The Value of Storytelling

From the corner of my eye, a hand shot up and a tiny voice after much thought said, ‘My night-light.’ The boy, no more than three years of age, was sat on the floor with his father. ‘Good idea’ I said. I was mid-way through an audience-led storytelling show and had asked for suggestions on what we should pack for a storytelling adventure. It was at this point that the suggestion was made. Suitcase packed and we were off.

The tradition of telling a story aloud is much more than the simple speaker-listener dynamic suggests. The word telling indicates a one-way process where the storyteller speaks, and the audience listens. But the telling of a story is much more of a shared experience where the story develops based on how the audience is responding to the story being told. In a room bustling with children the importance of this becomes even more apparent.

Regardless of the venue, whether we are huddled into a festival tent on a rainy day, in the warmth of a library, or sat on the carpet at a nursery school, the factors to consider are much the same. Is the pace working? Do we need to slow the story? Too little intonation or too much? Is the vocabulary pitched at the right level? Anyone left out? Do we need to switch between words and actions? Add pause to let a thought grow or throw the voice to build energy? None of these are known until an audience is in front of you but all these things can be adjusted in the moment to help children feel happy and confident to join in at their own pace. That pace may be listening quietly or with hands-up to share a story idea.

Listening to the rhythm of a story lays the foundation for reading: listening to the sounds, listening to the meaning, exploring characters’ voices. When a story is told together through listening, through speaking, through the sharing of ideas, big or small, we are all richer for it. The night-light illuminated the way along a tricky path in our storytelling adventure. It was lucky we packed it. Sharing stories together, passing them on, conjuring ideas for our own stories means we never stop learning from each other and that’s the best part of any story.

National Libraries Week