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Our Culture of Storytelling

Updated: Jun 17

“If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy stories. If you want them to be even more brilliant, read even more fairy stories” Albert Einstein

Storytelling has long been a passion within Magic Garden. This article presents some practical tips that parents can use to make storytelling and bedtime routines at home rich and memorable.

From an early age children demonstrate interest and enthusiasm for stories. It is a feature that is common across all cultures and is by nature an interactive experience. An educational programme based on storytelling supports social skills; enhances imagination and cognitive development; and expands the creative potential in young children. Our teachers all develop their own way of telling stories. Children are engrossed in stories and songs at mat time. Through this engagement children are experiencing an environment where verbal communication is a source of delight and amusement.

The video shows a professional development session for our teachers at Magic Garden run by Didi, our team leader for the Over Two Room.

The audience engages with the teller, the story and with one another. Nicolopoulou (1994) describes storytelling as a personal connection that “generates greater cohesion and solidarity among children”.

The main value of storytelling is as a catalyst for inspiring the imagination. According to Cooper, Collins & Saxby (1992) “the ability to visualise, to create images in the mind, is at the very heart of storytelling, not just for the listener, but also for the teller”. Your child's participation in storytelling sessions allows them to build on their own imaginations and capabilities for retelling a story or creating their own stories through other media. Phillips (2000) found that children demonstrated the ability to absorb and recall a storyline through discussions, drawings and other media. It was found that children often incorporated scenes or characters from the stories spontaneously into their play, often involving other children and using language rich in new words and sayings.

This can be enhanced even further when the time is taken at the end of the story for discussion and asking questions like ‘what might have happened next?’ When storytelling is supported by a range of extension activities, children are able to process what the story tells them. According to Britsch (1992) this is most effective when the range includes a drawing/writing area, a block play area, a dramatic play area and a talking/discussion area that includes books, pictures and or props. This encourages children to choose and explore according to their interests and provides enough scope to match individual children’s needs.

Storytelling can also inspire children to explore knowledge. They can be a reference point for interpreting what the world is all about. Vandergrift (1980, cited in Raines & Isbell, 1994) explained this value of story with the notion that each experience a child has with a story builds on previous interactions and provides a structure for stories that will follow. Learning potential is further enhanced when children retell a story after listening to it.

“Oral storytelling is the great, great grandparent of written language” Tania Batt. Storytelling is an effective bridge to early literacy when adults actively encourage children to articulate the stories that match their drawing and document them in print. Children then realise that stories come from within themselves and that written language is an accessible tool.

Storytelling, as distinct from reading stories aloud from books, inspires children to use their imaginations and engage creatively with a range of different media. It also cultivates language and social skills and provides a link to early literacy development. There is a social aspect when children re-enact the story and negotiate who performs and directs the play. This enhances children’s listening, comprehension and speaking skills. It builds awareness of story structure and of the beauty and rhythm of language. It can also lead to them creating their own stories.

Storytelling offers the teacher many opportunities to be a provocateur of children’s thinking. We plant the seed and follow the children’s lead, offering them a listening ear and support to build on their knowledge and skills.

Much inspiration can be taken from the richness of stories from our own and other cultures. Batt (2006) describes how people have told stories since the beginning of time. There are myths, legends and folktales that characterise every culture in this world as people have sought to understand something about themselves and the world they live in by asking age-old questions and answering them with stories. Where did we come from? Why do we grow old? What is the purpose of life?

Children need to hear stories, and they need the wherewithal to tell them for themselves as well as to transform them. They borrow lovely phrases, plot twists and characteristics; they adopt, adapt, and invent. Evelyn Davis, 2014/15

Some practical tips to get you started in storytelling...

What should I tell?

Find something you really want to tell, something you love, are excited about and really want to share. Herein lies the passion – the best storytelling involves the heart. Choose a story you enjoy and the pleasure will be contagious to your audience. You do need to think about the suitability of your story to the time and place. For young children the story structure should be clear and straight forward. It should include repetitive patterns and opportunities for children to contribute and join in. There should be substance and integrity to the story. A useful guide is the story you tell children should be worthy of being passed on to their grandchildren.

Is it ok to tell fairytales and legends?

