Is Storytelling Really That Important?

My two year old son and I have this routine that we go through most nights before he goes to bed.  He climbs into Daddy’s bed, we say our prayers, he snuggles up next to me, and he says “tell me a story.”  He isn’t interested in your classic Jack and the Beanstalk or Mother Goose tales, the stories he wants are all original.  I’ll ask him what he wants the story to be about that night, and he will usually give me some aspect of the story as a starting point.

For example, one night he wanted to hear a story about an ant.  So, the main character in our story was an ant named Nathan.  Now, Nathan is my son’s name and generally he decides that the main character in any story should be named after him – occasionally it is named after one of his siblings, or a cousin, but generally it is Nathan.  In this story, our hero the ant lives in a watermelon house and drives a car made out of a banana.  He talks rather slow in the tradition of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.   Nathan ant often visits his fast talking friend the rabbit (who has a carrot car of course) and his other friend Mr. Turtle (who speaks with a bit of a southern drawl).  To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember all the details of the story from the first time I told it as I just kind of made it up as I went.  But, here’s the thing – Nathan does remember, and he remembers an amazing amount of detail!

Now, whenever we tell a story to Nathan about an ant, he’ll remind me that the ant has to talk slow.  One time, I tried to put him in a house made out of grapes, and Nathan was quick to correct me and let me know that Nathan Ant’s house made out of watermelons not grapes.  Rabbit and turtle have to have the same accent every time I tell a story or I will hear about it.

So, what’s the point you ask?  Well, even if you don’t ask, I’m going to tell you.  The point is about the importance of storytelling to kids.  Story is the language that kids deal in.  Ask a grown up what they did at work (ask me anyhow), and I will give you lists.  I will tell what I did get accomplished and what I didn’t get accomplished.  Only if something funny or particularly noteworthy happened will I sometimes tell the “story.”  However, ask a six year old boy what he did at school, and you might just get a story that would rival Tolkien.

Kids deal in the language of story, and perhaps that is why God tells us that we need faith like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven [Mark 10:15].  Now, let me go on record as saying I am not going to stretch this verse and proclaim that Jesus was talking explicitly about storytelling when he uttered these words, but I will tell you that I think it is possible that storytelling was one facet of his statement.  You see, at its core, the Bible is a story.  It is the story of God’s interaction with his creation throughout time.  It is a story of creation and fall and redemption and restoration, and it tells a story that continues today.  Part of the key to getting kids excited about the Bible is helping them understand how they fit into God’s story.  The Bible is not archaic and dead it is alive and sharper than any two edged sword, and Bible storytelling is the key to getting kids pumped up about the Bible.  My son insists that the main character in any story I tell has to be named Nathan because it makes the story more exciting for him to be in it.  In the same way, we must demonstrate to children that, next to God, they are the main character in this story.  That is really what the Bible is about, and that is what God created them to be!

I wrote a post a month or so ago on Dad in the Middle called Shaped By The Story which offers some great advice on using story in teaching kids based on an article from Amy Dolan.