Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids


Video Courtesy of CBS News This Morning


Children begin telling stories as young as age two or three. And they continue to develop storytelling skills in their interaction with parents and others who provide guidance and feedback.

The ability to tell a coherent and well-developed narrative may be important for children’s literacy development. However, most of the studies on children’s storytelling and reading skills have been conducted with samples of middle-class white children.

To address this gap in the research, my colleague, Iheoma Iruka, and I studied data of children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups from across the United States.

What we found surprised us.

Storytelling among African-American children

For our research, we used national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a study of about 14,000 children born in the US in 2001, that examined their development, school readiness and early school experiences. We focused on 6,150 children who were identified as African American, Asian American, Latino and European American.

To understand the role that storytelling skills play in the link between language and early literacy, we used data from when children were two years old until they were five years old.

When the children were two years old, parents were asked to describe their children’s language abilities. Later, when children were four years old, their storytelling skills were measured by asking them to retell stories they had just heard a researcher tell them. At five years old, children were given an assessment of their early literacy.

For most racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups of children, we found that children who had better language skills as toddlers did better on the literacy assessment when they were five years old.

But when we looked at how storytelling plays a role between early language and early literacy, we found that when it came to African-American children, it made a big difference. For these children, the higher their storytelling scores, the better they did on the early literacy assessment. Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference for the other groups.

What this study tells us

Storytelling skills may be less important for the early literacy skills of most children. But for African-American children, these skills seem to be important for early literacy in a way that may not be true of other children.

African-American culture inculcates orality.
Rod Library, CC BY

We also know from other research that from early on, African-American children tell stories that are vivid, elaborate and rich in imagery. The quality of stories produced by African-American children has been found to be on par with or exceed that of stories told by their white peers. Other studies find that African-American children have a wide repertoire of storytelling styles, which they use flexibly depending on the context.

The strong storytelling skills of African-American children may stem from the cultural and historic influences that have fostered a preference for orality among African Americans.

All this should lead us to believe that African-American kids, with their strong storytelling skills, should do better with their reading skills. However, we know that African-American children are failing to learn basic reading skills. A nationwide test of reading achievement showed that four out of five African-American fourth graders failed to achieve competency in reading in 2013.

So, why are African-American children not performing better in reading? More research is needed, but possible explanations suggest that the low-quality schools many of these kids go to end up having a negative impact on their reading skills. In addition, many of these kids may have language skills that differ from those expected at school.

Why does storytelling matter?

For most other kids, studies suggest that storytelling skills may show their influence when children are older.

And that could be because storytelling uses “decontextualized” language. Decontextualized language differs from conversational or contextualized language in that decontextualized language functions independently from the immediate context or shared knowledge between listeners and the storyteller.

As children tell stories, they gain practice in using the same type of language that is used in written text, which can help them as they learn to read.

While teachers and parents have been told to read books to children to support their language and literacy development, encouraging children to tell stories as a way to support language and literacy has received less attention.

So, what can teachers and parents do?

Many schools have a “show-and-tell” time that can allow children a chance to practice storytelling skills as they share information about a valued object. As teachers and peers ask questions, they can facilitate children’s storytelling skills.

Parents and teachers can also model storytelling for children by sharing their own experiences, in the form of a story that has a clear beginning, middle and end, and addresses the questions of who, what, where, when and why. Using props like wordless books, puppets, dolls and photographs may also help children in developing stories.

The ConversationWhile learning to tell stories can be useful for all children, this skill may be most needed for those at risk of achieving reading competency.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Investigator, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids


Video Courtesy of CBS News This Morning


Children begin telling stories as young as age two or three. And they continue to develop storytelling skills in their interaction with parents and others who provide guidance and feedback.

The ability to tell a coherent and well-developed narrative may be important for children’s literacy development. However, most of the studies on children’s storytelling and reading skills have been conducted with samples of middle-class white children.

To address this gap in the research, my colleague, Iheoma Iruka, and I studied data of children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups from across the United States.

What we found surprised us.

