Tell me a story

Storytelling boosts children’s school readiness skills.

Michigan State University Extension suggests many factors that contribute to a child being school ready. One of them is having competent literacy skills. During the early childhood years parents and caregivers know to spend time teaching the alphabet, giving children experiences in coloring and drawing, teaching them to recognize their own printed name, and of course, lots of reading. However, not to be overlooked as an important contributor to building literacy skills is the practice of oral storytelling, or reciting a story out loud to children without an actual physical book.

Practice these oral skills during early childhood years by reciting favorite nursery rhymes, songs and stories that are memorized by adults and children. Think about the number of rhymes or stories you could recite from memory right now. For example: “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “The Three Little Pigs” or the “The Three Bears.”

Get children up and moving by having them act out parts of the story. For example have the children “huff and puff and blow” just like the big bad wolf, or “taste the porridge,” like Goldilocks. Research shows that by using this method, children quickly develop from attentive listeners to creative re-tellers. Being able to retell a story helps build the skill of story mapping which includes: identifying characters, plot, setting, problem and solution (Palmer 2001). MSU Extension has a great resource you can download on how to make an interactive “Retelling Glove” to use with children.

According to Reading Rockets, an online national multimedia literacy initiative, story mapping is an important skill because it helps improve comprehension, provides a framework for identifying elements of a story and helps build skills in organizing information and ideas.

One study found that storytelling and story-acting practice (STSA) can help promote narrative and other oral-language skills, emergent literacy and social competence. This study, in particular showed how implementing this child-centered, play-based approach can help promote learning, development and school readiness especially for low-income and other disadvantaged children (Nicolopoulou 2015).

Here are some ways parents, caregivers or other family members can add to the rich experience of oral storytelling:

  • Have a grandparent or other elder family member tell stories of when they were young: what was their favorite toy or activity, the house they grew up in, what kinds of clothes they wore.
  • Tell stories about when you were young: what you loved about school, your first bike, your best friend.
  • Tell children stories about themselves: the day they were born/adopted/blended into your family, what comforted them as a baby, what made them giggle the most.
  • Tell stories of family lore: what things make your family special – history, tradition, celebrations.

Remember, not all stories come from books. For many generations the most important stories were the ones that were told, out loud, gathered together in community. Memories are made from experiences and research supports, so are school readiness skills. So go ahead, tell a story.