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GUEST OPINION: The lasting power of storytelling

  • 4/4/2011: A1:

    PC: Brayden Leese, 3, left and Caroline Huang, 4, center, listen to children's librarian Kim Endoso read a story during preschool story time held at the Sonoma County LIbrary, downtown, April 1, 2011.

Every child needs storytelling in his life. The personal narrative is the best of storytelling, a form of literature that seems to have gone the way of the traditional telephone. The ritual of the oral tradition, family stories, which can carry over to the personal narrative, has been lost to the current student population.

In my time, storytelling was often connected to school and family. At the end of the school day, our teacher would dim the classroom lights and read from her literature book. Heads would go down, and we would rest on our arms. We would close our eyes and listen to her soft voice rise and fall, describing the dialogue or the features of the story characters taken from Brothers Grimm, Hans Brinker, etc. I can still recite several of those stories verbatim.

The same might be said of Sunday meals when our family would come together: Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would talk about the past and become storytellers recreating their own childhoods or personal narrative, however imperfect they were.

Today's children are losing this valuable experience to electronics and media. Recently, I watched an animated film that was shown to K-6 students at a school's family movie night. It was a wonderful evening as children appeared in their pajamas, holding favorite pillows or stuffed animals as families huddled on blankets. The potential for the development of a narrative that children would someday tell to their own children about the family movies they attended with their parents at the school was in full array.

What was missing with the movie was that there was little or no story line or lasting dialogue for the children to hold. Potential dialogue had been taken over by the over-stimulating graphics and sound that overwhelmed any storytelling.

We might say this all began with "Sesame Street," which was a great visual/auditory aid to the development of reading skills, but it was based on the adult show, "Laugh In." The creators<NO1>, who I had the opportunity to study with as a graduate student,<NO> saw the need to stimulate the child's working memory with short 10 to 15 second bursts of information.

Mr. Rogers was the ultimate storyteller as he softly described his daily personal narrative to his young audience. The end result was not only expanding the child's working memory but stimulating the part of the brain that forms positive relationships with the learning process.

The beauty of the personal narrative is that it can promote emotional and psychological stability and keep our brains regulated. The personal narrative can ground our experience in a linear way and even promote greater problem-solving that can serve as blueprints for a positive emotional identity with our experience and environment.

The combination of a linear storyline and visual imagery woven together with verbal and non-verbal expression of motion activates the left (verbal) and right (visual) sides of our brains.

Teachers are aware of the importance of linking storytelling to reading. Perceptive parents often read to their children at bedtime recreating lasting personal narratives.


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