The Role of Story in Language Acquisition
Around three or so years of age, a child takes another great leap in development, a leap that makes her a "different" child while still remaining herself ...Finally a child can tell herself the story of the events and experiences that happen to her. She can now weave together an autobiographical narrative. - Daniel Stern
The ability to frame experiences into a narrative - into a story - marks a huge developmental leap in language acquisition. The number of words a child knows and understands may not have changed, but her ability to create a story from a flow of sequences helps the child interpret the events into a meaningful experience. As child psychologist Daniel Stern (1990) concludes, "Because story making (and story telling) is common to all cultures, and an expected developmental landmark for all children, we now think of story making as a universal human capacity".
Stories create organization for the developing child's mind. He can draw from past memories and experiences and make connections to what is occurring in the present. He can mix together events and memories that happened at different times and places and can also mix in imaginary or "pretend" elements (Stern, 1990). He is creating a structure with a beginning, middle, and end, telling that plot line first to himself, and then to an audience.
Written stories as well as oral stories are an integral part of the development of a child in a literate culture. Listening to stories has proven to be the most helpful preparation for the acquisition of literacy. Long before children can read themselves, children who listen to stories are already beginning to gain experience in the organization of written language and its characteristic rhythms and structures (Heath 1982; Wells, 1986).
While the importance of reading aloud to children has been well established, less attention is typically paid to the role that writing stories and reading them aloud can play.
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