2018 marks the 18th National Storytelling Week, running from the end of January to the beginning of February. This celebration will see stories being shared across the country in clubs, theatres, museums, schools, hospitals and care homes. The event was created by the Society for Storytelling, founded in 1993 to support and promote the oral tradition of storytelling in England and Wales.

Telling stories has existed since the beginning of human language, thought to be around 100,000 years ago. Stories help us make sense of our place in the world and also enable us to relate to the experiences of the people around us. Whether fact or fiction, stories have the ability to fire up the imagination and kick-start creative thinking in people of all ages.

Wendy Shearer is a London-based professional storyteller from company Story Boat. She said:

“Storytelling is a powerful way to stimulate children’s imagination and develop their speaking and listening skills. Before they can tell or write a story, they can first experience a tale through voice, actions, props or illustrations being brought to life by the storyteller.”

The effect of storytelling on children’s memory

Stories are also thought to have a positive effect on memory. As storytelling doesn’t rely on books and illustrations, children must use their memory skills to recall key parts of the plot and characters’ names. As the storyteller, children’s comprehension can be further developed by asking questions during pauses in the narrative or after the story has been told.

One study in America sought to compare the effect of storytelling versus story reading on groups of children. The abstract reads: “Data were collected regarding students’ ability to recall facts they had heard…The students’ interpretations of story meaning were also examined.

“Students in both the reading and storytelling groups improved on most measures. However, on some measures, notably those regarding recall ability, students in the storytelling group improved more than students in the reading group.”

The unique study, called “Storytelling and Story Reading: A Comparison of Effects on Children’s Memory and Story Comprehension”, reinforces the widely-held belief that storytelling makes it easier for children to memorise new information. This makes storytelling an ideal learning tool.

A tale told through voice

Stories can conjure up a sense of magic and wonder in young minds, but they are also vital for helping children learn about the diverse world they live in.  Through the medium of storytelling, children can explore their own cultural roots and the cultural history of others.

Here are some top tips from professional storyteller Wendy Shearer on getting the most out of storytelling:

1) Let them join in – children are never too young to be engaged with you in a story.  As you use your voice to let the tale unfold, encourage them to join in with a simple action, a repeated phrase/verse or sound effect.  This reinforces the story in their mind and ensures it is not a passive experience for those listening.

2) Use sound – although your voice will be guiding children through the story, younger children will be especially stimulated through music or instruments to help create the atmosphere.

3) Simple props – a visual aid is essential when storytelling with early years.  Rather than relying on illustrations from a book, you can use colourful material or objects for them to see and feel which enhances the sensory experience for those who may not capture all of your words.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human communication and can be used as a powerful learning tool for children in early years settings. National Storytelling Week is a great opportunity to further explore this much-loved art, delighting children of all ages.

You can find a local storyteller via the Society for Storytelling website here.

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