient form of communication which has survived from generation to generation, we believe, delivers much more than that: it equips young children with gifts for life.
As a nursery manager, I am responsible for providing the children in my care with educational and social activities which stimulate them emotionally and mentally, as well as physically, and I believe storytelling sits in all three of those important areas of a child’s development. Reading aloud, for example, helps children learn the art of listening at an age when they don’t tend to have this skill and engages their emotions. Encouraging children to share their own stories helps improve their confidence, as well as their vocabulary and motor skills.
Storytelling needs to take place in a relaxed, comfortable and cosy atmosphere where children can engage fully with the story. Stories need to be fun, and questions and discussion about favourite parts of the story which will help the children to build links between the written and spoken language. Linking interesting stories with relevant family occasions or key milestones in one’s lifetime also helps children to recognise different social contexts which are essential to their learning.
Props and visual aids along with stories which have elements of repetition will accommodate children with additional support needs. For these children, participating in the art of storytelling gives them the freedom to be creative, and we find is particularly effective when combined with activities which engage different areas of the brain such as dancing, music, or arts and crafts.
The way you tell a story creates a unique version of the story in the child’s mind, usually with pictures first. As we all know, young children will happily listen to a story again and again. Once they have developed their understanding of the story, and grapple with this idea of whether a story is ‘true’ or not, only then they will then start to focus on the words. All of these stages prompt key learning points, including recognition skills.
For example, even if children have had few experiences of storytelling they will recognise popular introductions or statements such as “Fee fie foe fum…” or “Once upon a time”. This knowledge helps to empower children and create a bond between them and the storyteller which evokes positive emotions. It is this sense of sharing – sharing of words, meanings and emotions, which is at the heart of storytelling.
At Little Einstein’s Kindergarten, which has seven nurseries throughout Scotland, storytelling is a much loved pastime, but it is also a very powerful tool that we use for embedding key messages which will support a child’s learning and education.
Little Einstein’s Ten Top Tips for Successful Storytelling
- Find a book that interests you – if you are not captured by the story then why would you listeners be?
- Read the text over to yourself several times to familiarise yourself with the text.
- Visualise the characters and their intentions, what kind of voices they might have, how the plot evolves and what emotions this provokes.
- Make notes to yourself about the story and what images and emotions it provokes.
- Practise your storytelling by finding a quiet, comfortable space and reading the book aloud to yourself. Experiment with how you can bring the story to life for your listeners.
- Find somewhere cosy where the children will feel engaged and start clearly, making sure you have their attention.
- Tell the story in your own words – don’t worry if you make mistakes -storytelling by its nature is subject to interpretation and improvisation.
- Alter the rhythm of your voice and bring your emotions into play. Keep a visual image of the unfolding story in your head so that you can deliver the storytelling with conviction.
- Finish strongly – create an appetite for more.
- ‘Story of the week’ helps to build repetition and create an interest in early literacy and reading skills.
Emma Patterson is Nursery Manager at Little Einstein’s Nursery.