Children love stories. They love to hear the same stories repeated over and over again to the point that they can recount it with you, they know it so well. If you pause too long while telling a well-known and much-loved story, they may well jump in and tell you the next bit.
Small children are not adept at absorbing facts and figures, historical dates and other data. To the little child, these are dry and uninteresting and they just don’t stick. But something very different happens when we put some of this information into a gripping story, with colorful characters and a plotline. Let the child hear it repeatedly, and those facts will become bedrock.
Tell a story with some inflection in your voice. Add an expression on your face, with gestures and body movements to help tell the story, and the child will be spellbound. He will be like putty in your expressive hands.
Sesame Street knew this truth. When the program hit the airwaves about 40 years ago, it was armed with the knowledge that fun could get some serious work done. Kids would take in just about anything if they heard it often enough from cute cuddly muppets. Alphabet repetition by guest stars, number lessons from the Count, interesting skits with Big Bird, and Oscar, Elmo and Cookie Monster, all made an impression on the young child’s brain. They learned, and came back the next day wanting more.
Children are geared to much repetition. They like nothing more than to hear the same CD or the same story from Grampa seven hundred times, preferably without a break. Each time they retain just a bit more than they did the last time. And while adults may find all this repetition to be mind-numbing, and excessive, this is the way of learning preferred by every child.
Storytelling can be done in a cozy quiet setting between mother and toddler, with or without a book. Or it can be done in a library or daycare with one or more storytellers before a group of children. A tale can be told through music, by a live musician with or without an instrument, or on a favorite CD or video. Many a child has learned his ABC’s this way, as well as historical facts dressed up in a song. Acting out stories will grab a child’s attention as they learn through several avenues at once, both visually and aurally.
Yet, contradictory though it may sound, it’s also true that storytelling without acting out, without visual clues, is an equally important and effective teaching tool. The child must then create his own mental picture of what is happening in the story. He creates the characters, the setting, and it can be any way he wants it. Nothing is too fantastic, because it exists only in his own mind’s eye. This helps a child to develop and cultivate an active imagination which will be a great asset throughout his life, and not just in storytelling.