Laying the foundations: Narrative and early learning

Cremin, Teresa and Flewitt, Rosie (2016). Laying the foundations: Narrative and early learning. In: Cremin, Teresa; Flewitt, Rosie; Mardell, Ben and Swann, Joan eds. Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching language, literacy and classroom culture. London and New York: Routledge.



In order to understand the developmental and educational significance of storytelling and story acting we locate this within the body of wider research on narrative. Nearly half a century ago, Moffett (1968:121) claimed that ‘young children must, for a long time, make narrative do for all’; from an early age children use narrative as a way of thinking, to construct stories and explanations. Through imaginary play and storytelling children seek to understand and make sense of their world. These significant forms of symbolic activity make a sustained impact upon children’s social, emotional and language development, and influence their identity formation (see Engel, 1999, 2005; Fox, 1993; McCabe and Bliss, 2003). By considering the nature and role of narrative, its relationship to pretend play and to creativity, and its potential to influence and support children’s early learning and literacy, this chapter seeks to lay the foundations of the book. Narrative is considered in terms of its developmental and cognitive elasticity, which render it instructive and rich across theory, curriculum, and the arts. Through examining research undertaken in homes, preschool settings and early years classrooms, the nature of children’s playful and often self-initiated narrative practices is examined.

Following this conceptual focus, the chapter considers the challenge of retaining a strong place for storytelling and imaginary play in early years and early primary education by considering the contemporary context of literacy curricula with particular reference to the UK and USA.. In these countries where the empirical research upon which this book is based was undertaken, there has been an increased emphasis on standardised testing and school accountability. This highly performative (Ball, 1998) agenda is discussed and the pressure it places on teachers and children to focus on measurable outcomes, often at the expense of creative, playful and child-oriented approaches to literacy learning and teaching, is considered.

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