The art of storytelling

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Once upon a time…these four words take us back to our childhood days, when most of the stories started with these words. We still remember the stories that were told by our parents or grandparents. We loved the way they chuckled between the story, their lows, highs and depths in the voice, their hand movements – all made the story interesting…well that was the art of storytelling. Savi Sarin of Weave a Tale discusses the art of storytelling and its importance in the development of children. What hooks you to a book till its very last page? Ever appreciated a commercial on TV or a good movie? Why would you like a presentation in office? We like them because they are “Stories well told”. Yes, they might be good stories but the process is not storytelling.

What is story telling?

Over the ages, storytelling has become an all-encompassing term. The art of telling a story with the use of the written word, song, acting, mime, dance and other mediums come under the umbrella of Storytelling. But, at its core Storytelling is the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience. It is the live, interactive, oral and physical presentation of a story to an audience. No more, no less.

Let us talk about children. Children have an innate desire to learn and are packed with abundance of positive energy inclined towards seeking knowledge. Few common traits at this age are – they want to know, observe others and try it out themselves. But a very important thing with children is that they are sensitive to the “packaging” of how learning is given to them. Children are very partial to the “fun” part of learning. Ergo, storytelling is a very powerful educational tool which can make learning fun. It can act as a catalyst and propel their creativity and imagination.

How is the medium of oral storytelling unique?

  • Storytelling allows the story to develop and mature because of the interaction between the teller and the listener. It gives the story the freedom to live and change, in the way a living organism changes, according to the circumstances and community it finds itself in.
  • Storytelling is an interactive performance art form. Direct interaction between the teller and audience is an essential element of the storytelling experience. An audience responds to the teller’s words and actions. The teller uses this generally non-verbal feedback immediately, spontaneously, and improvises to adjust the tones, wording, and pace of the story to better meet the needs of the audience.
  • It is a co-creative process. Storytelling audiences do not passively receive a story from the teller, as a viewer would receive the content of a television programme or motion picture. Both the teller and the listener have active roles to play during the process of storytelling. The teller provides no visual images, no stage set, and generally, no costumes related to story characters or historic period. The teller’s role is to prepare and present the necessary language, vocalization, and physicality to effectively and efficiently communicate the images of a story. Listeners create these vivid, multi-sensory images actions, characters and events in their mind based on the performer’s telling and on their own experiences and beliefs. The completed story happens in the mind of the listener, unique and personal for each individual.
  • Storytelling is, by its nature, personal, interpretive, and uniquely human. Storytelling passes on the essence of who we are. Stories are a prime vehicle for assessing and interpreting events, experiences, and concepts from minor moments of daily life to the grand nature of the human condition. It is an intrinsic and basic form of human communication. More than any other form of communication, the telling of stories in an integral and essential part of the human experience.
  • It is a process, a medium for sharing, interpreting, offering the content and meaning of a story to an audience. Because storytelling is spontaneous and experiential, and thus a dynamic interaction between teller and listener, it is far more difficult to describe than is the script and camera directions of a movie, or the lines and stage direction notes of a play. Storytelling emerges from the interaction and cooperative, coordinated efforts of teller and audience.

Advantages of listening to stories

How does listening to stories help, why not just watch a movie or let children enjoy a cartoon? Below are some key advantages of listening to stories:

  • Develops concentration, attentiveness and sustained, active listening skills.
  • Activates visualisation and imagination.
  • Develops an understanding of orality, and the use of spoken story language; rhyme and repetition; narrative patterns, conventions and structures, etc.
  • Extends vocabulary and models the articulate use of oral language.
  • Develops sequencing, comprehension and prediction skills.
  • Develops memory.
  • Presents an opportunity to experience, respond to and participate in live performance.
  • Develops social cohesion through shared experience.
  • Offers access to the vast range of traditional and historical narratives, from innumerable cultures, religions and points in history.

Why should I or my child tell stories?

The process of retelling stories provides children with opportunities to:

  • Secure and consolidate memory.
  • Develop an ability to stand before peers and strangers and speak freely and with confidence.
  • Experience and self-order events, using oral language, narrative conventions and exploring rhythm, rhyme, repetition and other word-play.
  • Explore themes, settings, role play, identification, empathy and characterisation through improvisation.
  • Learn how language changes with purpose, such as in persuasion, conflict and resolution and in decision making.
  • Develop vocal and physical confidence.
  • Experiment with the use of dialogue, voice, tone, expression, characterisation and other vocal effects, etc., combined with gesture, facial expression and body language.
  • Develop spatial awareness in terms of imagined geographies and in creating relationship with audiences.
  • Consider how mood, atmosphere and tension can be created in live performance using music, and other dramatic effects.
  • Present stories to classmates and to younger, older and adult audiences, taking account of the different needs of the listeners.
  • Invite, listen and respond to suggestions from classmates to refine and develop storytelling techniques.
  • Experience intergenerational and intercultural exchange.

Storytelling/Reading vs TV

It is perturbing to know that TV viewing, video games, and net surfing outplace reading as a “fun” activity among young children. It is easier for children to flip channels than the pages of the book. How can reading be more engaging and fun? Storytelling helps in providing a tangible hook for the children to get into the world of books and reading. By exploring the world of stories, children can travel to faraway places, many of which they might not be able to visit physically. They can take endless trips to distant lands and imaginary worlds while learning about history, science, and people.

Many would argue that T.V. does the same. Well then, it is just a matter of choice!!!! Freedom as well as onus of making an informed and educated decision for children lies with parents.

It is perturbing to know that TV viewing, video games, and net surfing outplace reading as a “fun” activity among young children. It is easier for children to flip channels than the pages of the book. How can reading be more engaging and fun? Storytelling helps in providing a tangible hook for the children to get into the world of books and reading.

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