Art of storytelling to young children

If someone would ask me what is the most important thing for the proper development of a child I would say – the heart of childhood beats in the rhythm of a story. Of course, there are basic things like healthy food, free play, and movement, outdoor time, enough sleep, etc. Those things nourish the body of a child, but listening to the story nourishes its spirit. Especially when heard from a  person that child loves the most, like the parent or a grandparent, told with love and relevant emotion. The child learns essential things about life through the story: what is valuable and important, what to accept and what to avoid, what are the relationships among different kinds of people, what is the inner dynamic of problem-solving situations in our lives. If we want to tell these truths to the child as direct instruction it will be not so effective as if we tell it through the story. Why is it so?

Children perceive the world differently than adults. Their cognitive abilities and reasoning are not fully developed, and they are not able to understand the ideas in their abstract form. Their state of consciousness is sensory– they perceive the world around them through the senses. Their understanding is pictorial – they perceive abstract ideas through the pictures. Stories contain an abundance of pictures that help a child to understand the idea behind it. If we can talk to a child in this mood for the first 6-7 years of his/her life, our parenting and teaching would be much more effective and pleasurable. It requires some creativity and patience from our side, and parenting is a wonderful opportunity to develop these qualities if we do not have them already. That’s why storytelling is a very important skill for parents and teachers to work on it. And the best thing is that stories not only nourish those who listen to them, but also those who narrate them. By narrating stories, especially spiritual stories, we come in direct touch with the wisdom present in them, witnessing how the same wisdom has been transferred to the child in front of us.

As devotees of Krishna, we have an access to so many stories with spiritual messages and power. It is a true goldmine of spiritual heritage and tradition, and we should use its richness to nourish our child’s spiritual life from the beginning. When we sit down with the small child in an informal setting and present the story from Srimad Bhagavatam, or some other spiritual source, either by reading it, narrating it, or creating a visual effect with the puppets or hand gestures, it is of the same quality as the formal Bhagavatam lecture to adults. Because we are in the process of transmitting the wisdom and knowledge to the child, in a way suitable for it. In addressing adults we talk about philosophy directly, and in addressing children we create the pictures with our words to present some philosophical truth. Stories that children hear continue to live in their imagination. There is no sharp border between the child’s imagination and the real world that the child perceives – this border gradually develops during the early grades of school years. Having that in mind, telling the story to a child is the same as planting the seed into fertile land – the seed is going to grow in the heart of a child and over time bring the fruits of wisdom that story contains.

Dear parents and caretakers, you can become the gardeners of the gentle hearts of your children by adopting this simple task of spiritual storytelling. You do not need to become a professional storyteller, nor you need any expensive tools or resources. It is enough to be present in the story with your full attention and emotion, and your child will be there absorbing every word you say. Let the wings of your creativity grow and embrace your child with a gentle touch of love and wisdom, nurturing the seed of devotion in their hearts. Someone said that no richness in this world can replace someone who was telling you the stories through childhood… Be sure that your child will cherish this gift for many years to come.

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