In this final part of the course, we consider one of the most powerful and important aspects of literacy for human beings in all cultures of the world: stories. Stories support children’s social, cultural, and emotional development as well as cognitive learning. All cultures have stories, but stories are not necessarily shared by individuals or groups in the same way. Whilst some of us might equate stories with books, other people and cultures may give priority to oral storytelling, stories enacted in embodied ways, or stories shared through objects without words. Again, this underscores the need for teachers to learn in partnership with families about the story experiences children bring with them from home, and their knowledge of stories shared with them via different languages and cultural resources or practices.
In this section we will consider:
- Why stories are an important aspect of literacy for children in early childhood settings
- Different ways that children might experience stories in early childhood settings in oral, written, and embodied ways, including their role as storytellers
- How early childhood teachers can support children’s learning about and through stories
This will involve:
- Watching a video in which Hana Tuwhare describes how stories connect children with their culture and identity
- Reading about the value of stories for learning and development
- Watching a video in which the teachers from Elim International Kids and Stokes Valley talk about the many ways they share stories with children and their families
- Reflecting on the role of stories and story-telling in your own centre
- Trying out some different ways to tell and share stories with your focus child and the other children in your centre
Revisit your learning so far
What aspect(s) of spoken and written literacies did you focus on last week with the child in your setting? What actions or changes did you make, and what did you notice as a result?
By now, you will have started to form a holistic picture of how your child of focus (and other children) learn about and through multiple literacies, often combining different forms of expression at the same time. Stories are a common and well-loved part of our culture and everyday interactions in early childhood settings, and are shared not only through books and reading, but also through oral storytelling and embodied actions. In the following interviews, we hear from teachers and experts about how they engage in stories as an important part of supporting literacies their settings.
Watch a video
In this video, we hear again from speech-language therapist and Talking Matters Community Activator Hana Tuwhare about her views on the role of stories in supporting children’s early learning and development, and the kinds of stories she has observed in family homes and early childhood settings.
Hana talked about the diverse forms that stories can take in Māori culture, including waiata, oriori, photo albums, made-up stories, and conversations about everyday things (like the rubbish truck!). Stories are expressed in a variety of different ways, and in the context of warm relationships with people that pēpi and tamariki know and trust. This is why it is so important to learn from families about the stories they share at home, which will often be shaped by particular cultural or intergenerational practices.
Hana also explained that, through stories, children learn about their belonging, identity, and histories, as well as what it means to be a learner. In addition, she explained the power of stories in supporting oral language development through children hearing and learning to pronounce phonemes (sounds) in te reo Māori, understanding and using vocabulary, and putting words into sentences. Children also learn about narrative structure and sequencing ideas through stories that have a beginning, middle, and end.
What kinds of stories do you share with children in your early childhood centre (such as books, oral storytelling, role-played stories, songs, conversations, and Learning Stories)? Can you think of stories that represent aspects of home languages and cultures for particular children?
Read The role of stories in literacy development, about the role of teachers in supporting children’s stories in early childhood settings.
The role of stories in literacy development
We are a story-making species. Story is how we document our lives. It is our history; it is our herstory. It is how we form our identities as families, as communities, as nations. It is how we shape what we do and it determines how we react to people with different stories. Story is communication, but it is more than that, it forms us. Joy Cowley, 2018
The above quote by renowned children’s author, Joy Cowley, sums up the important role that stories play in our lives. Stories are important aspects of cultural learning through which children learn to make meaning and sense of their experiences and the world. Children are immersed in the stories that surround them from birth, or before, in their family home environments. Children learn about themselves and their identities through the stories that they hear and tell.
Stories are diverse
Stories are found all over the world, but there is no one way to share stories with children. Stories might conjure up images of adults reading books to children, but stories can also be conveyed through oral storytelling, songs, dance, role play, folktales and legends, everyday conversations, jokes, and Bible stories. In some cultures, artefacts such as traditional carvings, drawings, textiles, and weaving are also examples of ways that stories might be shared with young children in their communities.
Stories encompass embodied, oral, and written literacies
Stories are an important aspect of literacy for all children in ECE settings. Stories are diverse and situated in culture, encompassing embodied, spoken, and written forms of making and sharing meaning. Reading books and oral storytelling are two ways that teachers can share stories with children in ECE settings. Children are also storytellers and actors, and it is important to allow them opportunities to initiate and communicate about the stories that matter to them during everyday play and conversations.
Stories might take many forms for making and communicating meaning in ECE settings, including oral, written, and embodied modes. They might include action songs, prayers (karakia), everyday conversations, mark-making and art, pretend play, animal/vehicle/puppet play, Learning Stories, and book reading. Children follow stories through watching and listening, and engage in storytelling themselves using their bodies in space as well as gestures, noises, facial expressions, eye contact, touch, and words.
Research has consistently shown that shared book reading between adults and children has benefits for children’s oral language development, as well as their executive function skills. Reading books together can support aspects of learning such as joint attention, listening comprehension, memory, vocabulary, and narrative telling and retelling, as well as facilitating social-emotional relationships. Responsive, reciprocal interactions are fundamental to supporting children’s learning during shared book reading. Sharing books with children in a way that encourages conversation, or ‘dialogic reading’, is one aspect of rich, responsive storybook interactions with children. Key features of dialogic reading include asking questions, providing opportunities to talk about the pictures, pausing to give children opportunities to talk about the story, and extending upon their ideas. In contrast, reading books to children word-for-word without inviting children to actively participate in the story interactions has fewer benefits for children’s developing oral language and early literacy.
