People love stories. We see this from the beginning, when a child, maybe not even old enough to walk, crawls up on Mommy’s lap with a book wedged under their balancing arm. Soon, he might begin to say, “Book! Book!” as he urges you to read it.
As you read the story of a rabbit (affiliate link), of a garden, he kicks little legs in excitement and covers shining eyes in suspense. Will the rabbit get away? You’ve read the same story 40, 60, 80 times, and even though you are tired of hearing about the grumpy old gardener, your child does not grow weary of the narrative.
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Stories, in the early years, help our children make sense of the world.
When we sit with a child on our lap, a book spread out before us, or when we tell them a story from our childhood, we’re helping them understand. Hearing a story with a beginning, middle, and end gives them a sense of security. Yes, there’s the unknown, but there’s a conclusion, not always happy, but finalized in a way that gives hope.
Through these narratives, our children connect. We share the stories of our barefoot and carefree childhood, and our children feel like they were there all along. They connect with nature when they hear animal tales and stories of faraway lands. They connect with our Creator when we tell them of the first humans, living in a beautiful garden but infected with the disease of sin.
Through these narratives, our children develop language. The less-exciting parts, like verb-conjugation and pronouns, and ever-intriguing words like “extravagant” and “calamity.” When they begin to speak these stores, language serves an entirely different purpose, no long of receiving, but offering.
We love stories because we are a part of them.
Daily we act out 100 little stories that sometimes conclude, and sometimes go on and on for days, months, years. To look back on a treasured memory is to tell a story, a beautiful moment from the past. Though we couldn’t see the beginning, middle, and end when we were living the sweet bliss of a vacation or gorgeous hike in the mountains, our memories organize the moments for us and help us remember.
We were created as a part of the Ultimate story, written on pages by the Divine Author.
The ending has already been secured and we’re living out the middle each day. Our Savior spoke in stories, knowing how they move us and connect us and inspire us. He told the stories of coins, treasures, and servants that guide our thinking and our actions.
Eventually, these narratives come out of little hearts.
We call it narration in the older years, but when our little ones are still cuddled in our laps, they begin “telling back” in its rawest sense. I saw this in my children from as early as one year old. Little E crawled up onto the couch, holding his favorite book about farm animals and a helpful truck. He beeped and mooed as he flipped the pages over, finally closing the book and saying, “Allll done!” He knew the purpose of sharing a story, even if he didn’t quite have the language to share it.
Soon this story will become more clear, and he’ll attempt to read a book when Mom’s hands are full. Clear details will arise and the story’s ideas will come forth, even without prompting. This is what my non-reading Miss H does right before she comes to me, a glowing smile spread across her face, and says, “I just read this book.” and I listen to her retell details and ideas in the story, again.
The stories are more mundane when they’re told about the everyday aspects of our lives. When Daddy comes home from work in the evening and he asks, “What did you do today?” My two older children start to fill in the details of the day, bit by bit, until they’ve pieced together the beginning, middle, and end. A narration of their ordinary lives gives the day some order, letting them process the highlights and low-points. Maybe this day, through this retelling, will be moved to their long-term memories and will be an often-revisited treasure for years to come.
And when they’ve practiced using their language to tell stories that they’ve heard and experienced? Then they create their own stories. Stories of realistic events and tales of unfathomable adventures. They link their knowledge of the world with their knowledge of language so that they can create. They act out their stories and create scenarios for us to participate in.
In these early years, we do not prod.
There is no need to cajole these stories out of them- “Let’s put the events in order, shall we?” because putting these things in order has been their business since their first breath. Our role, at least during the early years, is not to make them speak, but to listen to the story that is already in them.