Stories have been around for centuries―I’d even go as far as millennia―in our culture. Fact or fiction, through words we have chronicled events, our own or otherwise, with great or even zero enthusiasm. Stories are an event or occurrence retold and that, dear reader, has more to do with life and how we live it than you know.
Storytelling teaches us to understand an event, why characters act the way they do, what motivates them and why what happens happens, all while encouraging empathy and good moral judgement as we question not only what we’re told but what we’re not told too. In short, it fosters understanding and curiosity.
Likewise, being read to improves our imagination and memory, among other things, but we’ll get to that later. So, should all children fill their little minds with stories? Let’s take a look...
Children and stories: a wealth of resources
Did you ever find yourself glued to a good book? Celebrate the victory of the Three Little Pigs? Dream of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house? Try to find some magic beans? Or wonder how long Rapunzel’s hair must have been for the Prince to climb that enormous tower?
When children read or are told a story, they don’t just hear words, they imagine them too. They construct their own reality. Because even though stories are usually more or less the same, regardless of who is telling them, each child has their own version. That’s right ― that little person already has their own special way of seeing the world! A world in which the Wolf might talk in a screechy, high-pitched voice, where the Grandmother might be rocking a hoodie and sweatpants or where Rapunzel has curly hair.
Not only that, but just as it does in adults, storytelling gives rise to a latent curiosity that leaves children wanting to know more. Couldn’t Little Red Riding Hood have taken another path? Why were two of the Three Little Pigs so lazy? And what if we have some magic beans in amongst our lentils and chickpeas at home? The greater the information, the greater their decision-making. So while enhancing a child’s creativity and analytical skills may seem an arduous task when they start asking “why?” every five minutes (sometimes less!), long term they will become resourceful, independent and able to solve problems in imaginative and practical ways.
Inspiration, messages and mythology
Reading inspires. Putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, such as Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, builds meaning, teaches us how to face adversity (the classic narrative crux) and gives us the tools to never give up. As Ramon Llull explained, words help us to understand ourselves; stories unite and give meaning to life. If life has no meaning in itself, we give it meaning with our different realities, because there are stories no matter where you go. All you need to do is look.
This meaning is fuelled by messages, and morals are the result. So what can be learned from the spoken and written word? The Ancient Greeks did it with mythology, where religion became philosophy, philosophy ethics and ethics education. Because that’s what reading is all about: it’s educating, it’s understanding, it’s thinking. Ultimately, it sets us free.
From the imaginary to the tangible
Imagine a five-year-old you faced with War and Peace or The Lord of the Rings. A sea of letters and words―mostly incomprehensible―spanning 1,300 pages without a single visual reference except the cover…maybe. You’d have said goodbye to reading and never looked back, and all you’d have read today would be the odd 240-character tweet, tops.
Unfortunately, this is not unusual. In fact, it is more and more common to see children square-eyed in front of a screen while their caregivers go about their daily chores, sure that their offspring are happily absorbed in something. Because images are easy; images take away the task of decoding the message, using your imagination and replaying the story in your head. But watch out! They’re a trap, so be careful. Okay, okay… they’re not all bad. Just don’t let that bright little mind go to waste! How? Swap the screen for a book, and not just any book.
For little ones, novels and illustrated stories are nothing new and it is no coincidence that they would rather watch cartoons than read. The former provide the full package: moving images, sounds and an easy-to-follow plot. But there’s one thing that screens can’t match: the pop-up book, an elaborate work of paper engineering that tells a fascinating story. Something than can be touched, smelled, has depth and, dare we say it, is a unique and original option for modern-day kids, given the circumstances.
So leave the TV, Twitter, Tolkien and Tolstoy behind (for now) and introduce your little one to reading in style. Make it easy, dynamic, palpable and fun. Say goodbye to cables, batteries and loud noises. They all have their place, but today it is time to read.