Children as Story Hearers

Pause and reflect:

What are the oral stories infants, toddlers and young children hear?

When I asked myself this question, the first thing that came to mind was a live theatre event I attended by Canadian author and storyteller Robert Munsch.  The theatre was packed with young children and their families. Munsch’s voice and facial expressions were alive with animation and energy.

The second storytelling experience that came to mind was more recent. It was Thomas King’s “The Truth About Stories” that I heard on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio.  King used a repeated storytelling formula to begin and end each of his talks. King wove legend, history and modern day events into a tapestry of expression and insights that I will continue to revisit throughout my adult years.

But hearing oral stories by well-known storytellers does not happen everyday. Nor do all stories engage or make sense to children who vary in age, first language, culture, experiences, and personality.


Perhaps because of this, parents, caregivers and educators are often masterful at intuitively giving infants, toddlers, preschoolers and young children the oral story experiences they desperately need.


Your reflections about the types of oral stories children hear may have included a wide variety of narratives: 

  • Nursery rhymes such as “Humpty Dumpty”
  • Fairy tales such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”
  • Songs such as “Down By the Bay Where the Watermelons Grow”
  • Descriptions about real events captured in family photos
  • Recollections about a memorable event that day
  • Musings about what the pet cat or dog did while everyone was out of the house
  • Family lore
  • Familiar stories re-told with made-up endings
  • Familiar tales told with the character names changed to the name of the child listerner


The variety of oral stories that adults can share with children is limited only by our imagination and our confidence.

Narratives — fiction and non-fiction; simple and complex — help children make sense of their relationships to objects, animals, people, communities, beliefs and ideas. This meaning-making is where learning happens.


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