Our Children Need Stories Now More Than Ever
UNESCO International Literacy Day 2023 will focus on ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies’.
In advance of International Literacy Day, Friday 8th September, Danyah Miller, award-winning storyteller and author, speaks about the urgent and pressing need to share oral stories with children. She believes that imagination, creativity and resourcefulness are the skills they most need to prepare them for the future world.
Having worked creatively and collaboratively in schools for almost 25 years she has empirical and anecdotal evidence of the powerful, positive impact oral storytelling has on children’s learning outcomes, including pupils who, having previously shown little interest or skill, were fired up and eager to tell and write their own stories.
Miller recognises that it isn’t only children who benefit. At the end of one creative learning project she led one of the teachers wrote:
’I have learned that I can tell a story and engage 120 children; I have learned I can write a story; I have learned to listen more attentively, respond more slowly and thoughtfully. I have learned there is magic in and under everyday objects. I have learned that stories live within me. I have learned that books are only the beginning. It will stay with me and change my teaching forever.’
Over the past 10 years Danyah has toured her flagship production of ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ adapted for stage by her and Dani Parr from the book by Michael Morpurgo, to schools, libraries, arts centres and theatres including three successful West End summer seasons. The themes of this solo show, set within a library, are stories, reading, books and the power of the imagination.
After one performance a mother thanked Miller because her 7-year-old daughter had declared that she was now ready to read ‘chapter books’. At another performance the duty fireman confided that he felt so inspired he’d gone home to read to his young 5-year-old son for the first time.
Danyah says: ‘In the 25 years that I’ve been teaching storytelling and sharing stories I’ve witnessed a significant reductionin children’s ability to use their imaginations. This gradual decline has accelerated as a result of the pandemic.’
Miller is adamant about why oral storytelling is so important. Here are seven of her reasons:
1. Oral storytelling underpins literacy, improving the quality and emotional depth of children’s writing, significantly increasing their motivation to want to read books.*
2. Stories help us to develop our imaginations.
‘Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’ Einstein
3. Stories and storytelling can be successfully used to support and enhance learning across the whole curriculum **
4. Stories support our lateral thinking abilities, helping us to find creative solutions to problems we face throughout our lives.
5. Stories help us to make sense of the world and understand our place within it.***
6. Exposure to oral storytelling on a regular basis can provide an antidote to stress and anxiety, whilst increasing our sense of self-esteem and well being.****
7. Stories give us hope for the future, inspiring us to achieve more than we thought possible.
Danyah’s new book ‘Seven Secrets of Spontaneous Storytelling’ is inspired by the life-changing power of storytelling Danyah has experienced. It is written for adults who want to share stories with the children in their lives. The foreword is by Michael Morpurgo.
The book is exclusively available for purchase on the Hawthorn Press website LINK. It will be available in all good bookshops from 1st November 2023.
I Believe in Unicorns, which has enjoyed a third West End summer season this year, is on national tour throughout October. For more information www.ibelieveinunicorns.co.uk
*This link between reading for pleasure and increased reading comprehension has been
observed through studies and researchAccording to Ofsted's research report, 'research
indicates a positive correlation between pupils' engagement with reading and their
attainment in reading.’
** The importance of using stories for teaching-learning of mathematical concepts. The major findings of the study are that students were able to use various mathematical skills such as problem-solving, visualization, analogy, communication, logical mathematics, etc to solve mathematical problems incorporated in the story.
International Journal of Advanced Academic Study
*** The Reading Agency - Literature Review
‘Studies have found that reading for pleasure enhances empathy, understanding of the self and the ability to understand one's own and others' identities’
https://readingagency.org.uk/news/The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment.pdf
**** National Library of Medicine
Storytelling increases oxytocin and positive emotions and decreases cortisol and pain in hospitalised children. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8179166/