Why is Storytelling Important to Children? In a Digital World.
Do you love stories? I do.
I have actually grown up on stories narrated by my parents, grandparents and aunt.
When none of them was available to share stories I used to read books and weekly/monthly children’s magazines on my own and embark upon fantasy journeys into the settings of the story. With the witty Birbal into Akbar’s courtroom. With Betaal on to the Banyan tree putting King Vikramaditya in ethical dilemma each and every time. With Chacha Chaudhary’s ‘computer se tej dimaag’ solving almost the entire world’s issues with the help of Sabu, the giant from Jupiter.
Stories are the single most powerful source of ideas, solutions, thoughts and emotions. Each story had important life lessons for us. They taught us how to differentiate the good from the bad, the importance of presence of mind, the value of relationships and the importance of virtues like kindness, compassion and righteousness. In fact, these stories had a great role in shaping us into the grown-up adults that we are.
Storytelling is an art. A necessary one. Which I believe is slowly vanishing in this era of nuclear families and working parents. With the increasing number of juvenile crimes and child abuse cases around, I believe storytelling needs to be re-introduced into our everyday life to help them learn and be wiser.
The ‘Happiness Curriculum’ was launched on Monday, 2nd July, 2018, by the Dalai Lama at an event attended by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.
At the launch, the Dalai Lama said, “Modern education focusses on material values and has nothing to offer regarding inner peace. Only India has the ability to combine modern education with ancient knowledge which is necessary for fulfillment of human emotions.”
He added that India can become the modern Guru by reviving its ancient knowledge and combining it with modern education.
Kejriwal, meanwhile, said the launch of the course is the first step towards overhauling the entire curriculum. “The current education system focuses on making students mug lessons and write exams. I don’t think it focuses on making good human beings,” he said.
Here are the few benefits that I personally see in storytelling for our children.
- Helps connect with their roots and culture – Stories from epics like Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Bible or Quran, all have important lessons that help the child be aware of our rich culture, traditions and customs prevalent in the society.
- Instills moral values in them – Stories with a powerful and meaningful message helps inculcate values like honesty, wisdom and courage in them from a very early age.
- Enhances their vocabulary – Reading stories to your children can help them learn new words and phrases and improves their language and its pronunciation. Children relate to the words better and thus they are retained in their memory for long.
- Encourages Creativity, Innovation and Problem-solving skills – Storytelling helps a child imagine the various characters, their mannerisms, the plot, the places etc. It makes them more creative, imaginative and open to ideas and free thinking.
- Best Memory Sharpening Tool and Mind Game – Asking questions after every storytelling session and discussing ideas about what different endings a particular story could have, makes the children use their imaginative mind, retain it for a longer time and also helps sharpen their memory.
- Increases Learning Ability – Storytelling is very interactive in nature. As a story progresses young kids ask questions, which is a great learning activity. It helps make children curious and encourages them to ask questions because it makes them think. Kids learn to associate images in the book with the story and this develops their imagination and visualization capacity.
- Improves Listening Ability – In this age of competitiveness where everything is about speed one has a very limited attention span and lacks concentration. Stories helps children pause, focus and listen carefully. It helps them be more attentive and keen to learn and understand. When a habit of listening to stories is introduced in them, they learn to become better listeners. It provides them the necessary training to listen more instead of talking more and understand better.
- Physical presence and bonding – What do we remember of our childhood and the storytelling sessions by our elders? It’s the presence of that elder (parents or grandparents), the feeling of being cared for, of being looked after, being protected, the touch and feel and the question and answer sessions. The art of storytelling has suffered a hit after the introduction of online stories on Youtube and other compact devices to young children. The visual affect is appealing but it takes away the physical and emotional bonding time between the child and the other elders in the family.
- Encourages development of emotions and feelings – In this digital age of infinite number of television channels, internet and gadgets, the child loses the maturity and ability to feel. Storytelling is real, interactive and has a pace that makes it easier for them to feel the real emotions behind a certain behaviour of the character. The additional option of letting them stop and ask questions, helps them understand it better and be more and more imaginative. It helps them see the various endings a certain story can have.
- Broadens Horizon – Stories from various cultures and countries help them understand the world better, accept and embrace people easily. Including stories from various cultures gives children a broader understanding of the world.
I also asked some parents on what they feel about storytelling and its introduction into the curriculum. I was amazed by how most of them remember and rejoice the childhood storytelling sessions with their elders.
Vineesh Kumar, a father of two, says his favourite memory is of the days when he along with his friends would sit in a circle and either their grandmothers or one of the children themselves told a story and the interactive sessions thereafter. He says that the current day Potter stories are no match compared to those little stories from Amar Chitra Katha that made them think and instilled values.
Chandrika Kumar, my mentor and a retired school principal, says that she learnt to love with all her heart and also turned out to be a rebel because of the stories she heard or read as a child. She loved reading to her children and they learned the value of caring and loving. She believes that storytelling must be introduced for the pre-primary and early primary stages in their school curriculum.
Tanuja Chandra, an IIT-IIM who chucked the software industry and chose to teach millions, says that the stories she heard from her parents and grandfather were the best part of her childhood memories. She believes that many of life’s values came to her through these stories. She loves reading stories to her daughter and believes that it helps her value people more. She says that it has helped introduce reading habit and helps her mind stay more focussed. “In times when a lot is going wrong around us, keeping children constructively occupied is very important”, she said.
“Stories that I heard from my elders made me more idealistic”, says Desert Fox (name changed), an Army Major, a father of two. He now shares concocted versions of stories that he believes have made his children more creative and imaginative.
Uma Govindan is an avid reader because of her love for stories. Her favourite being the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. She loved imagining herself as George. A mother of two who still enjoys reading to them, she says, “It gives an insight to them. Helps them understand that everything doesn’t happen the way they think and the way they wish. There are ups and downs, success and failures, and one doesn’t shy away from failures.”
“The stories I heard from my Valliamma during school vacations made me more spiritual and imaginative”, says Nisha Menon, a mother of two. Her favourite stories were from the Arabian Nights for their genies, magic carpets and magicians. She loves sharing stories with her girls and believes that it helps them cultivate imaginative and divergent thinking.
Ritu Gupta, a working mother, says stories didn’t help shape her in many ways because there was hardly anyone who would tell or read stories to her. She learnt mostly from her own experiences and surroundings. But she loves reading stories to her daughter and believes that it makes children curious to know more and more about different aspects and perspectives.
With all this I believe our educators and policymakers do introduce storytelling as part of the school curriculum and help inculcate moral values and ethics in our children. As a parent and as a human being I believe we must focus more on passing on values than stressing on the score card and making them dangerously competitive and less humane.
Education, even at the school level is getting very competitive. Amidst all the tensions and rush for grades, the emotional state of the pupil is often forgotten. Delhi governments new move, therefore, is most welcome as they have introduced meditation, moral education, mental exercise and prayer into the curriculum to produce “sarvagun samapann” (including all qualities).
Manish Sisodia announced that the Happiness Curriculum will be taken up beginning from nursery to class 8 in all Delhi Government schools. The curriculum will be taught to eight lakh students from July onwards. The Happiness Curriculum is ready to be launched and will be taken up beginning the next academic session.
The Delhi Government’s introduction of ‘Happiness Curriculum‘ in government schools is a welcome initiative. Looking forward to seeing how the Happiness Curriculum shapes. Also, I hope that private schools too wake up to the importance of the happy child. There is an urgent need to speak to the inner child in every child that feels neglected and suffocated with the academic pressure.