Child Development

Let’s Get Lit! Why Children Need Stories

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You pick your kids up from school, they get buckled in the car – and the storytelling begins (with no end in sight for those of us with little chatterboxes)! Humankind’s experiences and perspectives have always been built around the stories we tell each other- transcending history, generations, and culture. We tell our stories, create magical worlds, and pen our tales down in the hopes of sharing, entertaining, teaching and inspiring. 

In a similar manner, stories help to shape our children, and hone their understanding of the world around them. To truly recognise the impact that stories have on our young, we speak to educator Matt Brown – Curriculum Coordinator and Year 4 Classroom Teacher at the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) – who shares about passion (he reads over 200 children’s books a year to stay up to date!), purpose (why stories are vital for growth) and practical ways to get our kids excited about the wonders of reading. 

Mr Matt Brown, Curriculum Coordinator and Year 4 Classroom Teacher at AISM

Stories can create:

1. A powerful bonding experience

Life is about collecting and sharing stories- and who better to enjoy such stories with than with the ones closest to us? Stories are a great way for families to connect with each other and share ideas, experiences, dreams and hopes. “I think that by reading from a range of texts as a family and having discussions around the content and ideas that spring up from it, parents and children learn how to interpret, empathise, consider, imagine and communicate,” says Mr. Brown.

This in turn fosters a greater culture of openness, enabling kids and parents alike to learn more about each other’s interests and perspectives (plus, there’s nothing better than ending the day in a cozy snuggle, coupled with a good bedtime tale!). 

2. A world beyond our children’s own

Stories can help our children grapple with their big emotions over the (inevitable) changes they’ll encounter in life. From the child who’s anxious about their first day at school, to the older sibling struggling with feelings of jealousy over the arrival of a new baby, books that touch on similar topics can serve to inspire, comfort, and help our kids come to terms with how they’re feeling in a world that’s constantly evolving. 

Stories also help to expand a child’s somewhat narrower worldview, helping them to build connections between different ideas, and to create (and change) perceptions about their reality. Reading can impact our children’s perspectives on identity, culture, gender, values and societal norms – influencing how they choose to act, and inspiring them to push for greater positive change.

Mr. Brown suggests using stories to help expand knowledge across all subjects. As Curriculum Coordinator, he integrates aspects of literacy and stories seamlessly into all subjects at AISM. “If your child loves science, try picking up a book about famous scientists and get them reading all about them,” he suggests. Making stories as relevant, organic and responsive to the kids as possible will lead to willing learners and absorbent minds.

With that being said, Mr. Brown also reminds us that “the act of reading is only one part of the whole literacy spectrum”. At AISM, literacy blocks are delivered in a multi-pronged manner, which include oracy, language and speech. Stories delivered through this approach encourage debates and open up doors to thought-provoking discourse, which helps to hone the critical-thinking skills that are so necessary for our children in the 21st century. Finishing a story is the first step; using it as a springboard for further discussions takes learning to a whole other level.

3. A growth mindset

Aside from reading the stories of others, having our children engage in writing creative stories can also bring about a wealth of benefits. By engaging in creative writing, children are able to indulge in their fantasies and stretch their imaginations beyond any limit, allowing them to freely exercise their creative minds.

It’s also a great avenue for learning to embrace mistakes and to take on a growth mindset; something that Mr. Brown himself strongly advocates. He recalls a time in his classroom where this principle was memorably put into practice – with Mr. Brown confiscating all the erasers in his class and introducing a “Writer’s Notebook”, in which nothing within would be corrected.

The objective of this exercise? To shake up over-perfectionistic tendencies, and to help his students transition from being overly focused on correcting their mistakes, to redirecting their efforts into taking progressive steps forward instead. “I don’t care about perfection, I care about effort,” Mr. Brown emphasises. Tying this in with the school’s evidence-based Visible Learning approach, his students were then able to reframe their mistakes as opportunities to grow – visibly seeing their crossed-out errors, and celebrating their progress as a result. “It’s about placing the power in the hands of the learner after providing them with the skills they need to make strong choices for themselves,” adds Mr. Brown.

