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Stories Matter

July 10, 2024

by Lisa Schalk

Stories are important to children regardless of how old they are – the children or the stories!

With the very young, we need to look no further than our own laps to recognize the joy, connection, and educational benefits stories bestow. Young children love to enter into the world of a book to learn, laugh, explore, imagine, and make sense of the world. As children get older, their identities and the stories they seek out become more complex – helping them make sense of the world. As children become even older and more independent, they can seek out opportunities and experiences that will become their own life stories, guiding them deeply and authentically.

Story writing is a powerful medium of expression for children of all ages, including very young children. Vivian Gussin Paley, a pioneering teacher and widely acclaimed author out of the University of Chicago, built her career on emphasizing the importance of storytelling in early childhood development. A keen observer – and listener – of young children, Ms. Paley wrote 13 books about the social and intellectual development of young children, including how they learn from telling stories, and received a MacArthur “genius” grant in recognition of her work. Her teaching approach involved asking children to describe an event, sometimes with only a few words, and then to dramatize it with their classmates. The combination of story writing and story acting teaches children language skills as well as compassion, fairness, and how to negotiate relationships.

For older children family stories keep their traditions alive, tell their history, and help shape their identities. Shared family experiences turn into stories that become treasured artifacts to children as they make their way toward adulthood, telling and retelling their own versions to themselves and others.

Adventures that older children create for themselves – through jobs, friendships, travel, school, and so on – become stories that go another step further to shape and define identity, often forming the basis for college essays, courses of study, and ultimately even college and career choices.

In a nutshell, experiences have the potential to turn into meaningful stories. And meaningful stories have the potential to shape how we view the world and color our lives. Stories really do matter – know this and encourage your child to read them, write them, and be open to creating them through the life experiences they pursue!

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