Experience Stories

An example of an experience story showing a young girl wearing a face mask and the actual mask.
An example of an experience story showing a young girl wearing a face mask and the actual mask.

Perhaps the thing that makes us human is the stories (real and imagined) that each of us has inside. Many people think that the gift of storytelling belongs only to writers, shamans, and the very old. The reality is we are all storytellers from the very earliest days of our lives. Children who are blind and visually impaired or deafblind also have stories inside them. Helping them to tell their stories is very important to their social, emotional and cognitive development, especially communication and literacy.

Helping children who are blind or visually impaired or deafblind to tell their stories is very important to their social, emotional and cognitive development, especially communication and literacy. This begins, or can begin, when the child is just an infant, with the co-creation of experience stories based on the child’s own activities and those shared with others. 

Stories come in different forms and mediums.

Stories come in a variety of forms: poetry, song, movement, pictures, plays and even Dad Jokes. The creators of the stories use various mediums such as braille, sign language, movies, and dance to share the stories with others. 

Some stories are dynamic, we hear them or experience them and then they are gone. Stories become static when we write them down or record them in some way so we can revisit them over-and-over again. 

Children who are visually impaired or Deafblind, may experience a story by tactually exploring items collected on a walk or playing with the materials used to take a bath if these are placed in an experience box or bag. Another child with low vision may enjoy simple picture books with limited print. Audio and braille are other mediums that may be used to share a story with others. 

The form or the medium are not as important as the story itself or the creation of the story.

Stories help us cope.

We make sense of our life experiences in part by the stories we learn or tell ourselves. Imagine a story the young child might create and revisit. 

“It is dark and stormy. I am frightened. I think I see a monster in my closet. Will it hurt me? If I cry out loud Dad or Mom will come save me.”

At the time the child tells himself the story he doesn’t know if it is fiction or nonfiction. He is just building a story based on his experience of what happens when he cries out at night. But the power of that story may help to calm him and take action to meet his own needs. This can be true of many stories we read or hear.

Even stories that might frighten us a bit, help us to cope because the outcome for the protagonist or hero ultimately turns out well.  So, when we face challenges in our own lives we may have a certain belief that everything will be alright eventually if we take action.

Research actually shows that using expressive writing can help us deal with stressful and traumatic events and can even positively impact our health. (Opening Up by Writing It Down, Pennebaker, J.W. and Smyth, J. M., 2016)

Stories help us remember and imagine.

Humans are constantly creating stories. We make up stories in our heads about how our day will go before we head for the office. We tell ourselves stories about the amazing places we will see and exciting things we will do as we plan our vacations. We tell ourselves stories about how people treat us and how we treat them. We are our stories.

Many people may not agree that this is storytelling, but it is where many of us begin to learn the power our own memory and imagination. Stories told within a family or in a culture become even more powerful as they are shared year after year. They become part of who we are, what we believe, and how we see our future. 

When we preserve stories in some static form like a book or a recording or a movie, people from different times and places can share that story. Many of these stories guide whole populations in learning how to live their lives (e.g., religious and spiritual texts, the Constitution).

Using our imaginations to modify an existing story or create a fictional world allows us to create solutions to existing problems or imagine places where other challenges exist. For example, think of the different real-life devices that reflect the long-ago creations of Jules Verne in his stories, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or From the Earth to the Moon

Stories help us solve problems and try on solutions.

Stories also help us to solve problems by providing opportunities to try out different actions that might lead to different outcomes. This is especially true if another person is helping to co-create the story.

When someone is creating a story with us, he or she might suggest a different action than we would suggest. What will be the outcome of the story with this new twist? What might I learn from their suggestion or solution? We can often work through a problem or situation by writing about it or creating a story.

Stories engage our attention.

When we find ourselves sitting in an airport or waiting to see the dentist, reading a magazine or book engages our attention and helps to make time pass more easily. For many of us, there is no better form of escape than to stick our noses in a book and vanish into the story. With the advent of audiobooks and podcasts, many of us listen to stories as we jog or walk or ride in a car or airplane. For many of us, reading or listening to stories is our favorite form of recreation.

Stories help us understand others.

Stories have the ability to help us learn about others and to find understanding and empathy for them and their situations. Whether we actually know the individual or not, hearing their story evokes feelings within us. Learning to relate to others and empathize with them is so important in developing social skills and making friends.

We need stories. 

Stories serve so many purposes in our lives. Stories are about so much more than just reading or listening. They are instrumental in cognitive, social and emotional development. 

Literacy begins with stories others tell us or we tell ourselves. Co-creating stories with an adult or peers helps our children and students begin to create stories they can share with others.

Adults begin “storytelling” with infants and toddlers by sharing nursery rhymes, songs, and bedtime stories. Then we help them to learn to read others’ stories and write their own. 

Stories help us understand others and ourselves. We feel empathy with the characters we encounter in stories. This ability to learn from stories is a skill that will help our students throughout their lives. In addition to academic goals, stories enrich lives and provide guidance to living.

If you want to do something great for your child or student, explore the ways you can begin to co-create stories with them. Visit Playing with Words a collaborative microsite developed by Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired. 

Other articles about the importance of storytelling

Susan Engel
Yash Patel
Rebecca T. Isbell