Storytelling has been around for probably as long as humans have, and it’s also part of the reason human are still around.
The first storytelling we can date is the cave paintings from 30,000 years ago, which detailed a tracking and hunting scene, describing how to successfully secure food for the tribe.
The Waldorf Academy, an alternative elementary school, leverages our natural human talent for storytelling to accomplish similar goals: teaching your children the fundamentals of what they need to survive and thrive.
We’ve come a long way since pre-historic storytelling, which we see as cave paintings and some small figurines or funerary art.
Those were almost all designed to teach a valuable lesson or to help early cultures explain why things happened.
In his book, The Story Of B, author Daniel Quinn describes a theory about the early rise of storytelling and why we consider it to be so important.
He suggests it has something to do with the skill of animal tracking.
Based on only a single piece of evidence – a tuft of fur, a few footprints, some droppings, or a few scuffed leaves – a tracker had to piece together a story about that animal to discover how to track it down.
Was it scared? Relaxed?
Was it running or walking?
Was it already captured and killed by another animal?
The narrative a tracker put together was a story about that animal’s life.
And the better a storyteller you were, the better able you were to bring meat back to your camp.
Thus, the camp’s very survival was directly tied to its storytellers.
Stories are how lessons were taught in ancient civilizations, and it was most often done through an oral tradition of storytelling, perhaps around the communal fire.
These early examples finally were transcribed, once writing developed sufficiently to keep up with language.
However, there was once a time when bards would have to memorize thousands of lines of story in order to relay it to younger generations with integrity.
In time, these stories and fables were adapted and turned into plays, where all walks of life could listen and enjoy, not just the small few who knew how to read and write.
The printing press made stories more available, and then cinema helped develop stories even further.
Nowadays we have the internet to deliver our stories to us, including in byte-size ways, such as Instagram and Facebook Stories.
How Storytelling Changes The Brain
The physiological response to storytelling is quite fascinating, and comes from how a story captures our attention and then transports us into the world of the characters.
Transportation happens when a story captures our attention, and it describes how our brains start to experience similar emotional responses as the characters in the story.
This is how stories can help bring people together: because once you can imagine yourself in a character’s place, you might be able to do the same thing with the person in front of you on the subway, or in the grocery store.
This is how stories change your brain: you begin to develop empathy skills that allow you to engage with more people – different people – on an emotional level.
These are the fundamentals of the ‘virtuous cycle’, because those who develop empathy and emotional relationships also start to help people, and this service has been proven to make people happier.
Why Is Telling Your Children Stories Good For Them?
Stories are how humans learn, no matter whether young or adult; think about the last time you learned something…was it from staring at data, or was it from having the data put into a narrative for you?
Children learn through stories in all their forms – storybooks that are read to them, books they read to themselves, even movies and TV, when well written and produced.
Stories expose children to information they may not otherwise have access to – for instance, they can read the story of a distant culture, or a historical event.
1. It’s Relaxing And They Enjoy It
Reading a book before bed – or being read to – is a good way for kids to wind down at night, because it means they can let their bodies relax, while allowing their minds to exist briefly in the fantasy world of the story.
Having this mental break at the end of their actual day, with all its ups and downs, puts them squarely back in the realm of possibility, which helps them cope with stress.
It also helps create routine for your child, which is another helpful method of coping for kids, while also solidifying books as an important part of their everyday.
2. It Helps Them Use Their Imagination
Developing a child’s imagination helps them to assimilate new ideas, new concepts and new personalities into their view of the world.
It doesn’t even matter whether the story is a work of fantasy, of fiction or of fact – they learn from all of them.
It helps them to understand their place in this world, and to broaden their minds about what is possible.
3. It Helps Them Understand Their Own Feelings
We’ve already talked about how stories change the brain by helping children develop empathy.
When they are transported into the world of the characters – transportation – they are able to imagine how that character must feel, and why they would be feeling it.
Children are very adept at bringing that back to the world around them, and learning what feelings are appropriate in a given situation.
As well, through stories, they learn to communicate those feelings, and better describe them to their parents and others with whom they have close emotional relationships.
4. It Boosts Their Confidence
Children who enjoy a good story often do so because they learn from the characters, the plot line, and even the details of the stories they hear.
Stories are a natural, time-honoured way for humans to learn, and children can absorb so much from a good story, that it helps them feel as if they lived through it themselves and have learned the same lessons as the protagonists (or antagonists).
Having this experience of living through a story’s characters help children to feel as if they’ve learned something valuable, and that is what contributes to confidence building – they now know what to do if faced with similar circumstances, as well as understanding their own place in the world.
It’s a powerful feeling.
5. It Increases Their Vocabulary
It should be no surprise that vocabulary expands the more a child reads, or is read to.
Young brains have such plasticity that they have been known to even extrapolate meaning of words, simply by hearing them used repeatedly.
Don’t put aside a book just because you think it may be too advanced – remind your child to stop you if they don’t know a word, and consider asking them to recap what they’ve just heard you read so that you can gauge their understanding and interest.
Contact Waldorf Academy
At the Waldorf Academy, we use stories to teach children the topics that are a part of our curriculum, because they allow us to teach more complex ideas, and to teach them from different points of view.
Stories capture our students’ attention, which is vital for instruction, and this is why a Waldorf education is so much more impactful.
If this article captured your attention, reach out to us and book an appointment to hear more about the Waldorf Academy, and what we can bring to your child.