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Tell Tales! Natural Born Story-Tellers

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Everyone enjoys a good story and the sooner we teach our kids to start spinning their own yarns the better.
Imogen Clyde reports

Have you ever wondered what it is about the promise of a story that has us sitting up in our seats? Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.

The truth is, storytelling is at the very heart of human interaction, we literally talk in stories. Every day we each tell, and listen to, hundreds of stories: ‘I had such a weird dream last night; You’ll never guess what happened at work today; I met so-and- so this morning, and she said: Remember that family who lived at the end of our street who…’, and so on. Between teller and listener, a symbiotic relationship exists; we need to tell, and be told, stories.

Why is that? Well, it turns out sharing really is about caring. As individuals, it’s impossible for us to be in more than one place at a time, and so we look to each other to share our experiences of the world. Anthropologists tell us we most likely began telling stories as a way of educating or warning others about the beneficial or dangerous situations we encountered. Author Lisa Cron, in her book, Wired For Story, believes story is what first enabled us to visualise what might happen in future situations, and prepare for them.


It seems our brains are hardwired for story and that we use stories to make sense of our world. When information is shared, our brains look for the story in the content, rather than the content in the story, in order to make sense of that information. This is because our brains look for the familiar amongst the new when attempting to assimilate new information. Combining the new with what is already known – familiar places, people or situations – makes the brain more susceptible to accepting and storing it.

Long before we recorded information about the world around us by writing it down, we stored it in our brains, committing it to memory in story format. Studies by Stanford University have proven that when we hear or read information delivered as a story, we’re 22 times more likely to remember it than if we’re just given the bare facts. Consider for a moment, how you remember the origins of the sandwich or the wellington boot. It’s most likely due to the stories you heard about the Earl and the Duke, and the reasons for their inventions.

Story affects us in ways that fact alone doesn’t. This is because the human brain processes imagined experiences the same way it does real ones. Psychologist Pamela Rutledge says story creates genuine emotions and presence (the sense of being somewhere) as well as behavioural responses. A story has the power to immerse us in a situation we’ve never been in – and are probably never likely to be in – enabling us to experience it, see it, feel it.


When my brother and I were little, our mum would snuggle up next to us and say: “Alright, tell me a a story.” The tales we told her were thin versions of whatever picture book or early learning story we were reading at the time. But what seemed like just a game to us was really a fantastic learning opportunity. She was teaching us to translate the information and knowledge we had picked up throughout the day into words. Put simply, she was training us to be creative thinkers.

Children are imagination machines, and encouraging them to tell stories teaches them to harness that imagination and build upon it. Afterall, creativity is like a muscle – you have to use it to strengthen it and keep it strong. Story opens the door to our very own private holodeck, and kids love the sense of freedom they find therein. It’s fun for them to begin a scary, romantic or fantastical tale and to control what happens – to work out how the prince escapes the tower or the princess slays the dragon.

Dreaming up stories can be an enjoyable extension of a game of make-believe; it can also be a way for children to explore any issues they are experiencing in a space they can control and feel comfortable in. When children tell stories they capture and express who they are. Storytelling is a lot like shaking a bucket of stones; the act of doing it brings the largest, the most poignant of our thoughts and emotions to the top.

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The best way to learn a skill is to do so in context, and story narration enables kids to practise and improve their grammar and ability to construct sentences in a fun and authentic way. Learning through doing – or in this case speaking – supports what is learnt in the classroom from worksheets and in textbooks.

Likewise, telling stories encourages children to widen their vocabulary. The more words they have at their disposal, the more confident they become about putting their thoughts into sentences.

The ability to tell a story fosters a love of words and language, which in turn helps children develop good communication skills. More often than not, it also leads to a love of reading – something children will be enriched by for the rest of their lives.


Children require reassurance and confidence as they take the path to independence. Being able to invent their own stories and discovering that their ideas count builds their self-esteem. It also validates their thought processes. Sometimes kids doubt their ability to learn or explain things, so having someone actively listen to what they have to say gives them a huge confidence boost and makes them feel better about themselves as learners.

Everyone benefits from being heard, and every time you have a conversation with your child, you are strengthening your relationship. Helping them tell stories in their own words provides a springboard into fun and meaningful dialogues.

When we interact through story, we don’t just share information, we share ourselves, our feelings, our opinions, thus making the messages we send not merely factual, but meaningful to those around us. The stories kids tell when they’re really young come straight from the heart; personality shines through in these stream-of-consciousness storytelling exercises and the experience is something to treasure – and record.

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