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Why Have Storytelling in the Schools?
by Harlynne Geisler

Why have storytelling in the schools? Because I am a storyteller/consultant to the gifted program of the San Diego City Schools, I was asked that question recently. Here is what I said:

Children today are losing the ability to imagine, to create their own images. Television and picture books give them someone else's images and tell them precisely what those images are doing. A storyteller speaks simply, though often stretching the children's vocabulary through poetic use of language and through use of foreign and archaic words. The child has to elaborate and embroider the simple terms used in the stories — to truly see in the mind's eye a princess "as tall and slender as the reeds the grow by Loch Erne" or a bed "as soft and white as the heart's desire."

If children hear exciting stories from books beyond their reading level, they will want to learn to read better so that they can read such fascinating volumes. Storytellers as purveyors of literature are role models of readers.

When I enter gifted classrooms, I often see posters that admonish children to be polite, kind, or generous. As any preacher or rabbi can tell you, moral messages are better conveyed by subtle stories than by strict lectures. Evil, rude, greedy characters often have their way early in a folk or fairy tale — as in life — but goodness always wins in the end. Storytelling also encourages better relations between children of different cultures by showing through stories from all over the world that all peoples laugh and love and grieve and desire in much the same way.

If you wish to more fully comprehend the emotional and psychological value of storytelling for children, I suggest that you read The Uses of Enchantment; The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist. He writes that "without fantasy to give us hope, we cannot meet the adversities of life." A storyteller once said that "Oral storytelling is the activity in which the child listening is most certain of the speaker's total gift of attention to him/her, and it therefore has a healing power in an unloving world." I have found in my own experience that stories create trust and love within myself and the listeners. This could be used effectively in schools. For example, if a third grade teacher would tell stories in the spring to the second grade students, they wouldn't be as worried about starting her/his class in the fall.

A well-trained storyteller always uses good breath control, careful enunciation, appropriate gestures, effective pauses, and other speech techniques that mark a perfect speaker. Any child or teacher can learn from the teller's example In fact, storytelling is used in the high school speech contests that I have judged.

There are many other educational purposes for using storytelling which can be found in books and articles about storytelling at your local library. None of them obscure the fact that storytelling is just plain fun!

Printed by permission from Harlynne Geisler who has taught storytelling and told stories for children and adults in 14 states, Canada, and Mexcio. She is the author of Storytelling Professionally; The Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer. For additional information, visit her Website at E-mail her at: or call her at (858) 569-9399


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