Astronomer and writer Carl Sagan once said, "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were but without it we go nowhere."
Stories have the same effect. Imagination is a lifelong skill and we, as parents, need to nurture it in our children from a young age. Igniting a child's imagination can unlock their potential in myriad ways.
Children's author Nayanika Mahtani has a story to tell you about storytelling! Read on as she addresses the questions many parents grapple with.
Does Storytelling Ignite Your Child’s Imagination?
We read them. We write them. We pass them on. Stories are a huge part of what it means to be human. From prepping us for the pitfalls of life, to sparking a sense of wonder, to building an understanding of worlds distinct from our own, stories are ever-relevant, whatever our age.
When I was about 3 years old, I was nicknamed ‘Then What Happened?’ by my grandfather. The story goes like this. Apparently, I was one of those vexing children who believed mealtimes were an unnecessary diversion from the business of childhood. As such, the only way my poor mother could get me to eat was by making up stories about an ‘Aunty Stella’ - a feisty old lady who lived in a forest and had a very hectic schedule – solving the many problems faced by her furry and feathered friends. As you might have guessed, I wouldn’t take my next bite of food until there was an answer to my question of, ‘Then What Happened?’, enthralled as I was by Aunty Stella’s adventures.
Those stories became our little ritual. When I turned four, Aunty Stella moved from mealtimes to bedtimes. Till today, I can hear the lilt in my mother’s voice as she took me on those imaginary journeys – some ordinary, some fantastical, some silly, some sad – but all of them etched so vividly in my mind. Perhaps it was then I realised that words held a sense of magic. They held the power to carry me away, defying time and place.
While we may have long since discarded our childish things, swapped our school uniforms and satchels for suits and folders, and our bus to school for the office commute, I often wonder - why do these stories stay with us well beyond our childhood (and despite everything we’ve learned along the way)?
I think this is because stories are the safe space where we try out life’s experiences, for the first time. Stories spark the imagination of the child listening to them and encourage that child to listen not just to the words being spoken, but to the emotion and experience of the storyteller.Stories allow for a safe place to explore the idea that life isn’t always easy and that things can go wrong.
I have been amazed at the power of stories to unobtrusively help children deal with the challenges of life. Stories give children a way to understand some of the really confusing and difficult feelings that they can’t yet articulate for themselves.
In all our lives, there is such an overwhelming amount of information bombarding us all the time. Storytelling offers children an opportunity to shut out the ‘noise’ and experience a sense of wonder - stimulating their imaginations and quietly expanding their vocabulary.
I feel it is important to make our children realise that stories are not just things that exist for clever people in books, they're the way human beings communicate with one another.
Today, as life gets busier, making time for a bedtime story becomes so much harder. Tucking your children into bed after a long, hard day, the words “Papa, tell me a story" can strike dread into any parent. Even if one summons the energy, another stumbling block might then be coming up with a nightly story to tell.
But stories needn’t be complicated. Children are just as happy hearing about your nasty Maths teacher as they are hearing about the Uncle who forgot to turn up for his own wedding or hearing stories from their own babyhood. If there are particular issues that your child is perhaps facing at school or in general, stories are a wonderful way to talk about them, while using a different protagonist – so that your child doesn’t feel like the spotlight is on her or him. Sharing stories helps children develop self-esteem and empathy - and builds their ability to listen and narrate.
So, go on, tell those stories. Ignite your child’s imagination. As children grow up hearing your stories, they are also preparing to one day tell stories of their own. We need to keep this wonderful circle of storytelling going. The world will be richer for it.
Author Nayanika Mahtani is a children's author. Her debut novel, Ambushed, an adventure set in tiger territory in the Himalayan foothills was published by Puffin in April 2015. Her latest story is part of an anthology: The Puffin Book of Holiday Stories - a collection of short stories by Indian authors including Ruskin Bond, Rabindranath Tagore and Sudha Murthy.