Part 1. Key principles of early childhood literacy
Part 2. Embodied non-verbal literacies
Part 3. Spoken and written literacies
Part 4. The power of stories
Part 5. Course conclusion


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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.  

Māori are storytellers – always have been, always will be. It’s the way that we capture knowledge, and the way that we share knowledge through generations, the way that we connect to our identity, the way that we connect to others, as well. One of the ways that we do that is in waiata, so capture our learnings, put them in waiata, and we know our tamariki love waiata, and are drawn to waiata. So, I think our tūpuna knew that this was a really powerful way of sharing knowledge, of sharing stories, of sharing language – identity. As we are storytellers, there’s so many different ways that we share stories through weaving and carving, through oral storytelling – so, waiata as I just mentioned, pūrākau which is storytelling, and kapa haka, which is maybe oral and more embodied storytelling. These are all reference points that we can come back to, to draw from, to share stories. So, we have our more physical objects like weaving and carving, which hold symbols within them, and we can draw on those as ways to share stories. Then we have our more oral forms like waiata, pūrākau, which are shared orally.

How do stories and storytelling experiences support children’s learning and development?

So, oral language is that foundation of child development, and storytelling is one of those rich, oral practices, to help build all of those skills. So, through storytelling, we’re building vocabulary, so extending and expanding on vocabulary, either reinforcing words that tamariki already know, or introducing new words. We’re learning the phonemes of a language, so the individual sounds, which might be a ‘k’, a ‘l’, a ‘p’. So, we learn over time that those individual sounds make up a word – those individual words make up sentences, and particularly I think this is important around te reo Māori, where as adults, if we’re not familiar with te reo Māori, it can be difficult to pronounce some Māori words, specifically like the ‘ng’, or the rolled ‘r’ – so, ‘ngeru’ might be a really difficult world for people, but when we hear the sounds of te reo when we’re quite young, then we play with those sounds, as youngsters. We practise them, and then it’s easier as adults around that pronunciation. So, with storytelling, we learn that stories have a beginning, a middle, an end, which is important for reading and writing, for telling stories, for communicating, but also just a general sense … having a beginning, middle, and end helps with communication, and talking and connecting with others. 

Storytelling, as I’ve just said through most of the other korero, really creates that sense of belonging, identity, finding your sense of … providing a sense of connection and belonging to Aotearoa, even for Māori and non-Māori alike. Te Whāriki has strong links with belonging, so storytelling is one of the powerful ways that we can build a strong sense of identity, belonging – a sense of self within Aotearoa. As Māori, we often hear a lot of really negative stories about ourselves in statistics, in the media, but our stories really have such incredible stories around resilience, innovation, learning, being adventurers, being all these different kinds of people. I look to our navigation stories around this. So, our tūpuna traversed and navigated the biggest ocean in the world, a long time ago. There’s this myth out there that Māori drifted to Aotearoa, which undermines, I think, the knowledge that we had around te taiao, around navigation, around sharing knowledge between generations. So, when we hear these amazing and incredible stories of navigation, Māori can look to those stories and go, wow, we’re innovators, we’re navigators, we’re learners, we can be adaptive, we are all of these things – not just what we hear in the media or statistics. So, I think in terms of storytelling and drawing on the stories – our indigenous stories, it really gives – especially for our Māori tamariki, a sense of, oh, I am a learner, learning is fun, I can be innovative and adaptive, and our Māori stories – waiata, whakataukī – are all steeped with those powerful stories and messages that we can share with Māori, to build that sense of belonging and identity, which is also resilience-building.

What kinds of stories can we share with tamariki?

I’m going to go back to an example, again within my own whānau – an experience that I had myself with literacy as a young child. So, my dad used to make up stories – bedtime stories, and he would … me and my siblings would be the main characters in these stories. They weren’t fantastical or wildly imaginative stories. They might be stories about how we went to the beach that day, and looked at shells, what the weather was like – very simple, kind of re-telling stories of what we did that day. This is one of my earliest kind of happy memories of being cuddled up with Dad in the evening, and with my brother – warm, comfy, happy, and relaxed and, as we know, when we’re in this relaxed state, our learning brains are on.  When we go into a stressed state, we go into fight or flight mode, and our learning brains come offline. So, we were in that relaxed space, so our learning brains were online, soaking up that language. 

