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Book Review: Putting Storytelling at the Heart of Early Childhood Practice

Posted on 2nd November, 2022, under Book Reviews

Book Details

Introduction

Since 2014, I have been researching the power of storytelling for teaching children to learn about the ever-changing world they are growing up in. While most people will acknowledge the power of storytelling to ignite enjoyment, creativity and imagination, less is known about the value of storytelling in an educational context. It is only recently that I heard of the book I am reviewing here and I was excited to explore the author’s contributions to the concept of storytelling in early childhood education and care practice. Set in a Froebelian educational approach, in Putting Storytelling at the Heart of Early Childhood Practice: A Reflective Guide for Early Years Practitioners, the authors bring together twelve chapters that report different forms of storytelling and story reading that focus on different areas of education, including literacy, communication, language and well-being. This review will assess the organisation and style of the book, its contribution to research, some limitations and strengths and its value for educators and parents. The review will finish with a final evaluation and personal reflection.

Organisation and Style

Every chapter in the book is written by different authors, providing the reader with insights and diverse perspectives from sixteen experts from the field of education. The chapters cover different storytelling techniques and a range of teaching and learning approaches, leaving the reader with many concepts to reflect on. The book contains the following chapters:

Chapter Title Author/s
One The flourishing of the Edinburgh Network Jane Whinnett
Two Someone killed Goldilocks and they didn’t live happily ever after Sharon Imray and Karen Clements
Three Tailoring traditional tales as tools for our trade: Transforming literacy in early years Chris McCormick and Shauna McIntosh
Four Storytelling groups: Large or small? Alison J Hawkins and Moria Whitelaw
Five Observing stories that child “tell” in their play: Reflections Rhian Ferguson
Six Using props: An adventure in stories and drama to encourage young storytellers Lynda Bardai
Seven Superheroes and imaginative play: More opportunities for our children? Deirdre Armstrong
Eight Fix, fix, fix – Olav is stuck! Supporting children to tell stories that they really want to tell Elaine Fullertone
Nine Woodland adventures Lucy Macfarlane and Rosemary Welensky
Ten The stories children tell about their transitions from early childhood settings to primary school Lynn McNair
Eleven Stomping giants and diamond castles: A study of the use of story grammars to support the development of coherence in written narrative within the context of a Froebelian play-based Primary 1 classroom Catriona Gill
Twelve Gathering thoughts about storytelling Tina Bruce

Contribution to Knowledge

How to use stories in early childhood may appear oblivious if it is not intentionally reflected on. For example, one could ask, doesn’t everyone acknowledge that all children love stories? That said, if storytelling, one of the oldest forms of creative arts, is not fully explored to understand its full potential, we may be doing a great injustice to early childhood educational practice.

Throughout the chapters in this book, you will find a range of ways to explore stories with children using fairy tales, folk tales, made-up tales, stories generated during play and stories which are spontaneously generated as part of children’s communication, language and growing together in early childhood settings. The storytelling approaches outlined in the chapters include oral storytelling, story reading, stories created by children, and stories told through acting, drama and play. In this way, the story genres discussed should likely accommodate children and educators from different cultures and backgrounds.

In chapter 3, Sharon Imray and Karen Clements provide a snapshot of how the day-to-day life of a nursery school can be enhanced when children are invited to participate in storytelling and pretend play. Supported by the work of Vivian Paley (see Paley, 1991), the authors share research from a case study where children shared their views of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Hearing the children’s interpretation of a traditional tale demonstrates young children’s capacity to understand and interpret story content and use stories to generate new knowledge. One interesting part of this case study infers that while children enjoy stories and story-drama during play, not all children will wish to engage in play the same way as their peers (see p.21). This part of the research reflected one child’s decision not to engage in imaginary play concerning the Goldilocks story because the child found the play scary. This research finding highlights the uniqueness of children and supports the idea of providing a range of ways for children to engage with storytelling in the classroom.

In chapter 12, Gathering thoughts about storytelling, Tina Bruce draws from scholarly work, including the contributions made throughout the book, to emphasise the human ability to use language, communication and story to help adults and children get a sense of their identity and belonging within society. From my research, I think the capacity of storytelling to provide a space for children to develop identity and belonging within the early years is vastly undervalued. Thus, this book offers a welcomed recognition of this important area of learning and development. For these reasons, the quality of this book’s contribution to early years policy and practice is particularly beneficial.

Limitations and Strengths

While the book suggests storytelling has been part of human culture from the beginning of time and holds immense power to develop a range of concepts from educational outcomes to moments of joy and entertainment. However, the authors were challenged to clarify precisely how ‘story’ could be defined. This idea is discussed in Chapter 12 as Tina Bruce reminds the readers of the contributions made by the authors throughout the book. The acknowledgement that of the sixteen authors, there was no clear definition of what ‘Story’ is, provides food for thought. This is an interesting acknowledgment and a great reflective piece to leave readers to ponder. For example, if the word story cannot be defined, could it be that story is ever-evolving and there is no need to define it? As a reader, you may need to read and reflect on this idea, maybe try to define the concept of word story yourself, or ask the children? From my experience as a preschool educator, children are authentic storytellers who often provide insights adults would not consider.

Value of the Information for Educators and Parents

For early-year educators, this book offers practical guidance on using stories with individuals or groups of children. Due to the different ways storytelling can be shared with children, the book will meet the needs of children with diverse needs, including social and educational challenges, socio-economic diversity and cultural backgrounds.

For parents, the book highlights the importance of storytelling with infants and older children in its many forms. For example, referring to the work of Trevarthen (1993), the book describes research that supports the idea that babies from as young as two months communicate with adults when the adult speaks but then pauses to allow sufficient time for the infant to respond through non-verbal communication. The simplicity of the concepts linking a range of interactions to nurture child/adult relationships is a gentle reminder of an almost invisible value of storytelling.

Final Evaluation and Personal Reflection

Putting storytelling at the heart of early childhood practice states that storytelling matters providing ample evidence to support this statement. This book makes a meaningful contribution to new knowledge by addressing a concept largely under-represented in an early years context. Upon completing this book, the reader can expect to gain valuable insights into how stories can be used with young children to support language, communication, identity and belonging, creativity, imagination and well-being.

References

Trevarthen, C. (1993). Playing into reality: Conversations with the infant communicator. Winnicott studies: journal of the Squiggle Foundation, 67-84.

Paley, V. G. (1991). The boy who would be a helicopter. Harvard University Press.

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