Stories and Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful tool for learning, and for empowering children.

Storytelling serves as a powerful tool for education, transcending traditional classrooms. It’s a dynamic means of imparting knowledge, fostering creativity, and instilling valuable lessons in children.

Storytelling session in Peru
ChildsPlay International (CPI) Storytelling session in a remote village in Peru.

Storytelling provides several advantages to children: As children listen to stories, they acquire knowledge, establish connections with their cultural heritage, and help carry forward traditions.

When children tell stories, it enhances their ability to organize language into narratives, prompting “thinking on their feet,” and gaining confidence in a safe setting.

Storytelling is not confined to formal educational settings. It can also take place within families, and community centers, making it a universally accessible form of education.

Its impact extends beyond textbooks and school grounds.

Children, teachers and storyteller in Uganda.
CPI’s new Storytelling Program in Northern Uganda, extends support to vulnerable children, including those in refugee settlements, facilitating their healing journey through Storytelling.

ChildsPlay International’s (CPI) Storytelling Program was created to share our experience with schools, NGOs, and community groups seeking to enrich play-based learning, stimulate children’s imagination, preserve local culture, and foster face-to-face interaction in an increasingly digital world. 

Storytelling serves as a powerful tool for education, transcending traditional classrooms. It’s a dynamic means of imparting knowledge, fostering creativity, and instilling valuable lessons in children.

The Value of Storytelling

Storytelling Serves as a Powerful Tool for both Learning and Empowering Children

Storytelling can play a significant role in promoting the overall wellbeing of children.

Storytelling serves as a powerful medium for sharing our experiences. It holds the key to unlocking the realms of personal imagination and fostering a sense of shared love within local communities.

By bringing together the young and the old, storytelling becomes a catalyst for community building and forging lasting connections.

Storytelling session Haiti with Dr. Jean-Elie Gilles.
CPI’s Storytelling Advisor Dr. Jean-Elie Gilles tells stories to children in Jacmel, Haiti.

Storytelling is Play-based Learning.

Storytelling is a way to live in a world of imagination—and it requires no materials! Storytelling for children is play-based learning at its best and brings the community together. This important activity is rarely part of a school’s curriculum so we develop a Storytelling Manual for extracurricular activities.

CPI’s Storytelling Manual

Cover storytelling manual

CPI’s Storytelling Manual offers effective techniques and strategies for using storytelling for children as a tool to foster creativity, imagination, and communication skills. Join us in our mission to promote the benefits of play-based learning and help them develop essential life skills through storytelling.

Drawing is an important component of CPI's Storytelling Program.
Drawing is an important component of CPI’s Storytelling Program. 

History and Culture come Alive through Storytelling

Local history and culture come alive through storytelling for many communities. Stories and Storytelling open up a world of imagination, uniting children and their communities. CPI encourages storytelling sessions as a new way of learning that is rarely part of a school curriculum.

Girl in Sri Lanka creating artwork during a Storytelling Workshop conducted by CPI.
Drawing is an important component of CPI’s Storytelling Program. By combining drawing and oral storytelling, children can weave together strands of what they feel but cannot yet articulate. The photo is from a CPI, Storytelling Workshop in Sri Lanka.
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The Importance of Local Stories

CPI champions passing down local stories. It ensures that local people are involved. It also means that the method of recording and transcribing are reproducible at the local level. This involves finding and training local apprentices in skills such as film-making. In addition, instructing local teachers to pass on to students an interest in how stories conserve culture. The students are encouraged to define their own relationship to the oral tradition. They do this by creating works of art that interpret that tradition and perpetuate it as a living practice.

Cultures and Societeis where there is no Cultural Preservation

What about societies where there is no concerted effort to collect, preserve, and study the stories that matter to their own self-definition? In these societies, elders tell stories perhaps for the last time, since the next generation – the children – are distracted by cell phones or, worse, by war. The task of preserving these stories – the whole oral tradition of a people – has fallen to individuals and organizations dedicated to that purpose.

