Storytelling is such a lovely and powerful way to interact with our children, it’s a great opportunity to share some intimate quality time and re-connect, while also conveying an exciting story or valuable message.
Storytelling is deeply rooted in our “being human”. Long before there was writing, telling stories was how our history, our heritage, traditions, important events and cultures were being preserved from generation to generation. Without the passing on of information in this way, much of what we know about human history would be lost forever.
It was also how great imaginary fables, fairy tales, myths, legends and epic adventure stories were weaved and passed on. Storytellers were well respected members of society, you could call them the early compact entertainment and information system!
Creating and telling stories is uniquely human and it is the glue that binds families, communities, cultures and humanity together. Telling stories has always been a big part of social gatherings, such as meeting friends and family at momentous occasions and celebrations where the older generation would reminisce on days gone by with the children hanging on to every word. People had to have great imagination and memory to retain and pass on stories, and I’m sure there were plenty of creative add-ons to many a tale.
It’s not “that long” ago that people didn’t have books readily available to them. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the middle of the 15th century, before that books and scriptures were handwritten or printed with much more rudimentary equipment, which meant only very wealthy people could afford to own books.
Today we are on the opposite end of the spectrum: even though there are endless fantastic books of all genres available, we as a society have started to tend towards technology-based storytelling. Many children seem to spend a lot of time in front of the television or on their smartphone or tablet. Even though limited activities with these gadgets can be beneficial, and many opportunities are opened up to our children and teenagers through these technological advances, there are some sad truths and even dangers attached to this development.
The loss of traditional storytelling or reading books with an adult, and the compensation through technology can have significant effects on children’s brain development, social skills, creativity and imagination, not to forget the opportunity to connect with others. Some stories that would have been told by parents, grand-parents or other family members won’t ever get the chance to be passed on and valuable family traditions and history will be lost for future generations.
From a developmental point of view children need the interaction and communication with grown-ups. As mentioned in a previous blog post, there are many studies suggesting that, especially in the first three years of a child’s life, the so called “critical period”, significant damage can be done to brain development by too much exposure to technology. A young child needs certain stimuli from his environment and the people in it in this crucial developmental stage in order for his brain to develop fully.
When young children are read or told stories by their parents or caregivers, it encourages their brain to imagine parts of the storyline, what the characters in the story might look like, where they live, what their voices might sound like. Television or activities on a phone or tablet take away this process as it spoon-feeds the total experience which will actually make children’s imagination lazy and weaken their cognitive muscle.
Storytelling is also a wonderful opportunity to teach and illustrate new concepts or messages. It can be very abstract for children to learn about things like emotions, kindness or gratitude for example. Stories are an invaluable resource to explain and describe these concepts in a tangible and understandable manner and give examples for children to comprehend them. After reading about certain topics it is also so much easier for us parents and teachers to relate children’s personal experiences to the examples given in the story and get a conversation going.
From a parenting and mindfulness point of view we need to make the time and space for us and our children to hold on to this important piece of childhood and growing up. Storytelling is and will forever be one of the most valuable possibilities to grab some cuddles and quality time with our children. Too soon they will be old enough to read books by themselves, or they’ll want their personal space in their adolescent and teenage years. In time to come these are the moments our children will remember: “My mum/dad used to read me this story at bedtime…”
These special memories are not just important for our children, but also for us parents!! We will miss those precious years for long enough, so grab a book and a cuddly blanket and dive into fairy tales and adventures in faraway places…let the time stand still for just a few minutes and just enjoy your children and the wonder in their eyes when they listen to a new exciting tale capturing their imagination!
For more information on mindful parenting and education and a practical everyday approach that can be applied by anybody and tailored to your individual circumstances take a look at my new book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a revolution”, a handbook for parents and educators to promote positive change based on the principles of mindfulness.
Thanks so much for your interest and support! 😉 Alex
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