When I was growing up, stories, storytelling, reading of storybooks, exchanging of anecdotes, listening and sharing happened very organically. There was no need to categorise or discuss it or measure the development through these activities in terms of mental processing. But the world today is very different. Attention spans are short, multi-tasking is the need of the hour and we do not want to spend our time and energy doing anything which does not provide value to our growth and well-being. So now, the traditional pastime of storytelling has to be examined under a microscope and the strands of its importance gently separated and displayed. What came naturally to people of all ages needs to be plated and displayed like a gourmet delicacy because, if we don’t do so, we are in danger of losing it and its multifarious benefits completely.
Stories have always been an integral part of our existence and the glue that connects all humanity. The ability to listen to, comprehend and tell stories has a facilitative effect on cognitive processes and personal development. Understanding of narrative involves very complex mental activity and children who engage in listening to or reading stories, greatly enlarge their strategies for grasping the meaning, their knowledge and understanding of the world around them and their imaginations. And yet, we often think of storytelling only as a form of entertainment and remain oblivious to the full impact of its importance.
Children take to stories like fish to water. Their natural curiosity, sense of fun and openness to new ideas and out of the box scenarios make fertile ground for creating, listening to and telling stories. So for the magic of stories to work and the organic learning thereof to happen, we adults need only to be eager listeners, enthusiastic tellers, and dynamic travellers, dropping all boundaries of time and space, ready to take off with our young explorers to the boundaries of their imagination.
While encouraging children to tell stories provides the obvious benefits of improving their expressive language skills like diction, pronunciation, voice modulation, pausing and stressing, there are deeper benefits as their self-confidence is bolstered and they develop the valuable skill of effective communication. Children have an amazing ability to make up a story as they are telling it. So if they are not told to ‘be quiet’ all the time, their imagination can weave scintillating tales. A healthy imagination developed in childhood is associated with problem-solving, openness to new ideas, out of the box thinking and risk-taking – all valuable assets in life as an adult too. When creating and telling stories, children take on different roles and try out different language uses, all of which help them on the journey from being externally regulated to internally regulated in cognition. In the school curriculum, giving children the space to create and tell stories is often sacrificed at the altar of reading and writing. Yet ironically, skills developed through storytelling and listening to stories also extend to enhance skills needed for effective reading and writing.
The classroom inadvertently becomes a place where each child is judged based on his ability to perform tasks set by teachers. In such a setting, the experience of listening to a story is a great equalizer. Listeners can participate fully without the fear of being judged or ridiculed. Stories enhance their motivation to learn and their receptivity to learning. Research shows that even students with low motivation and weak academic skills are more likely to listen, read, write and work in the context of storytelling.
Effective communication entails not just speaking but good listening skills too. There are several mental processes simultaneously at work while listening. When a child grows up listening to stories, a love for language and the richness of its usage develops naturally, improving comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, sequencing and associated skills. In the hush that falls as a child listens to a story being told, he is keenly focused on forming mental pictures and scaffolding his own learning, connecting the dots of prior knowledge, experience, and his own reasoning. Social skills, persistence, engagement, how to take turns speaking, how to listen to others effectively, how to read between the lines, are all skills which are sharpened by regularly listening to stories.
In engaging with the characters of the stories and the narrative, children are able to appreciate points of view other than their own and develop finer sensibilities. They begin to appreciate goodness, humour, bravery, and beauty of the characters in stories before they really experience and know these qualities themselves. A sense of aesthetics also starts developing. As we become a more intolerant, more divided society, there is an urgent need to inculcate these values in children, and they cannot be taught as part of the explicit curriculum. Storytelling is a time-honoured way of doing this naturally.
It is my firm belief that reading, telling and listening to stories is not an idle pursuit but an urgent need of our times. Its far-reaching effects can equip our children with not only the 4Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking vitally required for success, but enhance their emotional intelligence as well so that they are more responsible and sensitised global citizens, with a high happiness quotient, aware of their place in the world and responsibilities as a human being, beyond just earning a livelihood.
About the Author:
Valentina Trivedi is an alumna of The Doon School, she was the first woman to be on the executive committee of the Doon School Old Boys’ Society and is the Editor Emeritus of their quarterly magazine, ‘The Rose Bowl.’ She has used her storytelling talent to write and perform stories for adults as well as children: as a Dastango (performance artist of the recently revived ancient art form of Urdu storytelling, Dastangoi), a scriptwriter for TV shows and films, director of documentaries and a senior copy writer in advertising. She enjoys writing in both Hindi and English.
This article was originally published in the Anniversary (August 2017) issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.
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