Why Storytelling is Important for Preschoolers

Master this whole parenting thing using the power of storytelling

Reading stories to preschoolers instills a love of learning from an early age and has a whole host of benefits, from improving communication skills to encouraging empathy, instilling confidence to aiding relaxation. Storytelling is primal; it’s something the human race has been doing for thousands of years. And there’s a powerful reason why storytelling is important for preschoolers — it prepares them for life skills they need when they grow up.

So why is storytelling important to a toddler, anyways?

One of the most significant benefits of being read to is developing the ability to read by yourself. Would you be surprised if I told you that not all Americans are literate? Compared to countries like Kazakstan, Slovakia, and Slovenia, which have 100% literacy rates, the U.S. comes in shockingly low at 86% (source).

What’s the big deal about literacy? Well, learning to read is a skill that will help your kid get a job, take care of themselves, and enjoy healthy relationships. That’s something every Mom and Dad dreams of for their child. So if you want to master this whole parenting thing, you want to start reading to your child from an early age.

Here are a few benefits of reading to your preschool child:

1. Enforces cultural understanding

With limited exposure to the world, reading stories to children can help them understand society and how to behave in it. Stories can explain far off places and open children’s eyes to different beliefs and cultures. Studies on the brain show that when we read or hear a story, we react similarly to experiencing that situation in real life (source).

Classic fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel warn children about the dangers of wandering off, and Little Red Riding Hood can help children learn about why you shouldn’t talk to strangers. But we can also unknowingly enforce cultural stereotypes, like how society treats women. Consider this carefully before reading stories to girls about how they need to be rescued by princes!

2. Teaches empathy

Children start to learn empathy from the age of two. Storytelling can help preschoolers learn different points of view and understand people, which helps predict what they will do and how to respond to it.

With encouragement, children can learn to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist and consider why they might have done something and how they felt about it. Here’s a list of books that teach empathy.

3. Calms children down before bed

Introducing a book before bed can help create a familiar bedtime routine that calms children down before they go to sleep. Picture books that use rhyme or repetition are particularly effective at relaxing little ones.

If you haven’t already, create a bedtime routine of bath, book, and bed. After just a few weeks of repetition, you’ll start to see the benefits and bedtime will become less of a struggle.

4. Enhances language skills

Using an illustrated book will help your child learn words for different objects, colors, and animals. Repetition helps to cement learning of sounds and words and to broaden their vocabulary.

Reading stories aloud to your child will help develop a rich understanding of language. Children respond particularly well to rhyme and rhythm, so nursery rhymes and songs are great ways to build language skills.

5. Encourages active listening

Tech leaders in Silicon Valley, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, did what they could to keep their kids away from technology (source). Although educational apps and TV shows have lots of benefits, reading out loud to your child is a more effective way of encouraging essential skills such as focusing and active listening.

When you read to your child, minimize distractions to make sure they have your full attention, and you have theirs. Turn off the TV, radio, or iPhone so that your child can hear you.

6. Develops communication skills

Communication skills are another important reason why storytelling is important for preschoolers. What they learn from stories and storytime, children will use to communicate with others and socialize.

Encourage your little one to ask if they don’t understand a word and use the opportunity to pause and explain what it means. Storytelling is an interactive activity, this is where reading stories out loud to your child can win over giving them an iPad.

7. Helps preschoolers become more confident

According to studies, children who can read are more confident than those that can’t. Stories can also build self-esteem by showing other children being brave and doing difficult things.

If your child is feeling nervous about an upcoming event, visit your local library together and look for a book that addresses a similar subject. Make the visit an adventure by planning the trip together, whether it’s a short walk down the road, or a train ride away.

8. Improves creative skills

Storytelling introduces new ideas and helps encourage imagination. Taking cues from illustrations and your tone of voice, children bring books to life in their minds. And with a little help, those creative skills can extend beyond reading time.

Asking your child further questions about stories can spark their imagination and encourage their creativity. When storytelling is a game, it can also foster independent play, where the child continues the experience on their own.

Can stories make children nicer adults?

Yes! Hearing a story is a way for children to gain experience about the world they live in and how other people behave. This is wonderful when it comes to learning about how to react, how to communicate, and how to express their feelings.

