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Art to Heart

Storytelling with Young Children

“Stories have been a part of almost every culture in the world. And why? Because they worked. It’s a way of passing on your culture,” says Rebecca Isbell, director of the Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development and professor of early childhood education at East Tennessee State University. “Storytelling is a very powerful technique.”

What are some of the benefits to children of hearing stories told to them in early childhood?

The time from birth to age 8 is a critical time for oral language development, Isbell notes. Storytelling also develops visual imagery skills, as children must visualize what they are hearing as opposed to looking at illustrations in a book. Stories are also wonderful ways to learn about different cultures and people and to introduce moral and social issues.

Memory and Understanding

Isbell has been interested in storytelling throughout her career—she did her college dissertation on the effect of storytelling on young children’s language development. The Child Study Center also did a research study comparing the effects of story reading and storytelling on the intellectual development of children. “We found that children who heard stories told to them, without a book, with the eye-to-eye contact of the storyteller, that the children remembered those stories better than the ones they heard read; that they were actually able to internalize the pictures, create the stories for themselves in their heads, and remember the sequence of events much better than when they were read the story using a picture book where they focused on the pictures in the book.

“We also found that they had a better understanding of what the story was about; for instance, the moral of the story,” Isbell said. “They could tell you more about what the moral was than when they had a story told to them. So it’s a really fascinating area to look at and one that I think we need to study more and use more as teachers.”

Find Out More

  • Rebecca Isbell has written several books on storytelling for young children. She is also co-author, with Shirley C. Raines, of Creativity and the Arts with Young Children, which has ideas and information relating to all the arts disciplines. Her Dr. Isbell web site has information about her books along with activity ideas and links.
  • The International Storytelling Center web site has a variety of information and resources about storytelling, including information about the National Storytelling Festival held each year in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

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