The best way to get kids excited to learn? Give them a story

    Journalism professor

    Robert F. Darden is a Professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University. His most recent books, Nothing But Love In God's Water: Volumes 1 & 2, are available on Amazon.

    It’s all about the story.

    Since the dawn of humanity, we human beings have learned – in great part – by the stories we’ve been told.

    Studies show that students retain the most of what they’re told when the information is packaged in a narrative, a story.

    Having kids memorize (and repeat) raw data, facts, formulas and figures, is the least effective way to promote learning. Without a story to hang the facts on, we quickly forget them.

    I’ve taught college students since 1988. No former student ever comes up and says, “I remember everything about your lecture on March 29, 1988.” What they say instead is, “I remember the story you told about …” and then proceed to repeat the story back to me with a sometimes astonishing degree of accuracy.

    Kids love stories.

    Just like my children before them, my grandchildren insist that I re-read their favorite stories over and over. And, when they’re older, we tell stories together.

    Adults read for different reasons – to be entertained, to be informed, to escape.

    Children read because they have to. They need it. There are some studies that suggest that reading to your child (and, later, reading with your child) is the second most important thing you can do insure a happy, healthy kid. As a parent, the most important thing you can do to insure this, of course, is regularly hug that child. But even a high-five or a “good-job” from a teacher goes a long way to encourage and affirm.

    Reading books – at least the ones with great stories – gives children essential life skills. The great stories allow kids to explore safely. They’re instructive. Great stories tell children how another child survived a sad or dangerous event and the reader learns from that experience. Stories help kids feel they’re not alone. Stories enable them to see new worlds, relate to new people, taste and smell and touch new things.

    Story-telling is how our distant ancestors adopted new technologies, how they learned to grow new crops and tame new animals, how to chart the sun and moon and stars, and how to brave the great rolling waters on the western horizon. Stories helped those who came before us survive the long winters, huddled around small fires, waiting, waiting, waiting for the return of the sun after another age of ice.

    Encourage families to fill their homes with books. Read to their child. Have them read to adults and other children. There are few better gifts can be given a child than the love of reading.

    How can you do this? How can you tear them away from videogames and cellphones?

    Give them great stories to read. Let them see you read. Let reading become a part of your routines.

    Then, together, create great stories of your own, stories that your children will tell and their children will tell in years and decades and centuries to come.

    Once upon a time – or maybe twice – a long time ago, there lived a little boy. Or maybe it was a little girl. Or maybe it was both. And they lived on the edge of a great, dark forest.

    And one day the little girl said to the little boy, let us go explore the dark forest together.

    So they held hands and walked unafraid into the woods … with all of the stories in the world waiting for them … just around the first bend in the road.

      Journalism professor

      Robert F. Darden is a Professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University. His most recent books, Nothing But Love In God's Water: Volumes 1 & 2, are available on Amazon.

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