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From even before our children can talk, we tell them stories. We read books to them and make up our own tales. And as they grow up, we tell them family stories and regale them with stories from their own younger lives.
On their simplest level, stories are entertainment. More profoundly, they teach kids about the world and the people around them.
We tell stories and read to our kids because we know that it helps build language and thinking skills that set them up for success in school and in life. It can also create a love for stories and reading that will deliver joy for a lifetime.
But the power of stories on child development isn’t limited to just listening to them. A love for stories is the first step in the next stage of development – turning children into the storytellers. Telling their own stories transforms a child from a consumer to a creator, and develops higher level skills – thinking, talking, writing, organization. And it can be just plain fun. It doesn’t take much convincing to see the value of children telling stories. But there’s a rich landscape of research that shows the developmental benefits for children.
To encourage children to become storytellers and writers, experts have some recommendations. Foremost among them, make it fun and focus on the communication of ideas, not the mechanics of writing.
Writing in the Reading Horizons research journal, David Hayes from the University of Pittsburgh says to laugh and have a good time and children will, too. He recommends building confidence by moving slowly and celebrating small successes.
Children’s writer R.L. LaFevers says that in her classroom presentations she finds children like to write but that enthusiasm is dampened by the rules of writing. She, too, says to keep it playful. “You want them to get in touch with that intuitive part of themselves that recognizes that writing and creating can be play,” she writes in an essay on Wired.com. Learning the rules can come later.
LaFevers also recommends that parents and teachers give children the room to keep their writing private if they want to. It gives them the space to experiment and risk failure, she says.
Of course, it also helps if children see their parents write, whether it’s an email, a letter or a thank you note. Those bits of writing, often stories unto themselves, show children that writing and stories are an integral part of life.
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