Reading a story to a child sounds like a simple act. But start to think of storytime as your chance to introduce a child, any child, to a world full of possibilities she has no way of knowing exists, and it becomes an extraordinary thing.
t Pajama Program, the pajamas and books we provide to the most vulnerable children in our communities are magical tools that we use to give them the real gifts of unconditional love and expanded potential. Sharing a story is really about human connection and expanding a child’s vision.
How Stories Feed Imaginations
Every child is born with an imagination, giving them the opportunity to visualize something that they haven’t experienced. A healthy imagination is where ingenuity begins, enabling children to grow into creative adults. For the children at-risk we serve, creativity and problem-solving are essential skills they will need long into their future.
While the world is becoming more and more digital, some things don’t change. Face-to-face storytelling is still the cornerstone of imaginative development. This one-on-one connection between human beings, supported by story, takes us back to the archetype of all education and relationships in which one generation passes on wisdom to the next. But too many children miss out on the benefits of this exchange. According to a recent Harlem Children’s Zone white paper, the average middle-class child enters 1st grade with 1,000-1,700 hours of one-on-one picture-book reading; a child from a low-income family averages 25 hours. The storytime routine also affects how much language children hear. In “Bedtime Stories for Young Brains,” The New York Times references a Kansas study that found poor children hear “millions fewer” words by just age three.
Scientific American reports that children whose parents read to them at bedtime are most likely to foster pretend play behavior. According to psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, taking on different roles helps them see different perspectives and learn communication, problem-solving and empathy. Imaginative play is associated with increased creative performance years later, which means healthy imaginations prepare children for more successful and productive lives. Being a creative adult doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a painter or sculptor either; truly any innovative thinking begins with the ability to imagine a new reality. This is why we are so committed to opening up the imaginations and creativity of the children we serve. Supporting them in learning how to imagine a new reality for themselves is one of the greatest things we can do for them.
How Healthy Imaginations Make Children More Resilient
Children with more developed imaginations have a greater ability to deal with stress and intense emotions. Instead of instantly feeling overwhelmed, they learn to master their feelings using their imaginations. As Sherri Mandell writes in Nurturing Imaginations, if a child is afraid of monsters, he can make up a story about hunting down the monster and scaring it in order to turn it into something else. This ability to self-regulate benefits children when they become adults by way of decreased aggression and the ability to tolerate delayed gratification. Imagination is also the place where children, especially those we serve, can express their authentic selves. According to Mandell, imagination is where a child can experiment and feel control and power. This is critical for those children who live with chaos or have encountered repeated adversity.
In the end, a strong imagination doesn’t make children impractical daydreamers. In fact, it does the exact opposite by giving them tools for remodeling their world and life. Love and care always come back to stories. The simple act of sharing a bedtime story with a caring adult is what allows a child’s imagination to soar. This expanded imagination – including the power to dream new dreams – is part of the loving good night that we believe every child has a right to at Pajama Program.