Humans are storytelling beings. We use stories to interpret world events, explain behaviours, show aspirations, provoke enquiry and explore moral questions. They bring us together and shape us and the future we create.
Children who grow up surrounded by stories develop vital intellectual and emotional skills, such as language and reasoning, empathy and imagination. They discover how stories can help us to understand our world, connect with others and shape our future.
Yet many children grow up in ‘word poverty’ which limits their achievement and aspirations. UK statistics on children’s spoken and written language, well-being, school and workforce readiness, show this to be a growing problem and Government figures indicate that 1 in 6 people in the UK struggle with reading and writing – with a literacy level below that expected of an 11-year-old.
Here in Oxford, despite the city’s international status as a centre of learning excellence, the problem is very acute. In 2010 Oxford City was the lowest ranking district in the country (out of 326 districts) for reading and writing and continued to be bottom for writing in 2011. Despite notable improvements in all subjects over recent years, the city remains 16th from bottom for reading.
Stories have the power to play a key role in addressing this inequality. Engaging children from an early age and their parents – particularly those from word-poor households – with stories is therefore vital, not only offering emotional and social benefits but also improved overall life chances. Recent research on reading demonstrated that reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education.
Stories not only boost intellectual development and emotional development they offer sheer enjoyment.
From the solitary pleasure of reading a good book, to the shared delight of hearing a story together, stories enrich our lives.