One of the things I really love seeing develop in my son is his storytelling. He’s got an imagination that is taking wings right now and he spends a great deal of time either ‘reading’ the books that he knows and loves or else making up stories with his toys.
He seems to understand that stories need protagonists, antagonists, conflict and resolution. He even understands that characters need distinctive voices – he varies his voice to suit the character he is pretending to be. From some of my reading, there are adults who don’t understand that yet! (I am, of course, desperately hoping that I don’t fall into that category. We’ll see.)
What I really hope for is that he doesn’t lose that love of stories, that soaring imagination, as he gets older. Storytelling is a hugely important part of a person’s life. It helps you escape your day-t0-day life, it helps you work through problems and experiences, it helps you explore language and emotions in a safe way. It’s the reason I want to write for children, after all; to tell them stories and hope that I can help them do all of those things for a short time.
Storytelling has been around since the beginning of humanity, as far as I can see. And it’s as important now as it has ever been. Whether it’s the Young Adult books that may, or may not, be dark and dismal and depressing (cue *eye roll*) or fairytales, or repulsive yet engaging little boys or a child’s first introduction to picture book stories, the best stories engage children totally for a short time and take them somewhere else. It doesn’t matter what their own experiences are, when they are engrossed in a story; the bad experiences fade and the good experiences are put aside to go into this new and imaginary world where they are in control.
Stories are a great leveller, too. There’s a huge gulf between a child from a wealthy family who goes on holiday, has good quality clothing, the latest toys and a child from a poor family who may never have left their home town, who feels the embarrassment of shabby clothing next to their friends, who has few toys. In their imaginations though, there are no such barriers. And stories are free – to read at at the library or to make up at home. You don’t need to be a great writer to engage a child happily for a long time with this happened and then this happened, just playacting with a few toys.
It’s for reasons like this, among many others, that we should be encouraging our children to make up stories, to act out, role play, dress up, dream, imagine, escape. Then one day, when life gets a bit too much as it has a tendency to do, they can flee into their own world for a while, working through their problems or escaping from them.