What can parents do? 

Mr. Brown’s passion for books, coupled with AISM’s commitment to building a strong generation of young readers, has helped to shape the culture of reading at the school. But what about at home? What can parents do to nurture a greater love for reading in their kids as well?

Here are some of Mr. Brown’s simple, but practical, tips:

1. Make it a family activity 

Get back to basics. Simply spare 10 minutes a day where the whole family is in a room reading their own books – even separately. (Mr. Brown secretly harbours the hope that families might increase this designated time to 30 minutes, although he does concede that this might be a tad daunting for tired parents, to start with!). In his view, “the energy that our children pick up from everyone losing themselves in a book for 10 minute is so much more valuable than buying another app or following another educational program online.” 

2. Model a positive relationship with books

Lead by example. I come from a family of really voracious readers, so I have reading modelled for me,” says Mr. Brown. “Seeing my own parents read and recommending books to each other, without a doubt, was what turned me into a lifelong reader.” He understands that not every adult enjoys reading (or they might simply be too busy) and suggests an alternative. “You can lie down and shut your eyes for 10 minutes, and get your child to tell you a story or read a story to you. It’s those little moments throughout the week that add up and become very powerful, too.”

3. Take risks

We often associate taking risks with something rather extreme – but encouraging our children to take risks and step out of their comfort zone with regards to books can be just as much of a confidence booster! It’s common for children to revisit the same series or genre of books; however, motivating them to delve into other stories can help them gain confidence in exploring the unknown, whilst expanding their knowledge base.

To help his students read beyond their normal sets of books, Mr. Brown started a fun library scavenger hunt, where children were challenged to complete all the books in their scavenger list by the end of the academic year. His varied and inclusive checklist included, amongst others: a book by a female author, a book by an Australian author, and a story set within Malaysia. “It was almost like they were given permission to seek out these different books,” he reflects. The scavenger game was a hit, with three quarters of the class completing the hunt within only one term!

If you’re looking for great books to explore with your families, here are some excellent author suggestions from Mr. Brown to get you started:

  • For 3-to-8 year olds: Picture books by Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, Mo Willems and Peter Brown
  • For 9-to-13 year olds: Middle grade books by Sally Rippin, Gabrielle Wang, Nova Weetman and Andy Griffith
  • For 14 year olds (and above): Young adult novels by Rebecca Stead, Kate Di Camillo, Leah Johnson and Patrick Ness

4. Be patient and encouraging 

If your child is a reluctant reader, or has developed negative associations with reading, Mr. Brown suggests identifying as much as possible the cause of those negative feelings first. “Is it because they get bored with the choices they’re offered? Are they feeling that reading happens at the cost of something else they want to enjoy? Have they felt afraid to make mistakes when reading unknown words, so they shy away from taking risks? A safe space that encourages learning from errors goes a very long way at turning around negative attitudes towards any aspect of learning.”

So, if your child stumbles over an unfamiliar word, try looking it up in the dictionary together. If they rush over a full stop, gently slow things down, reminding them (and yourselves!) that it’s the effort, and not perfection, that matters the most.

Happy reading, #makchicmumsquad!

[*The contents of this interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.]

This is a sponsored post by the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM).  Click on the banner below to find out more about AISM:

AISM offers Australian education taught by highly qualified international teachers, predominantly Australian trained and experienced. The Australian curriculum is built on the world-renowned Visible Learning approach and offers an international qualification recognised by top universities around the world. Growing steadily over the years since its inception in 2000, the school caters for children from age 3 (Pre-school) to age 18 (Pre-University). To know more about AISM’s integrated, balanced approach to future-focused learning, join their Open Week from 22nd to 26 August 2022 and enjoy savings of more than RM10,000, with 50% off admission fee and full application fee rebate for all year groups.

Elaine is a mummy of two who moved from the financial world to become an early childhood educator. She loves travelling, books and her cup of tea to unwind after a long day of diapers, school runs and pretend play.