As we know, young tamariki also learn language from people that they have strong relationships with, so you’re learning much more language from people you have close relationships with, than with strangers, or with people you don’t know that well. So, all of the ingredients are there for a rich language experience, a rich literacy experience – we’re relaxed, we’re happy, we’re within warm relationships, we’re going back to something familiar that happened that day, extending and adding language, coming back to a reference point that we’re comfortable with, because we already know it. It’s building a sense of identity and belonging. So, it’s being reflected back to us that we’re the kind of family that goes to the beach. We have a connection to the moana – to the ocean. All of these things are just – they’re all the great ingredients for rich learning, and language, and literacy.  

So that’s one of the powerful practices that has stayed in my whānau. So, my dad shared that with us, and his dad shared that – used to do that with him. I assumed my grandad did, but I wasn’t sure, and I asked my dad, and he said, oh, yeah – he used to share stories from his ‘make-up mind’. That’s what he would call it. Then, our great-grandfather was an incredible orator, so I know that he used to share that with him, and I’m sure that has just come through the generations. So, that’s one of the examples of – one of the ways that we can share stories, but also one of the ways that we can affirm a literacy practice that has been passed down through generations.  

When I think about other whānau or kaiako in ECEs, I think it lets people know that we can just make up and share stories about anything that’s happening during the day – they don’t have to be flash or fantastical. I know one whānau shares stories about the rubbish truck that comes on Thursday morning. The rubbish truck is loud, and noisy, and the two-year-old’s very interested in this rubbish truck. So, Mum shares how it arrives on Thursday morning, and the rubbish man picks it up. They’re from Malaysia, so she also talks about how it’s different in Malaysia, the way that rubbish gets dealt with, so there’s all this beautiful learning. To us, as adults, it might seem like a boring story, but to tamariki, this is all – the rubbish truck is very new. What is it, what does it do, why does it do it, why is it so loud and interesting?  

Another way that stories can be shared is through waiata. We know tamariki are drawn to waiata, to songs, to moving, and I think out tūpuna knew and understood this, and that’s one of the reasons why we would capture our stories and knowledge in waiata. One of the incredible examples that we have is oriori. So, oriori are waiata written specifically for babies, and within those waiata contain the whakapapa of that child – the ancestry of that child, some of the iwi or hapū or whānau histories, the hopes and dreams that whānau or iwi would have for that child, and within these oriori were some of the most rich poetic and dense language. So, it wasn’t stripped down or done back for our babies. It was, here's the most beautiful, rich language that we can wrap around our babies, so they know who they are, where they’ve come from, and it’s got all this beautiful language in it. So, often shared with babies before they were born, so in the womb, or during birth, and afterwards, the whole whānau or the whole tribe would learn this waiata, as well. Some of these oriori are really old, and have been passed down through generation and generation. What these oriori tell me is that our tūpuna understood that babies were wired for language-learning – they were wired for language-learning in the fact that they didn’t strip this language back. It was so dense and rich, but they knew that laying the foundation of this language with babies, even before they were born, was the way of laying a foundation for language, identity, culture, knowing who they are, and growing into the kind of person that whānau wanted them to be. So, a really incredible practice and way of storytelling with our really young tamariki, and through waiata.

Delve deeper

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.   

Storybook reading

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

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.    

Angela: I think stories are important as a foundation, because it’s how we primarily communicate with each other. Even as adults when we talk to each other we’re sharing stories, we’re sharing anecdotes, we’re sort of enjoying each other’s company and presence, and you’re really building that relationship. Yeah, even when the children are very young, and they can’t do the traditional verbalising their stories, they’re showing it through their facial expressions, their gestures, their body language, their songs, their tone of voice. It’s just the way of kind of communicating and getting to know one another.