Students in Kenya telling their stories through the camera lense

 Such dedication comes from the immensity of the need, that is, from what is likely to be lost without deliberate preservation. In a recent essay for Terralingua, Luisa Maffi wrote:

“In many societies, history and culture come alive through storytelling. Stories open up a world of imagination, uniting children and their communities, and allowing them to wonder at history’s ongoing drama.”

ChildsPlay is creating Storytelling Partnerships with Schools, Community Leaders and NGOs in Pakistan, Turkey, Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, the DRC and Haiti.

CPI encourages storytelling circles as a new way of learning that is rarely part of a school curriculum.

The great anthropologist George N. Appell described storytelling as a basic human impulse, a cognate of religion that allows us to re-envision – and cope with – existence by situating all of life within of a narrative order. For Appell, oral literature is inescapably profound:

“It arises in response to the universal aesthetic impulse to provide narratives that explain the nature of life and human response to challenges. It retains knowledge to be passed on to succeeding generations. It contains the history of the society and its experiences. Thus in various forms this oral literature portrays the society’s belief systems and makes sense of life. It provides a guide to human behavior and how to live one’s life. . . As such this literature is a response to the universal human instinct to find balance, harmony, and beauty in the world and the need to understand pain, suffering, and evil. It functions to fulfill the need for religious belief and spiritual fulfillment necessary for human existence.”

Boy in Kenya Telling a traditional story during Storytelling workshop
Boy in Kenyan orphanage telling a traditional story during CPI Storytelling workshop.
Elders during storytelling workshop

Passing on Stories from Old to Young

Passing stories from the older generation to the younger, all at the level of creativity, is what distinguishes CPI’s methodology. Children are given tools – and the impetus – to envision this creativity as connected to previous generations. Such connection is presented as natural, and it becomes as much. In this sense, storytelling is a great leveler among societies, one skill that all children are able to share and cultivate using their own, indigenous stories. At the same time, storytelling is dynamic; it is both a way to interpret a child’s own society and a way to communicate with and understand children from other societies.

This repository of knowledge-as-art will  disappear

With the arrival of mass literacy and its technological concomitants, this repository of knowledge-as-art disappears in a generation . . . unless there are efforts to preserve it. Accordingly, an array of international initiatives has been mounted, including by UNICEF. Scholars from around the world have published numerous studies showcasing specific projects and outlining their sophisticated methodologies.

How ChildsPlay Records Local Stories

When ChildsPlay International records local stories, it ensures that local people are involved and that the methods of recording and transcribing are reproducible at the local level. This involves finding and training local apprentices in skills such as film-making and instructing local teachers to pass on to students’ interest in cultural preservation. Students are encouraged to define their own relationship to oral tradition by creating works of art – paintings, puppets, masks, plays – that interpret that tradition and perpetuate it as a living practice. These works of art are also collected and exhibited, enabling the children to see the direct connection of their own creativity to that of the past.

Girl in refugee camp drawing during Storytelling workshop

Including the Local Community

However, it has been clear from the outset that merely recording and transcribing these stories, without including local participants in preserving them, can be an act of cultural appropriation. Community-based programs of collection and transcription are becoming the norm. The Firebird Foundation, among others, has published extensive guidelines for collectors, emphasizing that the benefits of collecting should flow both ways. The goal is to increase the community’s respect for its own culture and encourage its own efforts at preservation.

ChildsPlay Empowers Children

This linkage among generations, at the shared level of creativity, is what distinguishes the methodology of ChildsPlay. Children are given tools – and the impetus – to envision their creativity as connected to previous generations. Such connection is presented as natural, and it becomes as much. The idea is to help indigenous children become self-sufficient in story-telling, a skill that children in developed societies take for granted. In this sense, story-telling is a great leveler among societies, one skill that all children are able to share and to cultivate using their own, indigenous stories. At the same time, storytelling is dynamic: it is both a way to interpret a child’s own society, and a way to communicate with and understand children from other societies.

 

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