My son Dev is now 3.5 years old and although his relationship with books is somewhat hot and cold, I have noticed how his love of storytelling has evolved since he was a baby.
Being a lover of books myself, I introduced Dev to picture books when he was about 6 months old, it is important to read aloud to children. I would choose books with bright coloured illustrations or high contrast pictures and say the name of the object in the picture loudly and clearly. He enjoyed the interactions which in turn encouraged me to indulge him more.
Soon, we had graduated to storybooks with a few words on each page, that were easy to follow and then to books with slightly more complex storylines. Dev cannot read them by himself yet, but he remembers most of them by heart. Once we start a book, he usually leads the storytelling process, retelling the story in his own words.
Recently, however, he has started acting stories out. He imagines himself to be the main protagonist in the book, be it a fidgety fish, a scarecrow, a superhero or an elephant and he creates the world of the story around him, even picking members of the family to play the smaller parts. He remembers the lines from the book and waits for his turn to say them as the narrator (usually me) sets up the scene. I watch entranced as his imagination transforms his surroundings into the world of his favourite books.
Being a storyteller myself, I’ve often wondered about the power stories have over us. What is it about the narrative form that captivates us, that transports us into other worlds, that inspires us to be bigger than we are?
The Origins of Storytelling
In his seminal work, “On the Origins of Storytelling”, Professor Brian Boyd likens storytelling to cognitive play; an adaptation of the human mind which allows us to create unknown situations without actually experiencing them first hand. He argues that, historically, transmitting stories to each other helped us deal with unfamiliarity and changes to our environment better, and thus helped us survive better.
Ancient humans learnt the value of well-timed information and quickly developed a bias for meaningfully structured information. We developed many forms of narrative, art, music, epic. Soon stories became infused with myth, metaphysics and spirituality; useful in keeping humans on our moral toes. Stories allowed tenants of good behaviour to go viral, thus allowing for better cohesion and understanding among men.
Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
Recent research by pioneering neuroeconomist Paul Zak reveals that stories that follow the classical arc structure of introduction – rising action – resolution, trigger the release of oxytocin, the empathy hormone, in the brain. Stories allow us to connect with each other’s plight and joy, evident in the thrill of watching our favourite hero defeat the bad guy or the sorrow we feel as his loved one dies in his arms.
At Appykids, we promote storytelling in many ways. As the world comes to grips with new ways of telling stories, we introduce little ones to the idea of crafting their own, cultivating emotional intelligence. By mirroring their understanding of emotional states, children learn to articulate themselves and their feelings better and are then able to identify with others experiencing similar emotions. We extend this idea to many games and activities, that introduce the craft of storytelling to children.
So as Dev wields his make believe wand in the living room, imagining our houseplant to be a rabbit, I marvel at the ability of the human mind to forge innovative ways of dealing with the vicissitudes of life. Storytelling in all its narrative forms, be it oral, textual or musical, helps us communicate our experiences to each other, making us more cooperative, more tolerant, more capable of taking on life’s bigger challenges. Stories can help children becomes better, more empathetic and creative adults – reasons enough for me to allow my child to fall under the spell of “once upon a time” as many times as he wishes.
About the Author:
Avantika Hari Agrawal is a collector and creator of stories, she spends her time either in Storyland or with her son, Dev, she finds both worlds equally magical.