What kinds of stories can you share in ECE settings?

Angela: We share a lot of small stories throughout the day. So, even when the child gets dropped off, and we talk to them a little bit about, what have you gotten up to, and they might just say, ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. We can extend over that and go, ‘oh, yeah – Mum dropped you off – she’s off to work – bye, Mum’. Those kinds of things – just again, extending on their knowledge and understanding, their vocabulary. It’s just also a nice way to keep building that relationship between us, between the families.

Irene: Stories also that come from books, so we read a lot of stories to the children. So, they often get the chance to choose what book they would really like the teacher to read to them, so they get that book, and we read stories from that book. Stories also that are through songs, because there’s a story in the song. So, we know what songs they like, for example, the songs in their own language so we play that one. Stories from conversational stories like what they are doing, we describe what they are doing, so that’s also a story for the children, or maybe stories that are shared by the parents, so we extend on that, we build on that story that’s mentioned by parents, and then we describe it to the children. So these are just some of the stories that we build on.

Angela: And also, just because of the pictures around the environment of past experiences, as well. That’s another story to sort of build on, what was happening previously – remember when we went to this, or pictures of when we went to Te Papa, and you played with this. They just get excited to get see their friends, and they talk about their names, and so they just say, ‘this is Emma, this is Mia’. They just get very excited. It’s nice to see that enjoyment, because that’s also an important part of telling stories – enjoying being with each other, and talking with each other.

Irene: I remember you made the book. Angela made the book that has the pictures of the children. It’s a book about the farm, so who’s behind the door – who’s behind the horse?  Then, behind that would be the picture of the children, and the children really love it, because they’re able to identify the names of their friends there, and they’re happy to see their photos in the book. So, that’s really a good – it’s a hit. It’s a good resource.

How can teachers actively support children’s learning about and through stories?

Jodi: My favourite type of story is oral storytelling. I love it because there’s lots of gesture.  There’s lots of expression, and there’s lots of opportunities for interpretation. So, we do a lot of oral storytelling. We often do the process by introducing a book, or the child will introduce a book to us. We’ll read it a couple of times, so children become really confident and familiar with it, and once they’ve understood the concept of the book, then there’s opportunities where we will dress up and act the story out, so children can see that language is not always through conversation – it’s definitely through body language, and those facial expressions, which really supports those non-verbal children. Once the children have become comfortable with that process, we offer props and resources, and the opportunity through the child-led programme for children to go and access these whenever they like.  We have noticed on many occasions, children will dress up and re-enact the story, and it gives them the opportunities to re-interpret what they’re hearing – to really strengthen those sounds, the words, and develop their own sentences, and start structuring things together that maybe us, as teachers, have never thought about. So, giving them those opportunities to be really expressive and free to become really curious is really important. We’ve just seen children thrive with confidence, to engage in conversations willingly.  

Kelly: We also branch that out into other curriculum areas to provide other opportunities for children who may not have that confidence to do that yet. So, for example, we’ve just been doing a project, and we had the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so what we did – we re-enacted it, we’ve done all that with them, but to provide other opportunities, we brought it out … so a curriculum area which everyone is familiar with is playdough. So, we had provocations set up with the playdough, with the characters, and we had a teacher intentionally sit there, and the conversations that flowed – the children who might not have had those conversations before, in front of the large group, were able to sit there in an intimate small pocket, and express themselves verbally, using playdough, and the props that we provided. So, it just shows that there’s so many ways that you can introduce the storytelling, in many mediums. Having art experiences with that same Jack and the Beanstalk, the children creating the beanstalk, and the characters, using those open-ended resources that we obviously have in our kindy, which we’ve talked about, having things – acorns, leaves, all of that as well – by providing that, they’re able to use art to story-tell, and verbalise what they’re creating, as well.

Delve deeper

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

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

Supporting specific competencies through play

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

First Signs

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

Storytelling threads

A blog and treasure trove of ideas for sharing stories in ECE settings by Evelyn Davis, ECE teacher and storyteller.