Don’t you love getting lost in a story? Imagining a different world and following a character’s journey can be exhilarating at any age. Of course, reading a story and storytelling aren’t exactly the same. When you tell a story, you’re actively engaging with a listener and using different tones and gestures to communicate a plot.
Storytelling always involves a storyteller and a listener, and the whole dance revolves around language! This is a key reason why storytelling can be a useful tool to support your toddler’s speech and language development. We need to use language to tell a story, and learning language through stories is not only fun, but also effective!
Research on the Impact of Storytelling in Early Childhood
A number of research studies have focused on storytelling and its impact on learning. One study, led by Rebecca T. Isbell, Ed.D. at East Tennessee State University, explored how storytelling influences language development and story comprehension in children ages 3-5 years old. Even though it looked at preschool-aged children, we see takeaways for toddlers, too!
The children in the study were divided into two groups. Both groups were told the same 24 stories. Group A listened to the stories from a storyteller and Group B listened to the stories read aloud from a book. Afterward, researchers had the children retell the stories by following a picture book with no words. While both groups benefited from the lessons, the children in Group A (the group with the storyteller) showed a greater comprehension of language, shared stronger descriptions of characters and settings, and were better at identifying the moral of the story.
Isbell explains that storytelling is so powerful because it’s personal. A storyteller can maintain eye contact with the listener and change or adjust a story according to their audience. Even if a toddler doesn’t understand a specific word, for example, the storyteller’s use of gestures, vocal intonations, movements, and facial expressions can help them follow the plot. For instance, a toddler may not know the word “gloomy,” but when the word is expressed in a somber, sad tone within a context of a cloudy day, this helps them connect the narrative and tone to new words and phrases, which boosts the language learning process.
Using Storytelling to Build Language Skills
According to Isbell, young children benefit through active participation, so invite your toddler to be a part of storytelling, too. In addition to participation, storytelling that includes repetition and rhyming also plays a strong role in language acquisition. She suggests including stories that have a repetitious phrase, rhyme, or sound effect that can engage your child and hold their attention.
Need some inspiration for storytelling activities? Our BabySparks program includes storytelling activities that encourage participation and foster language development. BabySparks speech activities like Picture Reading and Tell Me a Story transform your toddler into a storyteller! Exercises like this build language and memory skills, and can help expand your toddler’s vocabulary.
Whether it’s in a toddlers’ living room, a college classroom, or at a dinner party, the act of storytelling is used to teach, inspire, and connect. This is just the beginning of your child’s language learning journey through stories!