The Power of Storytelling in Early Childhood: Helping Children Process the Coronavirus Crisis
Storytelling. It’s how families, cultures, and communities share information, values, emotions, hopes, and beliefs. Under usual circumstances, telling stories, reading aloud compelling children’s literature, and planning opportunities for children to create and share their own stories are things teachers do daily. But as schools remain closed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, these are not usual circumstances. Here are three ways the power of storytelling in early childhood is helping young children during this pandemic.
Virtual read alouds
In efforts to keep relationships strong and learning moving forward, teachers around the world have been recording themselves reading favorite children’s books and then sharing these virtual read alouds with the children in their programs using Facebook, Youtube, Zoom, and other online platforms. Many children’s book publishers have put out guidance and altered policies so teachers can create videos as they record themselves reading. Well-known authors and public figures are joining in and posting videos as they read favorite children's books as well. (For example, see the #SaveWithStories hashtag on Instagram and the Storyline Online site.) NAEYC has developed guidance for teachers for creating and sharing videos. We’d like to hear about your lessons learned while doing virtual read alouds. Post your ideas to this discussion thread on HELLO. You can also share videos of your read alouds by emailing them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A social story to help children ages 3 to 8 understand the pandemic
Storytelling is one way adults can offer information and reassurance to young children during a difficult time. NAEYC Asian Interest Forum co-facilitator Shu-Chen Jenny Yen, associate professor at California State University, Fullerton, created a social story titled "Something Strange Happened in My City: A Social Story about the Coronavirus Pandemic for Children" to help families and teachers explain social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic to young children in ways they can understand. As Yen explains, “This can be a scary time for children, and they may not understand why they need to stay indoors or what is going on in the world. One of the best ways caretakers can help young children cope is by sharing age-appropriate information, reassuring their safety, and learning about the many people working to fight the virus.” The book is free and has been translated into nine languages (with more to come!). Children in more than 14 countries have access to the book.
The coronavirus book: A 7-year-old’s home–school creation
Early childhood classrooms are places where art and writing materials and props for dramatic play are readily available for children to use to express themselves, share their experiences, and convey what they know and understand.
This 7-year-old author wrote and illustrated her own coronavirus story as she sorted through her understanding, feelings, and experiences learning about the coronavirus and social distancing. Like many other children around the world, she has been home from school for the past several weeks. Here, she shares why she wrote this story: "I wanted to write down my feelings about the Corona virus because I want it to end. And I think if I express my feelings, I won't feel so upset. And it turned into a book."
She and her mother have given us permission to share her coronavirus story below.
There’s no doubt that this experience has had and will continue to have its impact. Many families and teachers are experiencing additional significant difficulties due to loss of income, sick family members, and other worries. As we go through this pandemic together as well as in our own specific ways, my hope is that the power of storytelling will keep us entertained, provide us comfort, help us understand our experiences, and allow us to process our feelings as we continue to hold onto our vision of better days to come. Shu-Chen Jenny Yen wants to “empower children to look up to the many heroes and contribute to fighting this pandemic! After all, taking good care of yourself and not spreading the virus are heroic acts!”
When the 7-year-old author writes about her coronavirus experience, she shows her resilience. There is sadness for her losses, but she can see the positive things that are happening too. She also can hold on to the hope of a better future—perhaps even a hot air balloon ride, as she writes in her story. And she is receiving ongoing hugs, cuddles, comfort and reassurances, something all children need right now.
My hope for the future is simple: a visit with my parents, who had to delay their return back to their home in Massachusetts as they shelter in place in Florida, and a return to in-person yoga classes.
For many teachers, their hope is a vision of classrooms full of children playing with each other. We encourage you to contact us with your hopes and dreams for the future by posting to the discussion thread on Hello. Perhaps as we recover, we can envision something even better than what we had, using our new tools to create even better learning experiences for children upon their return.
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Publishing and Professional Learning at NAEYC.