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Why stories matter

Illustration by Sarah Garson

One way to think of a story is as a sequence of linked events: this happens, then this happens, then this happens… Stories can be personal (this happened to me); reported fact (I learned that this happened) or fiction (imagine this happening). In a very real sense, these stories make up our world, or at least how we see it, which comes down to much the same thing.

Humans have told stories for millions of years and written them for thousands, no doubt because they have contributed to our survival. Every young human who grows up hearing and telling, reading and writing stories gains access to a lifetime of treasures.

The best demonstration of the power of stories is a good story. But it is worth remarking that there is also a growing body of evidence for the power and importance of stories for humans, and especially for young humans.

Stories boost our intellectual development

  • developing speaking and listening skills – vital in their own right and as steps towards reading and writing
  • wiring our brains for joined-up thinking
  • motivating us to persevere with reading and writing
  • building our knowledge and understanding of the world.

Stories support our emotional development

  • offering safe experiences of powerful emotions, ‘rehearsals for life’
  • developing empathy, our understanding of how others feel
  • comforting us about challenges and suffering in our lives
  • helping us construct our sense of self, the story of our past and future
  • giving us a sense of belonging to a group or community with a shared story.

Stories offer sheer enjoyment

  • from the solitary pleasure of reading a good book
  • to the shared delight of hearing a story together