Why is storytelling important to children?

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1. Why stories are important

Learning to read is important, we all know that. Research shows that people without good literacy skills do worse in education and are more likely to be unemployed or even suffer from health and relationship problems.

But there’s evidence to suggest that the benefits of being read to frequently as a child go way beyond just literacy skills. CBeebies presenter and dad Alex Winters went on a mission to find out just what’s so important about stories.

2. How stories shape our world

The stories we hear as children shape our view of the world. Most small children live their lives in quite a limited environment. Reading stories to children can show them far-flung places, extraordinary people and eye-opening situations to expand and enrich their world.

It can also be a great way of helping them deal with real life situations that they need help to deal with. Researchers have found that the brain activity that occurs when we read fiction is very similar to experiencing that situation in real life, so reading about a situation helps children work out how to solve it in reality.

3. Making children into nicer people?

It gets even more surprising when you look at the effects of reading fiction to children on their social behaviour.

Scientists have found that children who have fiction read to them regularly find it easier to understand other people – they show more empathy and have better developed theory of mind (the ability to understand that other people have different thoughts and feelings to us, which is essential for understanding and predicting other people’s thoughts and behaviour).

4. Why we need to ask questions

The benefits children get from having stories read to them are hugely increased when parents talk and ask questions about the story as well.

Simply asking them if they can remember what happened in the story or checking if they know what some of the more complicated words mean can really extend their understanding and vocabulary. More complex ‘inference’ questions like, ‘why do you think this character did that?’ helps children to think about and understand other people’s motivations.

Dr Sarah McGeown is a lecturer in developmental psychology and specialises in children’s reading development. Sarah worked on the CBeebies Storytime app and in this blog post linked to below, she explains why it’s so important to ask questions, what kind of questions you should be asking your child and how to do it effectively.

5. Thinking outside the books

In this video, storytelling expert Alex Charalambous from the literacy charity Springboard has some clever ideas to get stories into your child’s life without necessarily having to pick up a book.

If you’re rushing around looking after small children, it can be hard to find the time to sit down and read to them every day. Parents also might not feel comfortable reading aloud to their children no matter how much they’d like to, through lack of confidence, or worries about their own literacy skills. Stories don’t have to just live in books though. Traditions of storytelling go back through human existence a long time before books were even invented.

6. Bringing stories into your little one's life

What method of storytelling would work best for your child?

Making up stories

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Making up stories

A great option for active kids who love to play, making up stories involving them or their toys stimulates children's imagination and extends their play.

Reading a book together

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Reading a book together

If your child has good enough concentration skills, sharing a book is the perfect preparation for your little one learning to read and write.

Story apps

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Story apps

Can be a great solution if you're short of time and your child loves phones/tablets, but sharing the experience with them will make all the difference.

Re-telling events

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Re-telling events

Talking about stories from your family's past or even funny things that happened that day can be lots of fun, and improves their memory and sequencing skills.