The World of "Make-believe" is Reality to a Child - Effect of Storytelling on Children - Its Value if Stories are Carefully Chosen - What to Avoid - Encourage Elder Children to Tell Nursery Stories to the Younger Ones he land of dreams is a very real one to most T children whose imaginative powers are so vivid that the world of "make-believe" offers an actual fact.
The baby of three will listen entranced to a fairy tale which stirs his imagination. The small boy of seven will suffer agonies in recalling to his mind, in the dark hours of night, the fearsome details of some story told by an unwise elder during the day.
The effect of story-telling upon a child's health is a very real thing, as every doctor knows, and it would be a good thing if mothers were more alive to the fact. The custom of telling sensational stories of ogres and giants, bloodshed and adventure, bring about night terrors and screaming fits in many nervous children. The nervous child has often a keen desire for mental excitement, and will beg for thrilling stories which are a source of mingled joy and terror to him afterwards.
So that from the health point of view the type of stories told in the nursery ought to be carefully considered.
There are people who would banish fairy tales altogether, ignoring the fact that the training of the imagination is a very real branch of education. The great lack in most people's lives is the want of that imagination upon which the love of poetry, history, and literature so much depends.
A well-told fairy tale may be the beginning of a child's interest in literature and poetry, and the Japanese realise the truth of this. Every mother in the Land of the Rising Sun teaches her boys and girls not only the wonderful fairy stories of the East, which always have some good moral behind them, but she tells them also the tales of the old warriors of Japan, in order to make them brave in battle and strong in patriotism. From such early teaching, it follows that every Japanese boy would die cheerfully for his country, and not imagine that he was doing anything extraordinary if he did. In truth, story-telling has been brought to artistic perfection in Japan, and no child in the country will sneer at fairies or prove indifferent to the wonderful stories which are told to generation after generation of babies in Japan.
In our own country, Froebel has revived the fairy tale as a factor in education. He realised how character training is influenced by storytelling. When the imagination is directed into the right channels, what can a child not be taught? Courtesy, kindness, forbearance, protection of the weak, unselfishness, courage - he will appreciate them all and recognise them in everyday life when his imagination has been stirred and aroused by the nursery fairy tales he has learned in his youth.
In many ways character is in part dependent upon health - health of the mind and imagination. Health and character depend upon happiness, and anything which gives happiness to the child should not be ignored by the doctor or the educationalist.
And how does this affect health?
The delicate child who is not able to play and romp with his sturdier brothers will derive a good deal of happiness from fairy stories of the right sort. For health reasons, the type of story should be carefully chosen. Children differ in temperament as well as in character, and the unobservant mother may never realise the harm which can be done to a child's emotional nature and nervous system by injudicious story-telling. Morbidly exciting stories of gloomy religious views should be banished from the nursery. A highly strung, nervous child can derive a great deal of harm if his brain is excessively stimulated or his emotions excited. Every mother or nurse should choose carefully the stories told to the children, and rely upon the old-fashioned favourites, avoiding anything that is likely to depress a nervous child. "They lived happily ever after" may be a commonplace ending, but the right impression is made upon the child, and that is the important matter.
Every child's health is affected by the daily impressions made upon his mind and imagination. Let these be pleasurable, soothing, restful, and interesting, and he will develop better in brain and body. Let the mother remember the following facts, which bear upon the health aspect of story-telling in childhood:
Never allow exciting stories to be told at bedtime if you wish to avoid a restless and disturbed sleep, dreaming, and night terrors.
Forbid the telling of fearsome tales and morbid stories in the nursery as you would avoid the giving of police-court details of a
Discourage self-indulgence where storytelling is concerned. The healthiest training insists upon practical work, and the cultivation of the senses of sight and hearing as well as the education of the imagination.
Lastly, teach the older children to tell nursery stories to their small brothers and sisters, and you are developing their descriptive powers and faculty lor language, and their ability to teach to others what they have heard and studied.