Storytelling is a very powerful tool with a long, rich evolution. From the Egyptians and hieroglyphics dating back about 5,000 years ago to the detailed drawings in France’s Chauvet cave, dating back 30,000 years. Storytelling continues to captivate us. It’s an art form that can require our mental, physical, and visual acuity. In fact, we are hard-wired for stories, but not just any stories. We are consistently drawn to stories with triumphant themes and heroic characters. We also respond to stories that echo our personal experiences and desires. Just listening to or reading stories of how others have overcome hardships or navigated complex social situations can provide us with insight and the confidence to navigate our own real-world situations; all while promoting our understanding of ourselves and others. Studies have found that character-driven stories with emotional content can foster children’s healthy imaginations, teach them to create their own narrative, and help to better understand key points.
I remember when our kids were young how they enjoyed listening to us tell our tales. My husband Dan, especially, always had a knack for telling them. He had a variety of characters he’d pull out of his hat. His voices, sound effects, facial expressions, and physical gestures made our kids laugh so hard and kept them on the edge of their seats. Every narrative was an adventure; and his love, time, and good nature fostered their mutual bonds.
The essence of storytelling, conjured by our realities and imaginations can also nurture a child’s social and emotional health. Character driven stories can promote a child’s healthy sense of autonomy by demonstrating how to navigate situations on their own, how to be a meaningful part of a relationship, or how to nurture their skills and abilities to achieve something. Additionally, stories have the power to allow children to feel that it’s okay for me to be me and for you to be you!
Storytelling also requires strong language skills, which have been found to be the single best predictor of children’s later academic success (Hoff,2013). A 2017 study, A Matter of Principle: Applying Language Science to the Classroom and Beyond” offers considerable insight. Strong language skills are a critical component for fostering children’s literacy, social skills, and executive functioning skills. Because language proficiency is critical for helping children navigate their world inside and outside the classroom, children who lack sufficient language skills and world knowledge often struggle to keep up.
The fact is children use their existing knowledge of words to help them learn new words. Therefore, the quality of communication they experience is key. When parents and educators provide language-rich environments through parent-child and teacher-child interactions they help to remediate language gaps children can experience. The 2017 Study found that 80% of preschool and school-age children’s waking time is actually spent outside of school, making language-rich environments outside the classroom essential.
For children across the board, in formal or informal learning settings, there is a fundamental need to identify actionable strategies to provide language-rich environments for children. The Read-Play-Learn [RPL] project included a series of studies funded by the Institute for Education Sciences to boost vocabulary development in low-income monolingual and bilingual preschoolers, ages 3-5, in the Southern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The 2017 Study used the RPL project as a testing ground to apply six principles they considered critical for a child’s language development, and used these six principles in real-world conditions.
The findings were clear. Reading with children, using new words frequently (over a period of weeks), providing them with books, picture vocabulary cards that related to a story, and playing with figurines helped promote children’s vocabulary and understanding of different topics. It allow them to think more deeply about the words they used. the context they used them in, and connect their new vocabulary to their own real-world experiences.
Encouraging your child to tell stories requires joint attention, which is critical for children’s language development (Adamson, Bakeman, Deckner, & Nelson, 2014). As they tell their stories they are rehearsing their new vocabulary, nurturing their confidence, and opening windows to new worlds. Children’s communication skills are the foundation for acquiring new information and forming ideas at home, at school, alone, or with friends. Lastly, their stories can provide important insight into the way they see and think about their world. This window allows parents to better understand their children, which can help you to effectively meet your children’s social and emotional needs.
The following are the Six Principles of Language Development discussed in this article.