One of my fondest childhood memories involves audio books. I clearly remember borrowing a cassette tape of Milly Molly Mandy stories from my local library and curling up on my bed to listen. I'd while away winter afternoons; consumed by the voice and the mischievous Miss Molly. I was always an avid reader but audio stories added another element to the experience.
As a parent I have turned to audio stories and meditations many times. I started using them when Che first dropped his day sleep. It's always such a murky transition and audio books filled that gap; they provided valuable quiet time come afternoon and kept the overwhelming emotions and tantrums at bay. Since then they have been a constant in our home and in the car. Recently I discovered The Storytree Company, created by master storyteller and singer, Jenni Cargill-Strong. Her melodic and soothing voice intrigues and delights and it's all too easy to get carried along, engrossed in the tales she tells. Based in the Byron Bay Hinterland, Jenni regularly performs to live audiences and has won numerous awards for her CDs. She believes that stories are for humans, regardless of age, and that ultimately, the magic of the story is stronger than the storyteller. "A well-crafted story casts a spell over listeners of any age, invoking a deeply restful state," she says.
I asked Jenni a few questions about storytelling and the benefits of audio stories for this generation. Her words are both eloquent and educational:
Many people love having my story CDs as an alternative to TV or screen time, if they want to keep their child engaged and occupied but also have their imagination stimulated. Recorded stories are great before bed when you are too tired or busy to read to your child and can also be used if your child is having trouble falling to sleep. They are also a great way to shorten long car journeys.
Listening to stories helps children learn quite naturally and easily. They stimulate imagination enormously because so much of an oral story has to be imagined. With a picture book you see the story as the illustrator paints it but with a told story you imagine it all.
Research has shown that people recall information given within a story at a dramatically higher rate than data given without a story context. Oral storytelling is also an elegant way to engage multiple intelligences. Quality stories, told sensitively, can nourish the soul while fostering imagination, emotional resilience, moral values and critical thinking.
While the level of concentration required to follow an oral story is very high, the magic of stories with a folktale structure is such, that modern children can still sink deeply and effortlessly into them. Even very exciting stories can generate a feeling of relaxation, because they create such an intensity of focus or ‘entrainment’.Well told oral stories have a distinctly different structure to written stories. They are all action. This is because the processes of listening as opposed to reading are significantly different. This means firstly that an oral storyteller must always keep the story moving or risk losing their audience. The action doesn’t have to be adrenaline pumping action, it just must keep steadily unfolding. Secondly, though a storyteller can use beautiful words, they need to use words relatively simply. However, a storyteller has something more than words to paint images in the imaginations of their listeners. Just some of the tools on the storyteller’s tool box are vocal tone, pitch, pace, pause, gesture, facial expression, emotional tone, mime, character voices, gaze, song, refrain and repetition.