Many educators, researchers, and storytellers advocate that storytelling can contribute significantly to early literacy development. (Mallan, 1991, Children as Storytellers; Jennings, 1991; Cooper, Collins & Saxby, 1992, The Power of Story; Glazer & Burke, 1994, An Integrated Approach to Early Literacy)
Oral storytelling appears to be just as important as reading to children when discussing potential keys to emergent literacy. (Oral Storytelling within the Context of a Parent-Child Relationship, Patricia A. Cutspec for Talaris Research Institute, July 2006).
Researchers Snow & Tabors (1993) have found that a well-established oral language vocabulary is essential for the development of young children’s written vocabulary.
Dyson (1993, From Prop to Mediator: The Changing Role of Written Language in Children’s Symbolic Repertoires) states that rhyming language found in storytelling can contribute to early spelling.
Mallan (1991) found that children gain an understanding of syntactic structure and organization when they listen to stories that can act as a reference framework when they create their own stories.
Egan (1997 The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding.) found that storytelling creates an integrated and "educated mind," one that is connected to both the logical and imaginative ways of knowing. He also suggests that stories are essential pedagogical tools for teaching and learning.
Many storytelling researchers (Britsch, 1992 The Development of ‘Story’ within the Culture of Preschool; Mallan, 1997; Dyson & Geneshi, 1994) have found that the experience of storytelling gives a group of children a greater sense of community.
Telling stories from culturally diverse sources supports the creation of multicultural awareness in classrooms (McCabe, 1997, The Elementary School Journal) and encourages the development of healthy self-concepts (Paley, 1990, The boy who would be a helicopter: The uses of storytelling in the classroom).
Traditional literatures from a wide variety of cultural contexts have also been found useful in the growth of imagination (Rosenblatt, 1976, Literature as exploration; Gallas, 1994, The languages of learning: How children talk, write, dance, draw, and sing their understanding of the world)
Students repeatedly discussed the plots of stories by relating them to their own life experience. Bruner (1990, Acts of meaning) calls this the creation of a "transactional relationship" between reality, memory, and imaginary/narrative worlds. Transactional connections help contextualize what is unknown, thereby affording the story-listener, with the power to control understanding and knowledge.
A study in the journal Child and Youth Care Forum (2008 37:127-137) examined the role participatory storytelling can play in programming for at-risk youth. Specifically, they looked at two things: how storytelling can help program planners evaluate what parts of their programs work best, and how it can help youth in the programs build resiliency and change their lives for the better.
The researchers added a storytelling project into a diverse spread of summer programs, and selected an average pool of participants, ages 8 – 17, from each program to join the storytelling component. Through assorted creative means, participants were encouraged to tell their own stories and the stories of made-up characters participating in the same experiences they were undergoing in their own programs. Youth engaging in storytelling reported dramatic changes in their levels of risky behavior and striking increases in their sense of optimism about the future. Notably, some of the risk behaviors reduced through storytelling were not shown to be reduced effectively by other methods, such as telling youth that certain behaviors are risky.
The Benefits of Using Storytelling with Children
The tradition of storytelling with children is not limited to entertainment but has also been shown to be an important component of literacy skill development. Research consistently supports the positive impact when teachers and librarians use storytelling to increase childhood literacy skills. Children who are part of storytelling activities are more prepared for reading and writing (Snowden, 1995); general language skills increase (Jackson, 1995); their vocabulary and word comprehension is enhanced (Trostle and Hicks, 1998); they are likely to improve knowledge in both broad and specific topics (Zipes, 1995); and, their creativity, imagination and memory are expanded (National Council of Teachers of English, 1997).
The Benefits of Children Acting as Storytellers
What about when the children themselves are the storytellers? Are there similar benefits to literacy development? Studies suggest that there are positive effects in intellectual, social and emotional development of children who are encouraged to use storytelling (Mallan, 1991).
- Storytelling increases the development of bilingual/multilingual skills (Ludo and Stromqvist, 2001).
- Storytelling/retelling of stories is a successful strategy to increase pragmatic oral skills, the ability to use language in specific contexts for specific purposes, leading to greater ability to write (Brice, 2004).
- The storyteller learns to work not only with the language of the story but also with its structure and how to adapt their work based on the response of their audience (Sima and Cordi, 2003).
- Oral practice through storytelling increases speech and communication skills related to enunciation and articulation (Harriott and Martin, 2004).
- Storytelling and general speaking exercises improve critical reading skills in content areas (Groce, 2004).
- Storytelling is a means for enriching the detail of writing. It assists with learning the patterns of text (Kaufman, 1997).
- Storytelling is an excellent vehicle for relaying information and making it more memorable for both the teller and the audience. It can increase the confidence of the child who has difficulty in reading and make them more likely to try to read or write or even to read aloud (Kaufman, 1997).
- Storytelling helps develop the imagination which in turn builds on problem solving competencies (Mallan, 1991).
- As children engage in storytelling they learn to listen, to participate in and understand narrative discourse and create a path to more sophisticated use of language, reading and writing in their every day lives (Mallan, 1991).
- When children’s stories are turned into mathematical word problems; it strengthens their ability to think creatively about mathematic operations while developing language skills (LoCicero et al, 1999).
- Telling or retelling folk tales helps children who have mild disabilities acquire and generalize social skills development to be more successful in mainstream classroom (Forgan and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2004).
- Storytelling practice also enhances social competencies and develops the classroom community which reduces social rejection of students who are different (Harriott and Martin, 2004).
- Children’s use of story is an effective instrument for teachers/adults to learn more about the child. What story they choose and how they choose to tell the story are indicative of what a child thinks and feels, expressed uniquely during a particular time period. The process of selecting, practicing and telling stories is a way for children to explore themselves and relationships between people (Kaufman, 1997).
- Children with a cultural experience with storytelling have a greater understanding of beliefs and mental states (Curenton, Nelson and Lillard, 2000).
- Stories and storytelling help to develop positive character traits in children by promoting a sense of shared experiences and emotions related to the characters and challenges dealt with in the stories (Jalongo, 2004).
- Storytelling allows the child to act out the fears and understandings that are not easily expressed in day to day routine (Kaufman, 1997).
- Storytelling by children bridges home and school and brings cultural awareness into the classroom (LoCicero et al, 1999).
- Children use storytelling to successfully resolve traumatic experiences and the resultant anxiety (Geist, 2003).