Telling stories and reading are invaluable assets in the classroom and at home. I am lucky enough to have come from a family that encouraged reading from a very young age and some of my earliest memories are of going to the library.
I believe we are all aware of the importance of reading with children, especially those learning a second language, as it develops connections between the reader and listener, stimulates imagination, and increases the use, development, and understanding of vocabulary and language.
In a preschool classroom, reading and telling stories can be used to introduce a theme or topic, teach social and emotional lessons, to help children relax and focus, or for general entertainment.
What I’d like to talk about is telling stories to encourage different skills. The specific experience I have with this topic is with children aged 3-6 with a variety of language skills. I am sure, however, this could work with younger age groups too, to a certain extent.
“What did you do this weekend?”
One of the first activities in circle time on a Monday morning – after having gotten those wiggles out – is discussing our weekend activities as a class.
I began including the question “what did you do this weekend?” in circle time to encourage recalling events, listening skills, and social skills.
Beginning with this question, those who wish to share put their hands up and then take it in turns to talk about their weekend.
As teachers, we elicit information and encourage the children to talk and share more.
This is especially important for children who are learning an additional language. By telling stories, speaking, and playing, children can use and hone their language skills in a relaxed way. As teachers, we can ask leading questions to help them continue their stories and their peers do so as well.
Recalling information is an important tool in child development as it helps children increase their memory. This is very useful later in children’s academic careers when new information needs to be learnt, remembered, and used, for example, in maths.
Storytelling enhances and encourages recalling and memory in a fun and relaxed way – I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme here with the best ways for children to learn.
I had two girls in my class last year who had the most amazing social lives. I’m not kidding. Every Monday they would tell us the stories of their weekend, much of which they spent together, and all the fun things they did. Most notably, one morning we were discussing transport and travel and got onto the topic of hot air balloons. One child raised her hand and said “Hayley, I want to say something about my weekend”, I asked “does it have something to do with transport?”, to which she answered yes.
Her story was about a hot air balloon ride that she had taken with her parents! I was so jealous! It transpired that this hot air balloon ride had not taken place at the weekend, but she connected recalling this story with our question “what did you do at the weekend?”.
One of the big things that I work on with my preschoolers is confidence and I have found that telling stories is such a good way to encourage and work on confidence with children.
I’m sure, as adults, that not all of us are comfortable speaking in front of big groups or standing up to say something in front of our peers. However, I have found that sharing stories and sharing events has helped some of my shyer students immensely.
Time for another story. I once taught a child who could be very shy, and her mum initiated many conversations with me about her confidence. It’s true, the child was very shy with new people – especially adults – but really thrived being in the company of her friends and this is where her confidence was able to blossom. I was lucky enough to have her in my class for three years and, to my astonishment, one day when she was five, she asked if she could stand up in circle time and talk to her friends about her holiday.
You may think me overdramatic, but I was genuinely brought to tears by the child presenting shells from her trip to the beach. She took each one out of her bag, explained who found each shell, where they found them, and then encouraged her classmates to hold the shells to their ears to hear the sea. The cherry on the cake was when she began to engage more with the class and ask them if they had any questions for her! This particular child always told me that she would like to be a mummy when she grows up, but after this, she said she’d like to be a mummy and a teacher 😊
Listening and concentrating are not always easy things to do for children and this is something we, as teachers, work on throughout children’s school careers. However, children do get used to listening to their teachers as they see them as an authority.
I like to work on children’s listening skills concerning one another. We work on this while teaching independence by encouraging children to talk and listen to each other to solve problems.
Encouraging listening skills further, once children are used to recalling their stories, weekends, or holidays, I encourage children to ask their own questions.
It’s great to see, as a teacher, children taking control of their learning based on what interests them and I have sometimes completely foregone much of a lesson as the children were having interesting group discussions.
How it works is that a child would recall their story, ask “does anyone have any questions?”, then choose a peer to ask a question. In all honesty, when I have done this most recently, the children often ask about food! “Did you have ice cream?”, “did you eat pizza?”, “did you go to a restaurant?” were frequently asked questions!
This ties in with listening skills but I include this as a separate section to talk about how simple activities like telling stories can help with social skills. Not only does telling stories encourage children to speak and listen to each other, but it also encourages them to practice social behaviours like eye contact, asking relevant questions, and giving everyone time and a chance to speak.
Remember my small friend that I mentioned in a previous post, the one who went to see Frozen 2 every weekend? Though he always shared the same story, some of his classmates asked him different questions about it every week: “did you have popcorn?”, “What kind of popcorn did you have?”. Clearly, food is a very important topic for me and my preschoolers!
I will again refer to a previous post where I speak about “The Cheeky Monkey”. This was my most recent class and we managed to keep the story going for six months. The story of the cheeky monkey wasn’t told every day, but we used to do it at least once a week.
How it works is: I introduce a character to the children and tell a short story about some events that happen. They can be small things, or they can be silly and over the top. The key is, however, to offer the children choices about what can happen next, for example:
“Cheeky Monkey was wandering around the zoo looking for friends to talk to when he saw that one of the lion cages was wide open…what do you think happened?”
The children would then, with encouragement, try and add parts to the story. The Cheeky Monkey’s trials and tribulations sometimes got quite out of hand, but this aided the children in remembering the story for next time.
The story often ended on a cliff-hanger and we would leave it for another day. When it came to telling stories about cheeky monkey again, I would ask the children to remind me where we left off. Though it had been a few days or even a week, the children were very often able to remember the key details of the story and were eager to continue.
As much as themes, topics, and milestones are important in preschool, I believe that the skills encouraged and practiced by telling stories should be included in every classroom and not overlooked.
Here’s to the next generation of storytellers!
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