There has been debate in recent times about the suitability of fairytales for young children. Criticism ranges from concern about the depiction of violence and negative stereotyping to worry about the escapist fantasy of these stories. Joseph Campbell said “the trouble with this world is that everyone reads everything so literally.” Fairytales go were reason does not dare. They are not instruction manuals for operating the DVD player. They are metaphors that operate on a much more subtle level. Sharing traditional fairytales teaches resilience in lives where we are guaranteed to constantly meet challenges, desires and disappointments. These stories confirm that the willingness to engage with all that life has to offer us is in itself the greatest heroic act. (Batt, 2000)

Rehearse your story out loud before you tell it.

We learn how to tell stories in the same way that we learn how to walk. It’s a strange and mysterious unfolding. It’s good to be familiar with a story before sharing it, otherwise your hesitancy and lack of confidence will undermine the experience. (I find a good time to practice is in the car on the way to work, and reciting it quietly just before falling asleep.)

Don’t worry about being “word perfect”.

An oral story is a living thing – it moves and changes as you tell it, evolving over time. There is no single “right” way to tell a story. Each person’s telling is unique. It’s inseparable from how we experience ourselves and the world about us. That’s what makes it such a rare and precious gift.

Creating a storytelling space in the center.

Storytelling can take place anywhere: playing with the dough might lend itself to a telling of the gingerbread man; you can tell your stories outside or inside but there are some tips to keep in mind. Keep clear of doorways and walkways and find a spot where there are likely to be minimal distractions. If the group is smaller it’s good to be on the floor with them (or you may negotiate whether children sit on your knee.) If the group is larger a small chair is useful so that you are a little way off the ground, but not towering over the children. You can use your imagination to create a storytelling bower, or have something distinctive that invites curiosity and enthusiasm (eg story basket, magic box, etc).

Keeping children interested

Hopefully your choice of story will help you. As mentioned before, strong stories with

clear simple patterns, repetition and plenty of opportunities to join in, will hold young

children enthralled. Vary the pace, tone and volume of your voice. Whispering some

parts, singing chants and refrains, characterising your voice, and most especially, making eye contact with the children, draws them in to the story. Children are engaged by the novel and the familiar so including places, names and experiences that are familiar to them is a good way to maintain interest. If children become restless or distracted, gain their attention with a question or something physical for them to do with their bodies (like a clap or a specific movement). A playful quality is essential in storytelling – it should be fun! The energy you carry into the story

will be matched by the children.

What are suitable props?

The wonder of storytelling is that you really only need your voice and your imagination. However a carefully selected item can add an element of intrigue and an extra dimension to the story, especially for infants and toddlers. A prop could be an object that prompts the idea of a nursery rhyme or jingle (e.g. a little teapot, a mouse, a star, etc) or a series of props that support the flow of a story (a story basket). Materials can allude to realities – re-evoking, narrating or representing them – in personal multi-sensorial memory processes, connections of a sensory character. Encounters between children and materials are generally extremely rich in suggestive qualities, memories and meanings, without much intervention on the part of the teacher. Vecchi, 2010.

Puppets are another medium for telling stories. There are several styles of puppet to choose from – glove, finger and 3D all have a context. It’s important that the storyteller remain present and visible while using a puppet, don’t disappear behind a screen.

Musical instruments and stories can be a magical combination. There is added complexity for the storyteller, but the added ambience created by sound effects can be dramatic and memorable.

Storytelling sacks (magic boxes)

A story sack is like a treasure chest filled with promise and surprise – an audible feast. A story “bone” is a signifier: an object that provides you with a starting place for a story, e.g. a grain of wheat reminds you of the Little Red Hen or a spider reminds you of Incy Wincey Spider or Little Miss Muffet.

Children’s storytelling boxes

Children enjoy having their own storytelling resources that may or may not mirror tales they hear from the teacher. Children enjoy taking turns to tell the story. “Every story a child tells, acts out through play or writes, contributes to a self portrait – a portrait that they can look at, refer to, think about and change; a portrait others can use to develop an understanding of being the storyteller.” Engel, 1995

In summary

The best way to promote children’s storytelling is of course to tell them stories, submerge them in a language-rich environment. Tell them stories, read them stories, sing them stories – joyfully and enthusiastically. The more stories children hear, the more ‘story smart’ they become, and we have laid down the foundations to early literacy. Children have a playful interest in repetitive sounds and words. They become familiar with aspects of language such as rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. The format of story (beginning, middle and end) is built into their experiences. Te Whāriki


Batt, T. 2006. Storytelling and Story Making with Young Children. Playcentre

Publications. Auckland, New Zealand.

Phillips, L. 2000. Storytelling: The seeds of children’s creativity. Australian Journal of

Early Childhood, 25:3. 1-5.


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