How the ability to tell stories develops in children

Storytelling skills were highly valued long before literacy became a norm in Western civilisation, not only as a form of entertainment but also as a way of passing on historical, cultural and religious knowledge to successive generations. Today, the art of storytelling remains highly prized and can be learned and refined through skill development and practice from an early age.

Children start to develop their ability to tell stories and narrative at around 3 to 4 years old. Their stories are often conversational in nature; the short list of interesting events that they convey are not necessarily in sequence and tend to lack emotion and meaning.

By 5 years old, however, these events start to become more sequentially ordered with the use of words such as ‘then’ or ‘next’. At this age, children begin elaborating on what they have said and start to discuss people who are either present or absent and place them in the context of either past or future events.

By 8 years old there is a growing use of adverbial time clauses such as ‘when’, ‘while’, ‘after’, ‘before’, ‘until’, ‘as soon as’, ‘whenever’, ‘ever since’, ‘by the time’. Children start creating complex relationships between specific events. These events are the focus of the story, which is often left without a closing conclusion. The ability to tell a story with a conclusion in mind develops as the child becomes better at narrating around the characters, emotions, morals and meanings of their story.

I have found that those children who do well in storytelling and love to write creative pieces tend to be those whose parents have encouraged reading within the home environment. Reading to your child and encouraging them to read out loud will reap huge benefits, both now and in the future. Reading helps to improve spelling, grammar, syntax and semantics by subconsciously embedding the general rules within the brain while reading. I always advise that a parent should have a range of both modern and classic books for their child to read within the home – or spend time with them at the local library going through the vast array of books available. Many of the classics are available to download for free directly onto electronic reading devices, so they can be taken on holiday or read at home. Building a love of storytelling is a great way to encourage a stronger affinity with the English language.