Oral storytelling is common in many cultures of the world, and it continues to be a highly valued practice for young children in indigenous communities, including Māori and Pasifika ECE contexts. Telling and re-telling stories can also support children’s oral language and socioemotional development. Evidence shows that stories involving talk about the past, or `reminiscing’, can also have positive benefits for children’s vocabulary, phonological awareness, narrative skills, and emotional development. Many children love to hear, tell, and re-tell stories about themselves and people, places, and things that they know well. Learning stories are one potential resource for supporting children to talk about their past experiences, situating the child as a central character in the story being re-told.
Children as storytellers
Teachers and parents play a crucial role in reading and telling stories to children, but it is important to remember that children are storytellers too. Even before children can talk, they make signals through their embodied gestures, noises, and eye contact to tell us things. Children are competent and capable of observing and participating in stories in many different ways, such as play. Helicopter storytelling, based on the work of early childhood educator and researcher Vivian Gussin Paley, is one approach to supporting children as storytellers and story actors. It incorporates embodied, spoken, and written literacies and children share their stories using whatever language they have, sometimes using only a single word and actions. Teachers invite children to tell their stories, writing the stories down so the child can later enact their stories with their peers.
Reading and telling stories is a critical aspect of early literacy development for young children of all ages, starting in early childhood. Teachers play a vital role in providing opportunities for children to engage in stories, as well as intentionally ensuring story-sharing interactions that foster and extend social relationships, oral language, and understandings about the world through oral narratives and books.
To read the referenced version of this review by Dr Amanda White, click here.
What are your thoughts on encouraging children to be storytellers, or partners in sharing stories? What strategies do you use to support children to take an active role in sharing stories in your early childhood setting?
Watch a video
Listen again to teachers Irene, Angela, Jodi, and Kelly talk about specific ways they facilitate stories through everyday interactions with children in each of their early childhood settings.
In this video, Irene and Angela talk about how they share stories with infants and toddlers in embodied and verbal ways. Stories take many shapes and forms in their setting, including ‘small stories’ and conversations about everyday things, stories told through songs, and using photos and pictures to retell past experiences. Stories are also shared through a wide variety of books, including home-made books containing photos of the children and their friends, such as the lift-the-flap book Angela made for children at their centre. Angela and Irene’s examples illustrate that stories are a way that we communicate and enjoy spending time together, and through stories we build relationships in meaningful ways.
Kelly and Jodi highlight the importance of stories for encouraging children’s creativity, curiosity, and confidence. Stories might take many different forms such as oral storytelling and sharing books, as well as opportunities to listen, explore, and re-enact stories using embodied actions and gestures, props, and other media. Kelly’s example of Jack and the Beanstalk, for example, demonstrates how they used playdoh to offer provocations and extend opportunities for storytelling beyond the initial book reading and re-enactment. Building on the story in this way also allows children to have further conversations with teachers and peers in a smaller and more intimate space beyond the whole group setting.
Hana and the teachers from both early childhood settings talk about sharing stories with children in many different ways. Stories incorporate aspects of embodied literacies, as well as spoken and written literacies. Teachers can support children to be storytellers by providing a wide range of opportunities engage in stories throughout the day, as well as access to props and provocations that allow children to re-enact and create new stories of their own.
As a teacher or teaching team, what are your strengths in sharing stories with children? What ideas or strategies would you like to try out, or develop further?
Relate your learning to practice
Over the next week, plan to try something new around the sharing of stories with your focus child. This might include:
- making time for sharing small stories with the child and family at drop off and/or pick up times
- building in conversational stories with the child during routine moments (such as mealtimes or changing clothes/nappies)
- sharing stories through books and action songs
- reading a book and then acting out the story using costumes and props
- talking about photos or videos of past experiences
- making a book with children that has personal relevance to them, perhaps using their pictures or photos
- sharing stories using a variety of art materials and media
Think about what resources you will need, and what your role should be in supporting children to tell or enact stories. In what ways could you offer provocations to children to extend their opportunities for storytelling over time in your early childhood setting?
In Part 4 we have explored the following ideas about stories:
- Stories are a critical aspect of literacy in early childhood settings
- Stories bring together embodied and verbal aspects of making meaning
- Stories are a way to connect children with symbols of their own and others’ cultures, underscoring the importance of partnering with families to learn about stories shared at home
- There is a multitude of ways that stories can be shared – books are important, as well as oral storytelling, music and songs, conversations, photos, and a variety of different media
- Storytelling can be fostered when teachers plan ways to support children to tell or enact stories in many different ways in early childhood settings
Further reading and resources
Recommended books and articles
Davis, E. (2020). Helicopter storytelling. He Kupu: The Word, 6(3), 3-7: this article explores the use of the Helicopter Storying approach in an ECE setting.
D’Silva, P. (2020). Literacy beyond mat-time: Bringing stories to life. He Kupu: The Word, 6(3), 8-13: this article highlights the ways that teachers can use picture books to extend literacy learning.
Reese, E. (2013). Tell me a story: Sharing stories to enrich your child’s world. Oxford University Press: a book about the importance of family storytelling, which is also useful for considering story practices in ECE settings.
Te Kōrerorero | Talking Together: a resource for strengthening effective teaching practices around early communication, oral language, and literacy
See in particular:
- pp. 26-29, Reading and oral language
- pp. 33-36, Storytelling and oral language
The Education Hub guides
See story activity ideas in the guides: Reading dens and Story time! Great stories available as audiobooks for your children
Share with parents: Reading at home together: Tips for parents of young children
ECE Seminar Series, University of Auckland
Connecting and communicating through stories: presentation on recent findings from two doctoral research studies on stories in ECE settings by Joanna Williamson and Amanda White
Developing literacy skills: Tips for reading books with children who are deaf, which includes good advice for all children
Reading resources that support New Zealand Sign Language
A blog and treasure trove of ideas for sharing stories in ECE settings by Evelyn Davis, ECE teacher and storyteller.