Since the beginning of time stories have been the means by which our values, our lores and our way of life have been passed on to our children. Stories in the form of lullabies, nursery rhymes, lap games and fingerplays combined with folktales and fairy tales have helped us introduce our child into the family group, then into our community, then further into the world. They have helped children experience many emotions without having to actually live through them and they have encouraged in them a developing sense of empathy for others.

The reason stories have lasted is because they work, and they work far better than any other teaching method. Stories make wonderful teaching tools – not to moralize, but to empower children to clarify their feelings and values by helping them escape from the narrow viewpoints the world is trying to thrust upon them.

Stories are also a powerful means of developing our child’s emerging emotional literacy, and the indications are that this is what employers of the future will be looking, not how bright our children are but how well he is suited to the workplace, how well he will fit in with the work team and how well he is suited to the role he is to undertake. In fact, educators today agree that it is not how intellectually smart a child is that will determine his school success and his success in later life but how emotionally smart the child is.

Current evidence shows that the pathways that govern emotional responses, the neural networks, are actually formed between six months and three years! So it is you, the parent, (and any other primary caregiver) who is the child’s most important teacher and how the child bonds to these parental figures and how they hear, see and experience the world ultimately governs how they will make sense of his world as an adolescent and adult.

The first three years of the child’s life are in point of fact dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain, the part of the brain associated with the unconscious. So everything we learn in those first years is based on the emotional significance we attach to the experience, in other words we want to re-experience those things that give us pleasure but retreat from those things that are not pleasurable. We learn because something has meaning for us!
James Stevens says “I have learned… that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened, and what the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow.”

When we tell stories to our children we create a very intimate mood, showing them we value them, perhaps they are cradled in our arms or sitting on our laps. They are firstly learning the vital communication skills of making and maintaining eye contact with an adult, as well as are developing their listening skills. They are learning to use their imaginations to form their own mental images of a story and they then using these images to make sense and meaning.

Stories then provide a wonderful platform for discussing issues of emotions and values within a family context, not to mention the closeness it develops in family ties.
A recent study of 12,00 adolescents from 80 high schools across the United States, has found that people who indicated a strong sense of bonding, closeness and attachment to family, regardless of the nature of that family, have lower levels of smoking, drinking, drug use, suicidal thinking and behaviour, risky sexual behaviour & exposure to violence. These adolescents also felt more closely connected with school & teachers (Resnick 1997 & Klein 1997). (Quoted from Halasz, George Cries Unheard; a new look at Attention Hyperactivity Disorder Altona, Vic, Common Ground Publishing 2002

Stories also encourage the growth of imagination (Rosenblatt, 1976; Gallas, 1994), morality (Coles, 1989; Zipes, 1997), self-identity (Chinen, 1996) and the development of healthy self-concepts (Paley, 1990). The links between storytelling and school success found that the key to literacy development was consistent exposure to storytelling and open discussion in both the home and classroom environments. Wellss (1986)

Whilst storytelling has been shown to be a better learning tool, storyreading is a great alternative. Although you lack the immediacy of seeing and following your child’s reactions you do have the books for your child and you to reuse and browse later.

However, when most adults share a book with a preschooler, they read and the child listens. Yet children learn most when they are actively engaged. To help you child become a more active participant in the experience of book reading try becoming the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child. You can do this by

  • Asking “what” questions.

What colour is her dress? What is she doing?

  • Asking open ended questions

How will she find it?

  • Expanding what the child says.

Take your cue from the child if she points to an object talk about it, if she says something reflect
This form of reading is called dialogic reading and is the perfect opportunity for discussing emotions as they are expressed in the story. Now is the time to ask – how does the character feel, How can you tell? Have you ever felt like that? It’s a great time to reassure your child that it’s OK to feel angry, sad or afraid.

This way we also teach our child to see cause and effect, by asking them to anticipate what comes next or asking them what they might do we help them to sharpen their problem solving skills.