Storytelling among African-American children

For our research, we used national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a study of about 14,000 children born in the US in 2001, that examined their development, school readiness and early school experiences. We focused on 6,150 children who were identified as African American, Asian American, Latino and European American.

To understand the role that storytelling skills play in the link between language and early literacy, we used data from when children were two years old until they were five years old.

When the children were two years old, parents were asked to describe their children’s language abilities. Later, when children were four years old, their storytelling skills were measured by asking them to retell stories they had just heard a researcher tell them. At five years old, children were given an assessment of their early literacy.

For most racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups of children, we found that children who had better language skills as toddlers did better on the literacy assessment when they were five years old.

But when we looked at how storytelling plays a role between early language and early literacy, we found that when it came to African-American children, it made a big difference. For these children, the higher their storytelling scores, the better they did on the early literacy assessment. Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference for the other groups.

What this study tells us

Storytelling skills may be less important for the early literacy skills of most children. But for African-American children, these skills seem to be important for early literacy in a way that may not be true of other children.

African-American culture inculcates orality.
Rod Library, CC BY

We also know from other research that from early on, African-American children tell stories that are vivid, elaborate and rich in imagery. The quality of stories produced by African-American children has been found to be on par with or exceed that of stories told by their white peers. Other studies find that African-American children have a wide repertoire of storytelling styles, which they use flexibly depending on the context.

The strong storytelling skills of African-American children may stem from the cultural and historic influences that have fostered a preference for orality among African Americans.

All this should lead us to believe that African-American kids, with their strong storytelling skills, should do better with their reading skills. However, we know that African-American children are failing to learn basic reading skills. A nationwide test of reading achievement showed that four out of five African-American fourth graders failed to achieve competency in reading in 2013.

So, why are African-American children not performing better in reading? More research is needed, but possible explanations suggest that the low-quality schools many of these kids go to end up having a negative impact on their reading skills. In addition, many of these kids may have language skills that differ from those expected at school.

Why does storytelling matter?

For most other kids, studies suggest that storytelling skills may show their influence when children are older.

And that could be because storytelling uses “decontextualized” language. Decontextualized language differs from conversational or contextualized language in that decontextualized language functions independently from the immediate context or shared knowledge between listeners and the storyteller.

As children tell stories, they gain practice in using the same type of language that is used in written text, which can help them as they learn to read.

While teachers and parents have been told to read books to children to support their language and literacy development, encouraging children to tell stories as a way to support language and literacy has received less attention.

So, what can teachers and parents do?

Many schools have a “show-and-tell” time that can allow children a chance to practice storytelling skills as they share information about a valued object. As teachers and peers ask questions, they can facilitate children’s storytelling skills.

Parents and teachers can also model storytelling for children by sharing their own experiences, in the form of a story that has a clear beginning, middle and end, and addresses the questions of who, what, where, when and why. Using props like wordless books, puppets, dolls and photographs may also help children in developing stories.

The ConversationWhile learning to tell stories can be useful for all children, this skill may be most needed for those at risk of achieving reading competency.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Investigator, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

More Than Child’s Play

More Than Child’s Play

It takes a person with a calling to work in children’s ministry. It can be one of the most rewarding experiences to realize that you can help develop the spiritual faith of a child. Statistics from the Barna Group suggest that if you minister to ten children, four of them will accept Christ by the age of 13. Sadly, research also shows that six out of ten children, who are active in church during their teen years, will become spiritually disengaged by the time they become young adults. One way to reverse this trend is to create learning environments that include games and interactive activities. This will help children develop a dynamic personal relationship with Christ and establish a foundation of faith.

Many churches have been content to let children sit in the sanctuary trying to make sense of a sermon or Bible study that was clearly prepared for adults. Or, in cases where efforts were made to set aside classes for children, the approach basically involved a chalkboard, and maybe a flannel graph or puppets. Some of these tools still work for preschoolers, but to engage elementary-age and tween students, you will get more results with interactive activities.

