How stories change your child's brain


We are all inherently storytellers. The way we understand ourselves, our place in the world, and our identities - and this starts from birth.

As soon as children start to verbalise their thoughts, they’re telling stories, and it is these stories that shape the way your child will later understand words.

Dr Kirsty Donald, Senior Specialist at the Division of Developmental Paediatrics at University of Cape Town, agrees that storytelling at home can be of great benefit to children’s development in the South African context.

"The role of storytelling cuts across cultures.

"It is up to the parents to provide an environment where engaging with written material is encouraged.

"Exposing kids to language in cultural context grounds them in their cultural narrative.

"Later on in the school environment, it manifests in increased vocabulary, and most importantly, motivation."

"Learning to read and comprehend is hard work! If you expose children to it with a level of excitement, and support, it builds their confidence and their motivation to learn later on," she explains.

Dr. Donald also points out that she believes there are significant differences between learning to read at school and reading at home with one’s parents:

"In developmental paediatrics, if you start early with developing patterns, you embed these patterns or habits in the long term."

This means that real literacy is not about teaching children to read in the systematic way.

Often, when it comes to problems with literacy, children are struggling with the mechanistic aspects of reading – vocabulary, sentence structure and so on.

But very young children experience books differently.

It’s important to reading to them frequently, and getting across the idea of what it means to tell a story, rather than seeing reading as a chore.

This way children learn to understand, question and comprehend, which is the foundation for learning.

They become receptive readers.

Ultimately, the simple act of telling a story has the power to kick-start literacy development in young minds.

This means all adults can set children on the path to literacy by sharing tales with them.

Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, doting family member, teacher, librarian or simply enjoy spreading the joy of stories, you have the power to set children on the path to reading for enjoyment.

Currently, Nal’ibali has over 800 reading clubs in seven provinces, run by every day heroes who have spun magic with books and stories.

If you would like to be a part of this growing spirit of activism, join the Nal’ibali FUNDA Leader campaign!

All you have to do is sign up on their website, and you’ll be connected to a family of FUNDA Leaders who strive to make a difference in children’s lives!

For more information about Nal’ibali’s FUNDA Leader reading revolution, as well as reading tips and stories in a range of South African languages, visit, or find them on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA.

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