The magical effects of simply telling a story

“Boo-boo. Hike!” is what one toddler expressed to me with great fervor when he came into the classroom one morning as he recalled his weekend happenings. Though he did not tell me this story with the sophistication and wordiness of a Charles Dickens novel, the same passion existed.

Humans love stories and have used stories to pass on information and knowledge long before history was ever recorded. Tales were and still are used to depict and express the beliefs, traditions, and lives we lead, whether we are 30 months old or 30 years old. 

As early as 24-30 months, children are already learning the art of storytelling through their constantly increasing ability to sequence events, pinpoint actions in time, and identify different characters.

In this post, we will share a bit about the roots of oral storytelling and its relationship in language and social development.

Oral Storytelling

Oral storytelling refers to the act of telling stories through voice and gestures. We organize our lives and connect through telling stories, whether it is talking about something as simple as our day, or recalling a trip we took to an exotic place (Engel 1996/1997, 3). This makes us all storytellers, and we are so, from the beginning. Though it may not seem like it, even infants crave to communicate to listeners, and tell stories and ideas through the use of gestures like pointing, gazing, and cooing (Jervay-Pendergrass & Brown 1999/2000, 25).

Why use oral storytelling?

Telling stories is a bit different than reading a book out loud to your child because it requires (and therefore develops) using their imagination differently as they recreate the story in their mind.

There are many benefits to sharing stories with your child orally: 

  • It enhances the child’s imagination (Aina, 1999) 
  • It increases interaction through eye contact (Malo & Bullard, 2000),
  • It has been found to be more personal and enjoyable than listening to stories being read (Meyers, 1990).
  •  It promotes language learning and reading development (Engle, 2012)
  • Cultural stories allow children to learn more about their culture and routines.
  • It extends opportunities for listening practice (Hibbin, 2016). 
  • It supports creation of an extended self and practice of self expression (Hibbin, R., 2016) (Engel, 2012) 

Not only do children benefit from hearing stories, but they also benefit from telling stories:

  • It contributes to oral language development 
  • It can serve as a reflection tool and “cooling vessel” as sharing stories about things that may have happened can aid in problem solving, healing, and processing concerns or other happenings. (Bruner, 1986, Engel, 2012)

Is my Child too young for oral storytelling?

While they may not be able to verbally tell stories, young children hear you when you tell your stories! They watch faces and sometimes even share reactions such as coos or gestures in an effort to respond with interest. It becomes a matter of depending on you for support in having a conversation and hearing a story. As they get closer to 3 years old, they will be able to contribute to stories and tell stories all by themselves. (Engel, 2012).

Integrating oral storytelling into our lives 

Sprinkle moments of oral story telling by participating and contributing to your child's play to support his/her language development

Oral stories are such a big part of our lives! Below we share some ways to further sprinkle in moments of oral storytelling as well as how to be more mindful while you share these moments with your child.

Meal time is a popular time to engage in stories and conversations.
  • Recall past experiences and talk about future experiences. From talking about what you had for breakfast, to the trip you will make over the weekend, children love hearing about the past and the future from as early as 16 months (Engel, 1995). These stories build a lot of cognitive and academic components such as practice of decontextualized language and narrative development as well as memory, vocabulary, and their narrative and syntactic abilities (Uccelli,et, all, 2018).
  • Participate and contribute to your child’s play. Though there should be times when your child is free to concentrate and play independently, joining them in their play can also be beneficial for building bonds and creating stories.  When your child is using two cars colliding against each other, an adult interactor may say “oh look, your two cars are crashing! They are in a car crash.” 
  • Have conversations. Telling stories requires having an audience that participates and responds to our stories. Your engagement and prompts that lead to stories being shared is just as impactful as any other materials your child interacts with. A popular time to have conversations tends to be when you are at the table, eating a meal (Engel, 2012, Aukrust & Snow, 1998). 
  •  Re-enact written stories. Sharing stories orally with dramatizations can act as one way amongst the others to incorporate storytelling into your child’s life. This allows for higher-level thinking and is motivating to children (Cooper, 1993, Wright. C,, 2008). 

As you can see, storytelling is diverse and unique in nature and also holds beneficial attributes.

What children are exposed to in these stories and conversations builds up your child’s possibilities for development of his or her own voice that will one day reflect their own stories and lives that will go into the world. 

We always love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out and share with us the different ways you incorporate stories into your child’s life or with requests about any other topics you may want to hear about! We are always here! 

Ethos is a new mindset and model for child care and early education for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years in the South Boston, MA Area. We pride ourselves on our dedication to serving our students and families in ways that are research-driven and nurturing to who they are and can become. Request more information online here!  

Till Next Post,
Aleezeh Makani
Ethos Early Learning Center Educator


Aukrust, Vibeke Grøver, & Snow, Catherine E. (1998). Narratives and explanations during mealtime conversations in Norway and the U.S. Language in Society, 27(2), 221-246.

Cooper, P. (1993). When stories come to school: Telling, writing, and performing stories in the early childhood classroom. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

Hibbin, R. (2016). The psychosocial benefits of oral storytelling in school: developing identity and empathy through narrative. Pastoral Care in Education, 34(4), 218-231.

Engel, S. (2012). The Emergence of Storytelling during the First Three Years. Edited from the Zero to Three journal (Dec. 1996/Jan. 1997). Zero to Three. National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, nd Web, 2.

Engel, S. (1995). The stories children tell.. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social research: An international quarterly, 71(3), 691-710.

Uccelli, Paola, Demir‐Lira, Özlem Ece, Rowe, Meredith L, Levine, Susan, & Goldin‐Meadow, Susan. (2018). Children’s Early Decontextualized Talk Predicts Academic Language Proficiency in Midadolescence. Child Development, 90(5), 1650-1663.

Wright, C., Bacigalupa, C., Black, T., & Burton, M. (2008). Windows into children’s thinking: A guide to storytelling and dramatization. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(4), 363-369.