Watch your child for cues about what they understand and use reading time as an opportunity to talk about behavior and emotions. Your child may react visibly sad about a story development, or they might be quiet and thoughtful. Ask how they are feeling and explain that they’re not alone in feeling that way.

How does reading help a child’s intellectual development?

Rather than confusing memorization with learning, storytelling can help a child understand and learn to analyze a text. Stories are an excellent way of introducing more complex ideas such as the passing of time, going to the dentist, or more sensitive events like a family bereavement.

Whenever change is coming up for your preschooler, start discussing it with them early to get them used to the idea, and include reading stories around the topic. Continue your reading even after the event has happened and use it as an opportunity to reflect and ask questions.  

Why is repetition important for preschoolers?

Reading the same story over and over again might drive you a little crazy, but it’s great for your child’s vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, not to mention their confidence.

You might think about conveniently losing your preschooler’s favorite book, but at least now you know the benefits of repetition. Rather than reading one book a night, try two or three, adding a new book along with a familiar favorite to give yourself a little variety.

“Silly old fox! Doesn’t he know, there’s no such thing as a gruffalo!”

Julia Donaldson

What is the importance of storytelling in Montessori?

Stories are essential to the Montessori curriculum. When children listen to a story, they use more of their brain than they do simply listening to facts and figures. Children build an emotional bond with the storyteller and can put themselves in the place of the protagonist, developing empathetic skills.

For a young age group, Montessori teachers focus on telling real stories — or rather stories about events that have happened or could happen. These stories are brief to leave plenty of room for self-reflection. Bing Bunny stories (like Bing: Get Dressed or Bing: Make Music) are excellent examples of reality-based storytelling.

Why dads need to read more stories

Reading stories is an excellent way to build a relationship with your child, but so often it’s an activity that moms do (in addition to all those other activities that mom’s do). If dad doesn’t get to spend much time with your little one, reading is a great opportunity to make up for it.

Set aside time each day or each week for dad to read a story and bond with your preschooler. Let your child see you reading or writing (whether it’s a magazine or a to-do list) to encourage him or her to develop literacy skills.

How do you read to preschoolers?

Any time of day is a good time to read to your child. Here are some simple tips for reading stories to preschoolers:

  • Create a routine and read a story to your child at the same time each day
  • Let your child choose the story they want to hear (and be willing to read it again and again!)
  • Talk about the author of the book ask the child what they think the story is about
  • Slow down make sure you’re easy to hear and understand
  • Encourage interaction with sound effects, hand gestures, and repeated phrases
  • Look at letters together and talk about punctuation, for example, explaining how a question mark changes a sentence
  • Use props such as finger puppets to tell the story
  • Ask questions to extend understanding, encourage imagination and curiosity. What do you think happened next? How do you think that character feels?
  • Use different voices to show the difference between the characters in the story.

Storytelling Activities for Kids

Tell your own stories using these creative ideas. Try retelling your narrative several times until it really feels like a story.

  • Family Photos
    • Use photographs to help you remember events and retell them in your own words. Kids love hearing stories about when they were a baby or learning and their family history.
  • Dough
    • Foster independent storytelling with dough. Help your child create their own characters (people, animals, or things) and use your new props to map out a plot and memorize it.
  • Bath Toys
    • Turn bath time into storytime with bath toys. Improvise a new version of a classic story or film and encourage your child to join in with noises and sound effects.
  • Drawing
    • Encourage right-brain activity by drawing with your child. Create weird and wonderful monsters by taking it in turns to draw body parts. Then imagine the world these creatures might live in.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve learned lots about why storytelling is important for preschoolers!

If you’d like to find out more about storytelling but you don’t have much time to read, start with this guide about short stories!

Writer, marketer, and co-founder of Nicely Said by night. Women in Games Ambassador. Currently at Hyper Hippo, focusing on narrative and marketing communications. Past experience includes the BBC, Virgin, and Disney. With a Master’s Degree in Electronic Communication & Publishing, Emma brings her 20+ years of experience to the Nicely Said blog. Emma has worked on multiple award-winning games, apps, and websites. She also hates belly buttons.

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