National Storytelling Week
By Aimee Haldron, Joanne Boustead, Michaela O’Callaghan and Laura Jones
Once upon a time, storytelling was a way to pass the time, and now National Storytelling Week is a time to celebrate and promote the sharing of stories. Running this year from 29 January to 6 February, it’s a full week dedicated to sharing stories from all around the world to encourage more storytelling. There are ample amounts of resources available to parents and teachers to help promote this and to get children engaged in storytelling.
As opposed to reading, storytelling is all about sharing stories, whether that be through writing, reading stories out loud or performing. It is bond-building, community-defining, and a beautiful way to develop a child’s imagination. It helps to improve a child’s listening and communication skills and helps to build a shared experience between reader and listener. Moreover, Farshore’s ‘Stories and Choices’ research study opens with a very positive assessment of storytelling: “Reading to children is a powerful way to encourage them to read for pleasure. Children who are read to daily by their parents are much more likely to be independent readers themselves.” Storytelling is not only about connection and the positive experience of sharing stories but also has benefits to the literary and language development of children.
Storytelling in the Age of Technology
However, what about storytelling in the modern age? As we attach ourselves to screens, is it harder for the act of storytelling to survive?
Catherine Heinemeyer argues that storytelling has “an endangered status in the classroom” because of an overemphasis on “active learning” in education and the mistaken belief that listening is a passive act. Heinemeyer argues that “we need to challenge the idea that pupils listening to a story are in a passive (or non-learning) role.” Our society emphasises the importance of engagement through activity, playing educational phonics games or using digital whiteboards. However, technology can also encourage storytelling and help it to thrive.
A growing number of apps have been created to replicate the benefits of storytelling. Some apps help encourage children to become storytellers themselves, creating their own plots and action points. Other apps serve as a replacement to traditional storytelling. Nighty Night is an example of this type of story app. Designed for children between the ages of one and four, Nighty Night is an interactive bedtime story where your child is tasked with putting the barn animals to bed. With soothing narration and sweet lullaby music, the app encourages children to turn out the lights so they can get a good night’s sleep. Having proven popular, the app was awarded ‘App of the Year’ by Apple and has since gone on to create two sequels: Nighty Night Forest and Nighty Night Circus.
In the age of advancing technology, there are now so many different ways for children to consume stories and other content. During the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, author visits to schools became impossible, but with the technology available today, there were other ways for authors to interact with readers. Multiple authors chose to livestream reading their books in an effort to still connect with readers. Through technology, authors were able to tell their stories and interact with children in a time that was shrouded by so much uncertainty and the absence of school environments. An example of this is the Seven Stories Authors into Schools digital event programme. Between September and December 2020, they were able to reach over 12,000 children in sixty-two schools across the UK. Events were live streamed through a YouTube link, meaning that multiple classes could join in and have a shared experience despite social distancing regulations.
Finally, there is the topic of audiobooks. Audiobooks have seen huge success in the adult market. However, whilst there are reports that audiobooks haven't seen the same success in children’s publishing, audiobooks are becoming more and more common as a way of engaging with stories. According to a National Literacy Research Report from 2020, two in five young people say that listening to audiobooks has made them more interested in writing. The act of listening to audiobooks has encouraged young people to become storytellers themselves.
Furthermore, you can easily compare the benefits of listening to audiobooks to listening to real-life storytellers. An article called “Listen and Learn: why audiobooks are great for your child” (an interview with Irene Picton from the National Literacy Trust) states that audiobooks “teach [children] about voice and expression, which can help with their own speaking and articulation.” Certainly, audiobooks can even promote a shared experience if several children of varying abilities can all engage in the same story, or if a parent and child can listen to the same audiobook together. Audiobooks can almost be considered a positive development in storytelling, with the rise of audiobooks representing a return to the oral storytelling of the past.
Oral storytelling is rooted in our past, but it is also very much alive in the modern age. Happy National Storytelling Week!