By CELA on 18 May, 2017

There is an old Scottish saying, ‘A story should be told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart’ and that’s just the way my storyteller husband Ulf and I love to tell our tales to children. No books and just the children, a story, and us.  We have discovered that in this intimate space, magic happens…

Experts in the field of education and child development, while they may not believe in magic, are rediscovering the ancient art of oral storytelling (links to further reading below). Of course, story reading has long been recognised as a wonderful educational tool, however oral storytelling has now proven to have many extra benefits.

The oral storyteller focuses his or her attention on the listeners, (eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart). The storyteller brings not only their undivided attention but their own unique personality to the story telling. Ulf and I have very different styles of storytelling, I tend to be exuberant while Ulf has a gentle Swedish manner. The combination of personality and undivided attention gives the storytelling a sense of intimacy which children respond to.

A story reader is bound by the book and the text and looks back and forth between page and listeners, while the storyteller is free to respond completely to the listeners’ reactions. The storyteller may even change the story, expanding sections when the interest is great or altering the story to fit the needs of the listeners.

The freedom afforded by oral storytelling allows Ulf and I to take any story and rework it for a specific audience. When sharing stories in early childhood we always add rhymes, repetitions and actions in which the children can join in. We also encourage their contributions by asking questions like, “What would you put in the magic stone soup?” and incorporate the children’s answers into the story.

There are many benefits to exercising the imagination and one crucial one is the development of empathy through learning to place one’s self in another’s shoes…

Oral storytelling is a shared experience in which the child becomes an active participant in the creation of the story, while children who are shown illustrations and read to, are passive in comparison. Children listening to oral stories must exercise their imaginations.  The storyteller helps them to create the pictures in their minds with words, facial expressions, tone and gesture but each child’s inner vision will be different.

There are many benefits to exercising the imagination and one crucial one is the development of empathy through learning to place one’s self in another’s shoes.  Another outcome of an active imagination is the development of greater problem solving skills.

The ‘active’ nature of oral story listening also supports concentration and comprehension skills. Recent research shows listeners to oral storytelling retained more information and demonstrated better comprehension skills than children who were only read to.

A mother recently wrote to us and said that her daughter’s preschool was amazed when her daughter, Gaia, consoled a young friend who had fallen over with the 10-minute story, complete with actions, that she heard us tell on the weekend. Later that week Gaia told another one of our stories to her grandparents! Even we were amazed at how much she retained.

Storytelling is of huge benefit to children who are not ready to read or are having reading difficulties

Storytelling also enhances emotional intelligence. The reactions of the storyteller to the story, the teller’s tone of voice and facial expressions, model emotions and the appropriate responses to emotions. Learning how to recognise emotions and how to express them is a vital step in child development. Listening to oral stories, also gives control to the child over the level of fear they experience, as they create the images in their minds that they are comfortable with.

Storytelling is of huge benefit to children who are not ready to read or are having reading difficulties.  It is an enjoyable activity which increases their vocabulary and teaches them the sound and form of narratives without focusing on the written word. And, if children have participated in oral storytelling, they would have experienced the joy of co-creating stories, generating an eagerness to learn more literacy skills.

Watching emotions play on the upturned faces of our audiences is an absolute joy for us. Their expressions tell us that they are fully engaged with the story and us, the storytellers. We are truly on the adventure together, that is the power and joy of storytelling.

Now that you know just some of the benefits of oral storytelling, we hope you feel inspired to put the book aside and try telling a story eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart…it’s absolute magic.

Heart to Heart Storytelling’s 8 top tips for telling tales

1 HEART: Oral storytelling is NOT telling a story by heart, it’s telling stories heart to heart. Storytelling is not memorizing words, it’s sharing images and events.

2 BARE BONES. Read your text a few times. Then strip it down to the bare bones. Where, who why, how and end. You may like to write a few words on each, or draw a bubble map or sketch a simple story board, or map. Keep it simple, keep it brief.

3 RATTLE THE BONES. Tell the barebone story to yourself or the dog. Then check, did you leave anything vital out? Then tell it again and again. Once you feel confident…

4 ADD SOME SENSES. Keep it simple and in words you feel comfortable with, describe some sights, smells, feel, sounds. Remember everyone has a couple of senses which are predominate… so it’s good to include a little of all of them to appeal to everyone in the audience.

5 ADD EMOTIONS. How is the character in your story feeling? Can you describe that in a way the children can relate to? Can you show it in your body language or facial expression?

6 FLESH IT OUT. Add rhymes, repetitions and actions or song for Early Childhood.

7.TELL IT. Tell it, tell it, tell it, tell it, tell it!

8. HAVE FUN. Play with the story and go on an adventure with the children.

REMEMBER: There is no such thing as a wrong story, just a new story!

Further reading

Storytelling and Story Reading: A Comparison of Effects on Children ‘s Memory and Story Comprehension.

Role of Storytelling in Early Literacy Development — Louise Phillips

The effects of storytelling and story reading on the oral language complexity and story comprehension of young children.

Storytelling engagement in the classroom: observable behavioural cues of children’s story experiences.Mundy-Taylor, J. (2013) (PhD), University of Newcastle. Retrieved from

The effect of teacher’s storytelling aloud on the reading comprehension of Saudi elementary stage students Nasser Saleh Al-Mansour *, Ra’ed Abdulgader Al-Shorman

Parts of this story were originally published on

Meet the author

Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson

Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson is a children’s author and storyteller. After a career in horticulture, Lindy completed a degree in English Literature and combined nature with literature by writing two children’s books set in the Australian bush. Lindy became an accredited storyteller with the Australian Storytelling Guild NSW, telling stories under the name Lindy Lady of the Forest. In 2014, Lindy trained further at the prestigious International School of Storytelling in England, where she met her Swedish storytelling husband, Ulf Nilsson. Now based in Australia, the couple are Heart to Heart Storytelling, with storytelling programs and workshops for all ages.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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