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What happens when you share stories with a young child?

Something clicked for me when I heard it explained like this:

We used to think that the brain developed to a certain place at which point we could start to use language. Now we understand that is through language that the brain develops.

Each time a very young child is engaged with through word or gesture, signals are fired and neural pathways are created and strengthened which over time literally construct the physical brain. This isn’t metaphor, stories build young brains!

And we know now that this language development starts as soon as hearing starts, at about 22 weeks inside the womb. It’s never too early to start sharing stories. Cool, eh?

So that’s the science, but what about all the other good stuff? Like the role that stories play in opening up new worlds and landscapes as well as offering different perspectives on familiar ones. Stories offer us safe places to rehearse life and try out multiple ways of navigating our complex society. When we share stories with children it builds their ability to empathise.

As BBC’s Alex Winter says, children who regularly hear stories:"... find it easier to understand other people – they show more empathy and have better developed theory of mind (the ability to understand that other people have different thoughts and feelings to us, which is essential for understanding and predicting other people’s thoughts and behaviour).”

And they don’t have to be fairy tales or charmingly goofy-toothed monster rambles, they don’t even have to be good. Sharing your morning's commute is sharing a part of you. The stories of our heritage and culture, our friends and family yarns, these are the golden nuggets we can share and which work to build a strong and colourful imagination and understanding of who we are. As we say at the Village Storytelling Centre, everyone has stories to tell and we are all worthy of being heard.

Most importantly when I ask the parents in the CYPEIF programme what they hope to get out of the story sessions they say, “quality time with my child.”

Stories bring us together.

Shona Cowie is a Storyteller at the Village Storytelling Centre.

Children in Scotland is working with the Centre to evaluate a storytelling programme for parents, and to later develop a resource for practitioners.

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