Language in the News

Language, Stories and Memory (Thursday Thoughts, April 19th 2012)

Okay, so the title of this should really be “Saturday Thoughts” since I’m two days late in writing. I have no good excuse other than it’s getting to be finals time here at school, and my energies are directed elsewhere. I also mean to keep this post rather short, for the same reason. Still, I thought this was a good one to share:

An article at, I Remember Mama and Dada talks about children’s memories and how our earliest memories from childhood may depend on the narrative and conversational style of our parents.


Not to put too much pressure on the parents of young kids out there, but the article talks about how parents whose conversational style involves asking their young children “specific, repetitive questions about past events” or telling detailed, complicated narratives about the past where the child’s answers to those specific questions are included in that narrative result in a style they call “highly elaborative” and can lead to a reinforcement of the connections in the brain about that story. I also loved how they mention that through this story-telling technique:

“Children are learning how to organize memories in a narrative, and in doing so, they are learning the genre of memory”

Memories organized in this way are more likely to be retained into adulthood. And the kids begin telling their own stories, which the article mentions can correlate with literacy.

I’ve read a few articles over the years, about the importance of bedtime stories (see the work of Shirley Brice Heath for these), and how children retell their day to themselves before they go to bed, in more complicated language (i.e. full sentences and greater vocabulary) than they use during the day, and it’s fascinating to see how important the role of storytelling can be in our lives. And of course, just reinforces the importance of our parents’ interactions with us.

Will this article affect the way YOU tell stories to your children?



2 thoughts on “Language, Stories and Memory (Thursday Thoughts, April 19th 2012)

  1. The author mentions using discussions that include PAST events. Any idea why that is preferred over present or future. I often narriate my actions when my son is with me: “I’m going to turn the water on to wet your hands… Here is some soap… Let’s rub your hands together and wash, wash, wash!”. Can you give an example of an “elaborate” story from the past?

  2. For why PAST events are stressed over present or future stories, my guess is that it has to do with a frame of reference. Experiences in the present may be new, especially for young children, and so they have a lot to process as it is happening. And the future is maybe too abstract an idea to grasp, depending on the child’s age. Plus the article is about memories, and memories specifically mean the recollection of past events. But narrating the present, especially if you repeat those phrases (like the repetition of “wash wash wash”) so they become a routine, will help solidify them as well.

    As for your second question, as I understand an elaborate story (based on the article), an elaborate story would be one that includes child-directed questions and incorporates their answers. So, if at the end of the day over dinner, you tell a story like this:
    “This morning we got up and we had breakfast, and for breakfast you ate…?”
    “That’s right, Cheerios! And what else?”
    “Yes, juice and Cheerios. And then we did what”
    “We read your book! And what book did we read?”
    “We read your Elmo book! And then we got in the…”
    “Car. Vroom!”
    “We got in the car, and the car goes ‘Vroom Vroom!'”
    And so on, where every answer is incorporated, and every step is included. I think the goal is to tell a story that provides a means of organizing the day’s events, giving names and order to activities.

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