In honour of the Society for Storytelling's annual National Storytelling Week (running from the 26th January to the 2nd February this year) and World Storytelling Day (on the 20th March) we wanted to investigate what oral storytelling is and its benefits for children. To do this, we enlisted the help of three of the UK's leading professional storytellers to teach us a little bit about what they do and why they love storytelling.
Andy Copps is a London-based professional story-teller and story-maker but has visited schools and organisations around the UK to showcase the power of storytelling. As a member of the Society for Storytelling, Andy knows exactly how to explain the intricacies of storytelling and its origins. "In simple terms, storytelling is the telling of a story, usually to a group of people. The main difference between telling a story and reading a story is that when the storyteller tells the story he does so by describing memorised images in his mind. When the narrative is interwoven with dialogue and actions, the story becomes powerfully real. The term used is the 'Mind's Eye' where the storyteller will invite the audience into the story and each member of the audience will not just hear the storyteller's voice but will see the story unfold. The beauty of this is that each person will imagine and see something totally unique.
Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication and education; and one could say it is inextricably instinctive to us as human beings. We have been telling stories ever since we have been able to speak, draw pictures or dance. There should be no surprise then as to why storytelling is so popular with all ages."
Vanessa Woolf is also a London-based professional storyteller and uses the history and folklore of London to inspire her storytelling. She loves sharing the magic of stories with children in the schools she visits and she's shared with us how she came to be a storyteller and what her first storytelling experience was like.
"Storytelling has been my passion, my obsession and my living for many years but there was a time when the idea of remembering and telling for a full TEN MINUTES felt almost impossible!
My first terrifying experience of telling a story was in a school. It was my son's class, he was five and I desperately didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of his friends.
I'd practiced the story (Jack and the Beanstalk) about a hundred times. The teacher introduced me and I looked at all these children on the carpet and they looked at me... I took a deep breath and... to my joy and amazement they listened. Intently. By some magic the story had become real to them, as if it was happening right now. Without coaxing, they began chipping in with helpful ideas and comments. I didn't even have to explain the "actions" that I'd planned, they were already waving and stamping their feet at the perfect moments!
The teacher was delighted and used the session to introduce the topic of Traditional Tales. The class went on to read different books about of Jack and the Beanstalk, and they loved it because it felt "real"."
Wendy Shearer has a great range of storytelling experience from schools, festivals and events. Her repertoire is drawn mostly from her Afro-Caribbean heritage and specialism in ancient Greek literature and mythology. She has seen first-hand how important storytelling is for children. "Oral Storytelling is a powerful social activity which encourages children to connect with language and develop confidence in articulating their ideas. Both the listener and the teller are given the freedom to question and explore through this shared experience. The magic of storytelling comes alive as each child has a unique response to what they have heard, allowing them to let their imagination run free. Storytelling strengthens and supports literacy by widening children's vocabulary and improving their communication and listening skills. In this way, Storytellers are inspiring the next generation of readers and writers."
Vanessa Woolf sees the impact of storytelling on children as truly magical. "Our brains are wired to understand narrative, and this means children can understand complex ideas if they are told as part of a story. Kids who struggle with speaking and listening will find a story easy to access... above all they find it fun! That's why storytelling is a perfect gateway to more advanced reading and written texts, whether picture books or Chaucer.
Live storytelling connects powerfully with listeners. It's no accident that people describe it as mesmerising or enchanting. The storyteller wields huge responsibility: you are accessing the most powerful part of the human mind: the imagination. During a storytelling session, you and your audience journey together, travelling in an imagined world. Characters and places become solid and real as they are described. This process is described as magical because it actually IS."
1. Storytelling is the greatest stimulus for imagination. There is a wonderful quote by Albert Einstein of "Imagination is more important than knowledge". I am constantly amazed when I run story-making sessions with children, which requires interaction and participation, by the raw imagination and original ideas that are contributed. The power of storytelling is truly magnificent and makes learning so relevant and so much fun.
2. Storytelling not only results in the enjoyment of reading but it strengthens the skills of listening, speaking, writing, observing and visually creating. My particular favourite is when I open the floor to children to share a story. I never struggle to get eager volunteers and often surprise teachers and parents, when the 'quiet child' is in the front of their class holding everyone in suspense.
3. Storytelling develops emotional intelligence and enhances wellbeing. It brings people together and creates an environment where the listener can empathise with the storyteller or the storyteller's characters in the story. The fact that the storyteller is able to tell their story and that there are people willing to listen intently without interruption bodes well for the storyteller's self-esteem and wellbeing. A quote that I have written and used quite often is as follows "People of all ages have a story to share and all it takes is for someone to listen".
Oral Storytelling events are ideal for encouraging imagination and building confidence in children. If you’re looking to host a storytelling event or to find out a little bit more about storytelling and how its benefits for your class or youth group, you can get in touch with Andy, Vanessa and Wendy through their websites and follow them for updates on Twitter.