What is Storytelling and why is it so important?

Earlier in the year, i felt very privileged to be asked by the UK book retailer, The Book People, to contribute to their blog “Why is Storytelling important to children” over the National Storytelling Week. In that article I contributed to the questions of “What is Storytelling?” and “Why is Storytelling important?”

I have finally got round to actually sharing the same content on my blog as I still get asked to explain the importance of Storytelling.

Before I get started, let me clarify from the outset that ORAL STORYTELLING IS NOT READING A BOOK and certainly not just important for children. IT’S IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE.

So then, what exactly is Storytelling?

It is one of the most ancient forms of communication and education and one could say it is inextricably instinctive to us as human beings. We have been telling stories ever since we have been able to speak, draw pictures or dance. There should no surprise then as to why storytelling is so popular with all ages

In simple terms, storytelling is the telling of a story, usually to a group of people. The main difference between telling a story and reading a story is that when the storyteller tells the story he/she does so by describing memorised images in their mind. When the narrative is interwoven with dialogue and actions, the story becomes powerfully real. The term used is the Mind’s Eye where the storyteller will invite the audience into the story and each of the audience will not just hear the storyteller’s voice but will see the story unfold. The beauty of this is that each person will imagine and see something totally unique.

Without a book to hold, I find am able to connect with my audience by looking into their eyes, I can use my body to create the gestures, movement and facial expressions to help the audience connect with me and feel a part of the story.

Why is Storytelling important?

There is a Latin phrase “Omne Trium Perfectum” that I have come to appreciate as a storyteller. It translates to “Those things that come in three are perfect”. Three is my preferred number for sharing information and so I am going to share my top three reasons as to why Storytelling is so important.

1.    Storytelling is the greatest stimulus for imagination. There is a wonderful quote by Albert Einstein of “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. I am constantly amazed when I run story-making sessions with children and adults, which requires interaction and participation, by the raw imagination and original ideas that are contributed.

2.    Storytelling certainly leads to an enjoyment of reading but it strengthens the skills of listening, speaking, writing, observing and visually creating things.

3.    Storytelling develops emotional intelligence and enhances well-being. It allows for someone to actually express themselves authentically and share their story.

Before I sign off, I wanted to share a short story. I was working at a school in East London in March of this year and was telling a story to a group of around 120, Year 1 and Year 2 students. The story was an African Zulu story about where stories come from. Now, I should mention that when i work with Early Years and Key Stage 1, I have a small albino ‘toy’ gorilla that sits on the chair in the front next to me. His name is ‘Ralph’.

During the story a young girl, I will call her ‘A’, came up to me a couple of times to hand me folded pieces of paper and she said, “This is for your monkey?” Now each time I stopped telling the story and the entire hall of students were quiet.

Young ‘A’ was was also carrying a toy monkey but more like a spider monkey with long arms and legs. She would go back to her Teaching Assistant and I would continue with the story.

There is a part in the story where I was describing an underwater scene where the protagonist in the story was meeting the spirits of the ocean and they were shining brighter than the sun. Not long after that ‘A’ came up again, this time with her TA and she said, “‘A’ wants you to open the papers for the monkey”.

I slowly unfolded the piece of paper and then I opened the others. I now knew what “A” was doing. She was drawing pictures of the scenes that I was describing in the story. I was lost for words and stood there in absolute wonder. It was truly a magical moment and one that I will never forget. I am sharing with you a couple of the pictures that “A” gave to Ralph. After that session that day, ‘A’ came up with her TA and said, ”My monkey wants to give your monkey a hug goodbye”. These pictures now travel with me and every time I tell this story the pictures come out and “A”’s story is shared.

So i hope that helps answer the question of “Why is Storytelling so important?”