What are the Benefits of Storytelling / Reading Stories to Children?

Why are Stories Important for Children?

“Granny,” said the little boy.  “Could you tell me another story?” He was sitting on his grandmother’s lap and she had her arm around him as they waited for the bus in the parking lot outside the grandmother’s apartment building.

It wasn’t very often that they were able to spend time together like this since she lived so far away from them now. It was always something special when she made the trip back home with her grandchild in tow.

“What kind of story would you like today?” His grandmother asked quietly, mindful of how many other people were milling about them, waiting for buses or cars to take them wherever it is they were going on that bright sunny Spring day. He thought for a moment before answering hesitantly.

“I’d like to hear a story about grandpa. It’s hard to remember him,” the boy said sadly.

The grandmother grabbed the boy’s hand tightly leaned in and quietly began to tell him a story. 

“Let me tell you about the day your grandfather and I took you to the zoo for the first time.

You were, what? Maybe 3 years old at this point in time?

It was a beautiful summer day and we picked you up early in the morning ready for a day out and then we realised we didn’t know the area at all, this was before we knew anything about those fancy phones, she whispered.

But your Grandpa as always didn’t panic, he said hop in and let’s just go for a drive and see where the road takes us.

We followed a beautiful road for miles surrounded by trees and nature.  Along the road, we saw a sign that said Zoo up ahead. 

Before we knew it we were pulling into the parking lot of a wildlife zoo, buying tickets and beginning a day of adventure and fun with our grandson. Grandpa was always lucky like that you see, he would find treasures and adventures without even searching for them. 

After all, he found me, she chuckled.  And of course let’s not forget, then your mother and then YOU. She smiled and gave him a wink.

“There was no denying that you loved every moment of that day, from the funny monkeys fighting over a hammock to the majestic lion, who let off a huge roar as we stood in his presence. I remember your jaw dropped open in amazement. 

But I think most of all you loved Grandpa telling you the stories of his visits to Kenya and seeing all kinds of animals even lions while exploring the wide-open safaris of Africa. 

You had so much energy that day and it ended with a carousel ride just because we knew how much fun it would be for all of us.” She then reached in her purse and took out a small picture that was in a plastic protective sleeve. She handed him the photo and said “This is the picture of you with your grandfather on the carousel at the end of that day, I always carry it with me.

 You see my darling boy,  memories and stories live on longer than people but only if we remember to keep sharing them. Now you must keep that story alive and tell your children. 

The grandmother in this story shows us the importance of storytelling to young children. Through storytelling, children gain an understanding of different times, places and generations.  They make sense of their own experiences and remember powerful emotions and moments in their life. 

In this article, we will outline a few of the many positive benefits telling your children stories can have on their development.  

What are the Benefits of Storytelling / Reading Stories to Children?

  • Storytelling helps children develop empathy
  • Stories help encourage creativity and imagination
  • Storytelling fosters a sense of belonging to the world for children
  • Storytelling can help children learn about themselves and others in different cultures, times, places, or situations
  • Sharing stories with other people can be an enjoyable pastime that unites us. 
Crying little girl being consoled by her elder sister
Storytelling Helps Develop Empathy

How does Storytelling Help Develop Empathy?

Children are born with instinctual empathy. Have you ever heard an infant cry at the sound of another’s cry? The infant feels the pain the other is experiencing, that is empathy in its primitive form. 

From that point, each child will develop differently based on their environment and experiences. Storytelling plays a crucial role in the development of empathy in children. 

A study by Professor of Pedagogy Maria Nikolajeva from the University of Cambridge concluded that reading fiction provides young people with excellent training in developing and practising empathy – because stories help us understand what other people feel and think. 

The benefits of reading go beyond literacy because through the power of stories we can help our children deal with both their own and other people’s feelings. There is no better feeling than losing yourself in a good book and empathising with the character of the story. Imagine seeing your child lose themself in the world of their favourite character.

Charming little boy playing in theatre of shadows
Charming little boy playing in theatre of shadows

How Does Storytelling Build Creativity & Imagination?

Children all over the world love listening to stories. They want to know more about their favourite characters or stories about the past. The moment they fall in love with a character they imagine them, dress up like them, speak like them and imitate the traits of that character.  

Studies have shown that children with a high level of creative play skills and imagination score higher on developmental and cognitive tests compared to children who have developed less creative play skills. 

Schools do not always make storytelling a focus of the curriculum. They spend time researching. They even encourage the children to write about certain works of literature but they don’t get them to engage with the story and listen to it. 

As parents and educators, we should allow our children to use their imagination and tap into their creativity daily. Only in this way can they create their own story and strong self of identity. 

We can guide them along and support their journey through the art of storytelling.

How Does Storytelling Provide a Sense of Belonging?

