Children need stories

Once upon a time…and so the magic begins. Children need to hear stories, and love to hear stories. Stories that are read to them, or that they read themselves; sometimes, and best of all, stories told from direct experience or made up on the spot. “Tell us about the time when…” is often preferred to a story read from a book.

But why are stories so important for children? I asked Georgie, 10 years old and an avid reader. “Children need stories so that they can learn about the world and what life can be like. I like reading because its like you are entering another world and you just want to read more and more and see what happens. It makes me feel nice.”

You can experience all the emotions that characters go through.” Stories invite you into a world beyond your personal experience where you can vicariously try out different experiences without having to deal with the actual consequences in real life. I was asked once by a mother to meet with her daughter who she felt was being bullied. When I met with the girl I asked her what strategies she could think of to deal with some of the difficult situations she was facing. She came up with a variety of clever and appropriate ideas. I was impressed, and asked where she got such bright ideas. “From reading” she said. She noted how characters in stories dealt with situations and could apply this in her own life.

I asked my friend Sally, the only school principal I know who is often to be found reading to groups of spellbound children, why she considers reading so important. “Stories are about situations, real or imagined, featuring characters, calling out emotional responses from our minds. The richest thing in the world is LISTENING to stories, which is why children love to be told stories (and be read to), and have favourites which they can hear again and again. The story goes into the listener’s very mind and heart complete with all its details, and with such emotional connection, often becomes beloved, like a personal treasure, shared with the storyteller/author.”

Through stories a child is also helped to build a rich vocabulary which enables them to articulate their thoughts and feelings more clearly. As a school counsellor I am struck by how limited children’s vocabularies often are. I can be told of any number of varied problem situations, and when I ask how the child is feeling about it all, the answer is invariably one word, “sad”.

Reading allows a child to enter a safe private world. It is very nice not to be told what to do by adults all the time and instead, for an interlude, be free to learn from imaginary characters. So what is wrong with stories we hear via the electronic media- TV and the Internet? I can best answer this question with an example. I met once with a boy whose life was very difficult. His mother had died when he was very young, and he and his father and sister moved a lot between countries so that it was hard for him to settle and make friends. “I often feel lonely, sad, tired, grumpy,” he said. I asked him what he did when he felt that way. “I play computer to stop feeling lonely, or watch TV, but the feeling comes back when the TV is turned off. I wonder what is worse- sad or lonely- l think lonely.” I asked him if he ever read, and how that made him feel. “I feel normal when I read” he said. Stories nourish and feed the imagination. And if you can dream it you can do it. We can begin to see our own lives as a story or a play, where we are the lead character, and find ways to write the kind of “script” we would enjoy to read from.

Even Einstein said “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.

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Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment