A lot of research has been done into the importance of storytelling in the growth of children. Since the beginning of time information and learning was passed from one generation to the next in the form of Stories. These in some cases became myths of such infinite importance they resonate with us to this day.
As Pagans we rely on these myths heavily to give us stories about the many deities we choose to follow or identify with. These stories encompass many paths, traditions and Pantheons however they all have a value whether that be instructional or ethical, and they help us give meaning to our lives.
In my own life I found that often children relate to concepts within a story at a much higher level than we ever give them credit for. I believe this is because in many cases they are hearing, imagining and interpreting the story in absence of a lot of the social mores we are often constrained by as adults.
So why are stories so important today? Stories help children to cope with a lot of their feelings and problems. This happens in two ways. When we tell our children stories that contain feelings in them our children learn to understand and accept how they feel and learn how things affect other people too. They learn that they are not alone and often things make others feel the same.
Language is the way we communicate with each other. Story telling gives our children access to language and vocabulary in use. Language helps us to understand ourselves and those in our life but also gives us a way of understanding the world around us and getting it to make sense. Reading and storytelling are important cultural tools to learn about the world but also important ways to learn language.
When we tell a teaching story whether from a book or memory we are imparting to our children lessons about how life and the universe work. I have found often that it is sometimes hard to explain to a child where they have gone wrong as they will shut down to any criticism. My partner, however has a wonderful knack of being able to construct a story that frames the situation in another time, place or dimension. With the creative mind and power of words he weaves a fantasy world for them that all of a sudden their little imaginations are running havoc. This somehow allows the door to understanding and acceptance open and all of a sudden they get it. Oh! So you mean often follows a tale about various forest animals or a character from the past.
Our childrens response to the stories we tell can also provide us with a means to understand what they are feeling and why. Stories are often tools children use to articulate what is happening. This may be as simple as I know how she feels
Some of the best stories for children are those that Grandmas and Grandpas tell about when they were young. You know the Back when dinosaurs were around kind of stories. Technology moves so fast these days that while we could envisage a time before television when we were little nowadays it is hard for children to believe. So much of the modern day childs life centres around technology they would be lost without it. This is why such stories are good for them.
Fables and folk tales are important too as these have been used for many centuries to convey messages to children. A lot may appear on the surface to be scary but we need to remember that when it is structured as a story, children who have experience with stories have the ability to deconstruct the story and learn that fear passes. Folk Stories and such teach valuable lessons about life and death, about the world and the changes of the seasons and cycles of time.
In terms of this article I predominantly make reference to storytelling rather than reading stories from books however books play a very important role in raising well balanced and emotionally secure children. When our children are little they gain a sense of wellbeing and security to have stories read to them. They also learn to love books from a very early age. My two littlest (aged 4 and 2) will often find a quiet corner and sit with a book. Neither can read but they enjoy the books.
As they get older they learn a lot about life from books. We can even pick out books that deal with issues they are facing. Concepts like death, drugs, bullying, cheating and change are all dealt with in many books designed for preteens and teens. Libraries are an excellent resource and heaps of fun for four year olds. There is nothing like the look on a four or five-year-old book worms face when they first wander into a library and realise that there are all those books to read.
Books can also allow your child to escape the world for a time but not in a structured and controlled way that allows them to vegetate like television. With books they are an active participant in the adventure and the escape.
Books and stories provide them access into their emotions and the lives of others and help them negotiate through the quagmire that can be life. They learn important things like it is okay to be different, dreams can come true, obstacles can be overcome, happy endings do happen and adventure is just around the corner.
As pagans and alternative spiritualists we need to ensure that our children feel doubly secure as they walk around in a world that is not always welcoming of diversity. Stories are especially important to our children because they provide them with spiritual lessons as well as ethical guidelines for living that other children access through literature too. This may mean we give our children access to the Bible, as a wonderful book of poetry and philosophy it can have a place in a Pagan childs upbringing. So too can the Tora and the Koran. These books can live in peace on a pagans bookshelf right next to a book on Tao and books on the teachings of Buddha or the Dali Lama.
So read to them. Learn a few stories and tell it to them in front of the fire on a cold winter night. Make a story up. Fill your house with books and encourage them to read them by reading yourself. Story time builds good parent-child relationships and teaches them about life and provides them with the tools to understand the big wide world we live in. The will learn to not only love books but also learn how to communicate with others and interpret what they say. This provides them with strong social tools that help them in life to become well-rounded, social, intelligent and caring members of society ...
And Awesome Pagans.
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