A young child’s sense of belonging comes from making sense of their surroundings. They look around at the people, places and things that exist in their lives and out of that a strong personal connection develops. The connection is both with the things as well as people and places. 

That sense of belonging gives the child a strong sense of self, they can see and feel that they are part of a group, family, classroom, whatever it may be they understand they are not alone. 

For some children, it can be hard to develop this sense of belonging if they experience a lot of instability.  Storytelling gives children a sense of worth and belonging by experiencing the life of the characters and their journey. This journey may not mirror their own, but it can certainly inspire them. 

Our intense desire to belong is universal to all human beings. Storytellers use stories to share this principle with children. When children feel this sense of belonging they develop self-confidence in themselves and their identity. This is essential to give children a strong foundation to build upon as they develop. 

Yes, it’s true, something as simple as hearing a story can change the way your child develops and sees the world, and themselves in it.

How Does Storytelling Help in Social-Emotional Development and Learning?

The idea of storytelling as a way to help children learn about themselves and other cultures is not new, but with the advent of social media and the rise in popularity of video sharing sites like YouTube, it has become easier than ever. That is if you find a narrator that can hold your child’s attention as they speak about different cultures, times in history and places of great interest. 

Children pay closer attention when someone tells them a story rather than teaches them straight out of a textbook.  They hold on to the details of a story more than a simple lesson because they imagine it and seek to understand it. 

This is why storytelling can be a great tool for parents to teach their children about other cultures or just broaden their understanding of people with different life experiences to their own. This helps the world unite and see the differences and the similarities amongst us all.  We learn that no matter where we come from, what language we speak or the colour of our skin we are all human and we all have a story.

Asian Kid Girl Sharing Secret With Teddy Bear At Home
Girl Sharing a Story with her teddy

Share Stories, Have Fun…

As you read in the story above of the grandmother and the little boy sharing memories of a trip to the zoo with his grandparents, it is evident that storytelling is a great pass time. 

Whether you are waiting at a bus-stop or your name to be called as you sit in a waiting room, stories allow us to enjoy a moment of pure imagination. We can be immersed in the tale of Arabian skies filled with bright stars and soft sand at our feet, even if in reality what we are doing is not particularly noteworthy 

Stories can be fun, they can bring people together around a campfire or in a local pub. They make people laugh, move people to tears and inspire people to change their own story. 

Explore with your children the magic of books and stories. You can start with our recommendations here. 

How Storytelling Affects the Brain?

impact of storytelling
The impact of Storytelling

I want to leave you with this final thought about the science behind storytelling. 

At the start of this article, I began with a short story about a grandmother and her small grandson reminiscing memories of a grandfather and husband who was sadly not with them any longer. 

The story included details and expressive words that could make you not only understand where the characters were but how they felt. 

A good story is full of detail, metaphors and expressive characters that make our brain feel as if we ourselves are in the same situation as the character. 

Could you not picture the grandmother sitting while she waited for a bus with her grandson. Could you image the little boy impatiently waiting with her and seeking something to distract him from the boredom of having to sit still? 

Our brain teleports us into that situation when the story and the details connect with our understanding. 

Have you ever heard a spooky story and suddenly felt your heart racing and the hairs on your neck stand up.  Well now, thanks to the work of neuroscientist Dr Paul Zak, we have discovered that stories trigger the release of chemicals such as cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin. 

We don’t just hear the events in the storyline, our brains respond with the release of brain awakening chemicals and we live them. This stimulation is also known to improve our memory and we can retain more information than normal as a result of this brain interaction. 

Why is this important you may ask, the answer at length is for another time, but in short If a story is able to generate deep emotions and interact with one’s brain chemistry in such a powerful way then isn’t storytelling the super-power to learning and developing healthy minds. 

It is difficult to imagine a better way to prepare our children to contribute positively to the world than to use storytelling. Stories can deeply affect us, motivate us to help others, hold our attention and now fully engage our brain to utilize its maximum potential. 
So, If you needed one more reason to get you in storytelling mode, I am betting this one was it. Still curious, head over to our article on The Storytelling Brain Effect, here.

What now, you ask?

As parents, teachers and grandparents we can do so much to promote storytelling. You can see all the benefits that storytelling has on a young child’s mind and the development of both their emotional and cognitive intelligence. If you don’t think you are incorporating storytelling enough have a look at our programs and begin with this small task: 

The next time you are with your child, come up with the beginning of a story and let your child carry on with the rest of the tale. It is a great exercise to incorporate storytelling in your daily life no matter where you are. 

 Thank you for letting us help your children grow happy and healthy!  

Photo of author

Rohini Vij

Rohini is a professional storyteller, educator, listed & certified Jolly Phonics UK trainer, curriculum developer, parenting coach, founder of NutSpace. She is on a mission to raise readers and is actively engaged with curriculum development for schools and her own ed-tech platform - Nutspace Edtech.

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