Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Once upon a time…

Understanding the important role that stories and storytelling play in children’s development

Update : 08 Nov 2023, 07:37 PM

The very early years of a child’s life are a crucial period in an individual’s life. Apart from their obvious physical developments, different neurons in the child’s brain are reacting, connecting and forming rapidly. Even social and emotional skills (how a child manages anger, what they do when happy, how they respond to others, etc), personality, and identity are also being formed.

Behind the smiles and the coos, your baby is busy becoming a well-rounded individual. Additionally, children try to imitate what their parents are saying and, through imitation, are well on their way to learning languages, accents and dialects. Research shows that between age three and six is a particularly critical time for children with regard to language development. During this time, children learn to imitate sounds and words, and try to memorize a language. Providing children with a rich selection of stories, full of rhymes and exciting narratives, can foster this developmental period positively.

Many, but not all, stories have elements of fantasy such as anthropomorphic or talking animals, heroes and heroines setting off on grand, other worldly adventures in castles or fighting dragons, and so on. These fantasy elements fuel children’s imagination, which bolsters their curiosity, helps them think about situations and circumstances in unfamiliar settings, and helps to keep their minds elastic and willing to grab new concepts and ideas.

During and after storytelling, children often discuss their empathetic responses. When listening to or reading stories, children utilize both their cognitive and emotional intelligences to stay engaged and enthralled with the content and narrative of the stories.

Stories also create a sense of belonging and identity for communities. Human beings have historically used the method of storytelling and story sharing to make sense of the world around them, to create a purpose for their existence and to have a shared sense of belonging, no matter what age or generation.

By sharing unique tales and rhymes from the community, passed down from generation to generation, children develop a sense of inclusivity, cultural identity and moral development which can foster their socio-emotional development. Transmitting these tales from generation to generation through children also instils a love for one’s culture and community and a desire to retain and preserve traditional practices.

In this busy world, the practice of storytelling and listening to stories is slowly fading into obscurity. In a time of great socio-cultural and socio-economic changes, parents and other family members are compelled by a multitude of tasks and responsibilities and are unable to give proper time to children’s needs.

Children too are forced to abandon the colourful, vibrant, adventures of an old folktale, and conform to the strict, merit-based academic curricula of the modern schools. In the 21st century, there is a steep rise in the use of technology and mobile phones by children.

One newspaper article stated that, in Bangladesh, the percentage of mobile phone users between the ages of five years to seven years is nearly 55.9% or half of the children from this age group. Children are distracted throughout the day through passive engagement on mobile phones, with easy access to short, animated videos during feeding time, before bedtime, or even in restaurant outings.

This is more than the recommended dosage of mobile usage suggested by World Health Organization (WHO)’s guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour (2020), where it was recommended that children below the age of five years should have less than one hour of screen time and focus on more physical activities as well as quality sedentary activities such as storytelling, reading, and so on. These practices not only hamper children’s developmental domains, but create a deep loss of valuable cultural and traditional learning for modern-day children.

In order to ensure that children do not suffer developmentally from a deep loss of cultural wealth, parents, family members and teachers can take some necessary steps:

  1. Creating an environment for storytelling is important as creating a suitable storytelling and reading environment for children will appeal to them. Gifting children with age-appropriate books, with interesting stories, characters, moral lessons, word-play, etc, creating shelves full of diverse and colourful books, and making the time for storytelling and story sharing sessions will help children be more creative, imaginative and also build on their language skills. In schools, there can be increased time for storytelling sessions and children can be encouraged to choose and read out their favourite stories.
  2. Increased interaction between caregivers and children through storytelling will help children gain positive brain development as positive stimulus helps to create more neuron connections in children. Additionally, parents and family members can build a strong connection with their children and create lasting memories for the latter. So, take the time to sing lullabies, or narrate or read a story to your children before bedtime or feeding hours. Even talking to your children about interesting incidents involving family members, and listening to their made-up stories and jokes, can be immensely beneficial. Children will grow into adults and remember the wonderful stories of their parents fondly.
  3. Creating more opportunities for story sessions through the use of modern technology can help introduce children to old stories and rhymes. Through the use of videos and animation, children can stay enthralled and visualise the stories directly. However, while this approach has a variety of benefits, it is always better to tell a story to children or let them read through a storybook. This helps them visualize the whole story, with all its unique characters and plots, in their mind and with the help of their cognitive faculties, which in the process makes them develop their logical and analytical skills.

It is difficult in these tumultuous and hectic times to balance time and resources, but children are resilient and adaptable and the world of stories can be an enchanting place for them to escape to and learn from. As adults, our duty lies in creating more opportunities where children can learn from and thrive in, and we must create more spaces, and make more time for children to engage in stories, folktales, rhymes and so on.

By building such a world, we are opening doors for them to create a better future for themselves and for others. Difficult as it may be, we need to spend quality time with our little ones every day, and stories can create that bridge.

Sarwat Sarah Sarwar is a Curriculum Specialist working in the Early Childhood Development program of BRAC Institute of Educational Development. She has a Postgraduate degree on ECD from BRAC University and over 8 years of experience working on the developmental and learning needs of children living in socio-economically challenged neighbourhoods.

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