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Back to basics: reading, storytelling and retelling

My preschooler developed an interest in books when he was only six months old. I bought him the usual My First… baby book series, including the ABC and the 123 copies. He loved them, even though at six months he didn’t understand any of the words we were reading to him. The colours and our voices did the trick, plus the fact that the books were plastic and safe to put in his mouth!

Within a week, my husband and I noticed how our baby boy was able to turn a book the right way up if he’d picked it up upside down. We were amazed! But he’s our first and we are amazed at anything he does! Even now he always enjoys sitting in bed with one of us reading to him, and now that he’s five we read him a story once and then he tells himself the story from memory while he goes through each page. Because of this progress, we no longer read to him. Instead, we retell the stories.

There’s a difference between reading and retelling.

Reading word for word out loud to our son versus reading (silent reading) then retelling the story in our own words. It’s important that we do that, for two reasons.

First, because some of the words in his books are new to him and he doesn’t ‘get them’ right away. For example, The man fell overboard would be The man fell into the water. So we use words he already know, the first few times. Once he understands, we change the words back to introduce the new word.

Second, retelling helps him to develop his memory. Imagine telling your friend a story your grandparents told you about their own grandparents. The story has been told and retold over many years and today you still remember it. It could have changed slightly with each storyteller, but it’s the ‘same’ story, same lesson and you still remember it. Now your friend that you tell it to will remember it, as well.

Selection by criteria

My son is now five years old and able to choose his own books. He doesn’t just look at the colours anymore, he looks at the stories. Sometimes it seems he’s assessing each book as he flicks through the pages, before he makes a decision. Does he have a bunch of criteria in his mind already? Is he qualifying the stories before choosing whether to take the book?

The ones he chooses, are they of his favourite characters? Are they drawn in a certain style that he likes? If they are new to him, are they exciting to look at? Does he choose dinosaurs because he has seen them in other books or is he choosing this one because there’s something different in this one story? He doesn’t read much, yet. But he can surely tell the stories from the pictures.

Taking advertising back to basics

I’m curious to see how storytelling in advertising and marketing would be like in 10 years from now. As example, if we put two job advertisements side-by-side for the same company and same job, one advertisement from today and one from 2034 or so. What would the 2034 advertisement look like?

For now, as my son grows older, I’ll study him and keep an eye on the differences between how he uses storytelling and retelling. Hopefully it’ll become clearer so that I can understand why he selects certain books and why he chooses to re-enact only some of those stories such as Three Little Pigs and Green Eggs and Ham but not all of them.

Image by Tom Fishburne

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