The Storyteller and the Child in the 21st Century

A child is a person who has not reached the age of majority (which differs from country to country) or the biological stage of puberty. Typically, children have fewer rights than adults and are classed as unable to make serious decisions. Historically, children have been subject to a range of social policies designed to protect them from abuse and promote their development, such as schools, care homes, welfare benefits and free healthcare.

In the 21st century, the child is the centre of a global debate about human rights, child poverty and the effects of climate change on future generations. This seminar considers different definitions of the child across history and cultures, interrogating what it means to be a child today.

The act of telling a story is an important part of a child’s language and cognitive development. It can be used to share family stories, teach a moral or simply for the pleasure of it. Using stories can also help a child to develop their imaginative and creative thinking, and can foster emotional intelligence.

Storytelling can occur in a variety of ways, including through books and films, but it is the oral tradition of telling stories which remains fundamental to childhood. Storytelling can be a powerful means of connecting with a child, helping to build a relationship, and encouraging a love for reading.

When parents tell their children a story, they are imparting knowledge, values and traditions which will remain with them for the rest of their lives. The stories they share may be about events that have happened in their own lives, or they could be myths and legends. Stories are often used to teach children about relationships, such as the importance of family and respect for older people.

A story can help children to become more empathetic and understanding of other people, as well as promoting a sense of belonging and identity. In some cases, the sharing of a story can be a way of resolving conflict and building trust.

Children can benefit from the opportunity to learn through storytelling in a range of contexts, including in schools, libraries and community settings. They can learn about a range of topics, from history and science to literature and culture, through books and other media. They can also use their imaginations to create stories themselves.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the divergence between high-minded romantic notions of childhood and the reality of children’s exploitation in factories and mines, as chimney sweeps or in domestic service, became increasingly stark. This led to the first campaigns for legal protection of children. In response, a number of institutions were developed: publishing houses, theatres and libraries for children’s books, itinerant storytellers, critics and historians, lectures and associations, “children’s book weeks” and collections of books and exhibitions. These have spawned their own industries, with a huge body of commentary, scholarship and criticism, as well as an extensive international network of children’s authors and illustrators.