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Art of Story Telling Telling Stories Children Dos Donts Telling Stories

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by. Children especially are fascinated by stories. While telling stories to children, it is important to remember that they will benefit more from a dose of reality than from fiction or fantasy.

Though fantasies have a tremendous hold over the minds of very young children, a young child’s mind is not mature enough to reap the benefits of fantasy namely stimulating creativity, creating visual images, kindling imagination etc. It does not have the ability to discriminate between fact and fiction. Nor does it have the vocabulary to process the kind of analogies and metaphors that unreal stories are full of.

Things to remember while telling stories to children:

Here are some guidelines that should be remembered while telling stories to children.

1. Instill the right set of learnings: A child’s mind is very absorbent. It will start believing in whatever is being fed to it, without the filter of fact or fiction. Because of this kind of indiscriminate absorbing, stories should be based on facts and truths so that the child does not imbibe the wrong set of learnings. Otherwise such learnings become difficult to undo later on.

2. Prevent settling for fantasy than truth: Fantasies and fictions are full of powerful visual and mental images. A very young impressionable mind is likely to find these images so fascinating that they might get hijacked by these rather than by the truth. They might settle for the fantasy because the fantasy is so captivating. The search for the truth could get short-circuited. Therefore while telling stories to children, fantasy must be avoided.

3. Avoid encouraging wrong pretend-play: All children reinforce their learnings by pretend-play. This is natural and cannot be controlled. When they start living out false stories, there is likely to be a reinforcement of the wrong set of values and principles, some of which can be detrimental to later development. Therefore, always tell stories to children that are based on real life heroes and incidents so they have the right role models.

4. Remember, the effect of false stories cannot be measured: Stories that are based on fantasies and fiction are in the realm of the immeasurable. So there will be several ways of interpreting it. It will be difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of what children have learnt because of exposure to certain kinds of stories. This is likely to render further building of knowledge tentative. Therefore, while telling stories to children, avoid horror stories and stories with themes that are in the realm of “grey”.

5. Ensure that learning opportunities are not compromised: Ensure that stories will facilitate the following learning opportunities for children.
a. Children learn better by relating to real life experience. Ensure that stories provide opportunities for children to benefit from experiential learning.
b. Ensure that the stories help build children’s vocabulary. Stories have the power to instill the right usage of words, in the right context. Besides, these contexts will be repeated in real life, which will help reinforce the learnings from the stories.
c. Ensure that the stories help build the children’s repertoire of knowledge, the kind of knowledge that will help them build a better model of reality. Falsehoods and fictional intelligence will not constitute intelligence.

6. Encourage questioning: A child’s mind is a questioning mind. This curiosity will be sufficiently satiated through the art of story telling if it is based on reality. So ensure that the stories open up the gateways for healthy topics to continue the process of learning for children.

7. Don’t upset the child’s world: Children have an inner sense of order and consistency. When this contradicts with what they see happening in the real world, their sense of confidence in what they have learnt will be rendered tentative. This is what will happen when children hears stories that are never played out in real life. Therefore always tell stories that will reinforce the child’s image of reality.

8. Build strong mental models: Children are always building models of the real world and live out their lives and interactions based on these mental models. When a child bases his mental model on false stories, his mental model of the world will be wrong and so will the child’s interactions with the world. Therefore ensure that the stories help children cast scenarios where they can figure out the dos and don’ts in a situation.

Story telling should have a positive effect on the development process for a child. It should not have mere entertainment value. It should also have information and reality values.

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