If you spend the majority of your class time talking to children, studies show that they will retain only 5% to 10% of what they hear. A teacher can increase effectiveness by showing them pictures, posters, and maps, for example. Children will retain 20% to 30% of what they see. However, if the leader really wants to have a lasting impact, he should introduce a hands-on activity or experience. Children retain a full 75% to 90% of what they do.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean just letting kids run around the classroom because you didn’t make time to plan your lesson. I am talking about intentional play, such as a game or activity, with a strategic purpose that is a part of the lesson plan.

Children engaged in interactive activities use more of their senses than just hearing, and we provide opportunities for them to fellowship with each other. While children are playing, teachers can reinforce virtues of cooperation, sportsmanship, encouragement, and Christ-likeness. This will encourage group dynamics that help to keep down distractions that crop up when kids get bored, and that keep the children focused on the task at hand.

Our goal is not only to meet the children where they are spiritually, but also to get them excited about the Gospel message so that they come back willingly. Plus, we want them to be so excited about what they are learning at church that it transforms their lives and they are inviting their friends to come with them.

Here are three activities you can introduce in your children’s ministry.

1. Scripture Memory

This high-energy game will increase Scripture memory and takes minimal preparation. You will need colorful latex balloons and two copies of the memory verse printed in a large font. Prepare the balloons prior to class time. Cut the verse into pieces, like a puzzle. Make sure that the cut pieces match their corresponding piece. Put each puzzle piece into separate balloons, blow them up, and tie them off. Then do the same thing for the copy. You should have two sets of balloons with a part of the memory verse inside each balloon. Divide the class into teams. A member from each team will run to a designated spot, turn and run back to two chairs you have set up. They will put the balloons on the chairs to pop them. Their teams will collect all of the pieces and assemble the memory verse. The team that assembles the memory verse and recites it wins. Stickers or small pieces of candy are good rewards.

2. Visual Prayers

This simple activity packs a powerful punch! Give the children sheets of paper and have them trace one hand. The thumb is closest to our heart—it reminds us to pray for our family. Have them write a prayer request for family on the thumb. The index finger points out things we don’t always see, or it instructs us. Write a prayer request for teachers. The middle finger stands tallest. Write prayer requests for those in authority such as government leaders, pastors, etc. The ring finger is weak and can’t stand alone well when you put the other fingers down. Write prayer requests for those who are sick, elderly, in prison, or in need of help. The pinkie finger is the smallest. Write a prayer request for yourself.

Then have the children exchange the sheets and place their own hands on top of the sheet they received and pray for their classmates. Or the teacher can collect the sheets and pray for the children throughout the week. (This activity was originally submitted to Children’s Ministry Magazine by Nancy Paulson.)

3. Lesson Review or Conversation Starter

Make a “Throw and Tell Ball.” Buy a basic inflatable beach ball. Write generic questions like “What is your favorite movie and why?” or lesson specific questions such as, “What happened to the main character in our story?” or “What Book of the Bible did our story come from today?” Cut the questions out and tape them onto each panel of the beach ball. Have the children lightly toss the ball or pass it around. When the teacher says stop, the child holding the ball can answer the question under his right thumb.

We can help children make Christ their own. The task is set to us as parents, teachers, and children’s ministry leaders to not only get them excited about who God is, but to help them see His connection to them. When children really know God themselves— not just know about Him or know stories in the Bible—then we will see children with deep roots that will last. They will be the illustration of Psalm 1:3, “They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

What Kids Wanna Know About God

What Kids Wanna Know About God


After hearing young people ask the same questions about God and the Bible over and over again, mom and children’s ministry leader Tina Bryson wrote 10 Things Every Kid Should Know About God: Life Application’s to Build Your Child’s Confidence in Salvation. She hopes it will provide kids and their parents with a resource for understanding how a child can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Find out more about Tina and her book at her website, www.tinavbryson.com.

Do Not Hinder Them

poor childBut Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that in 2008, the number of children living in poverty increased by 750,000 to 14.1 million. This is the biggest increase in child poverty since 1992.

When I read this I felt a pit in my stomach. In the wealthiest country that the world has ever seen, over 14 million of its most vulnerable citizens are coming to age in the midst of poverty.

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