The best way to make use of a picture book story is to revisit that book as often as you can over the day (lots of times is not too many, three time is a minimum) and as often as you can over the week, take that book with you everywhere, read while you wait in queues, read it at the park, relate it to what you see around you.

Find colours and objects around you so you can again share issues and ideas in the book. This gives greater meaning to the role of reading; it becomes a lived experience, relevant to what is happening in life. For instance, you might say, “Look! There’s a dog just like Hairy Maclary do you think he comes from Donaldson’s Dairy.

With toddlers, initially you will be telling the story, and then later you can take turns, progressively letting the child take over more of the ‘reading’, you will certainly appreciate this when he comes to you while you’re preparing tea and he wants to read.
Play “what if’s” – what if you were The Ugliest Dog in the World? Help your child get into the minds of the people in the story, try changing the endings, rewriting the story with a different character. Play with it, have fun with it, above all enjoy it and help your child enjoy the experience of it.

I don’t believe in using stories to enhance a child’s intellectual ability, I think story is for aiding in enhancing a child’s full life potential – storytelling is fun. Intellectual ability will flow quite naturally by itself as the child learns to predict, understand cause and effect, builds his vocabulary and his concentration. Just as creative intelligence, auditory intelligence and other intelligences can be enhanced

Reading stories is certainly great for children but it has been found that a well told story has even greater impact, is remembered longer and its truths hit deeper. It’s not so hard to do tell stories you don’t have to be a great performer; your kids will love you just as you are. Most of us can remember the well-known fairytales from our youth. And can easily recall our favourite bits like “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house in” So this is a good place to start, telling stories that come from our own memories. Our children also love to hear family stories, what we did as small children, the lessons in life that we learnt and will ask for them again and again. Tell stories about your daily life as well as personal and family stories, make up stories, flights of imagination that include your child or yourself as the hero.

Tell stories you love, look for stories that contain the three R’s – rhythm, rhyme and repetition, if you want to be able to tell one of the stories in the book read it at least five times, make sure you have the start and finish firmly in mind, memorise any refrains and the just tell it in your own words.

There are many books and anthologies of stories suitable for all ages, make friends with a good book shop and they will point the way to quality books. Or do what I do use your local library, its catalogue is probably now on-line and you could place a hold for items live.

If you want some good books to talk about emotional issues look for these

Koala Lou / Mem Fox
Black Dog / Pamela Allen
Let’s Get a Pup! / Bob Graham
The Ugliest Dog in the World / Bruce Whatley
Remember Me / Margaret Wild
Guess How Much I Love You / Sam McBratney
My friend bear / Jez Alborough
Little Bear makes a scarecrow / by Else Holmelund Minarik
Hug me / Patti Stren

The Bears Lunch / Pamela Allen
Pog / Lyn Lee
Ringle Tingle Tiger / Austin Mark
Jump, Baby! / Penny Matthews
Arabella / Wendy Orr
“I Don’t Care!” Said The Bear/ Colin West (Walker)

An Ordinary Day / Libby Gleeson

Monster Dreams / Michael Dugan
Where the Wild Things Are/ Maurice Sendak

Inside Mary Elizabeths House / Pamela Allen
What I Really Think / Rebecca Berrett

Harriet, Youll Drive Me Wild! / Mem Fox
The Echidna and the Shade Tree / Mona Green and Pamela Lofts.
Dunbi the Owl / Daisy Utemorrah and Pamela Lofts
Wanda-Linda Goes Berserk / Kaz Cooke
That makes me mad! / Steven Kroll

Caps for sale/ Esphyr Slobodkina

Do You want to be my friend?/ Eric Carle (Puffin)
My best friend/ Pat Hutchins (Walker)

Changes Changes / Pat Hutchens (Red Fox)
Giving/ Shirley Hughes (Walker)
The Great Big Enormous Turnip / Alexei Tolstoy

The Hunter and the Animals / Tomi de Paola (Holiday House, OP)

Ouch! / Natalie Babbitt
Locked in the Garage / Cheryl Semple