Storytelling as a Medium for Teaching Yama and Niyama to Children

by Ada Merz

This article is based on our storytelling workshop for junior teachers that was given in Den Bosch

Why it is effective to teach yama-niyama through stories.
  • Children love stories! Everybody loves a good story. They give us great pleasure and fuel our imagination.
  • Stories are a powerful medium for transmitting messages you want to get across. They sell well. Storytelling captures our emotional brain, and ethical stories can touch our higher sensitivity, i.e. our creative and intuitive layers.
  • Our human brains are wired for stories. It’s one of the oldest forms of communication. We human beings and our society run on stories. Stories are our food.
  • Stories can be a fun and are emotionally an exciting way of learning. Children learn best when learning is joyful.
What is it about stories that make them such a good medium?

Storytelling makes use of images, emotions, context, sound (voice, jingles), causality, and more.

1. Imagery use

Information presented in images captures a child’s mind more than dry information. These images are woven together in sequences and into a bigger picture (the story itself) making it easier for children to pick up the messages they contain. They stick to the mind. As they listen to the story many children have the ability to form pictures on the screen of their own mind which can be mesmerizing, more than reality itself.

2. Emotional content

Children are drawn by the emotional content in stories. Stories that convey positive emotions and qualities have the ability to increase our empathy and humanness. They can connect us to ourselves and to others, be it to the human or the natural world.

3. Contextual messages

Messages put into a context make more sense than loose information. The unfolding messages in stories provide order or resolutions to problems or emotions we do not yet understand. Ethical messages conveyed in a story form are less threatening to a child. There is no direct finger pointing. It’s the fictive naughty characters in the story that get corrected and not the child listening to the story.

4. Causality

Through stories, children develop an understanding of causality. On a moral level that means by doing good, you reap goodness or by acting bad you reap bad karma.

5. Conflict resolution

Heroes are often depicted as someone who successfully overcomes difficulty in pursuit of a goal or an ideal. They meet their challenges and stand up against the forces working against them. Heroes are problem solvers and in an ethical story make great role models.

6. Role modeling

Children identify themselves with the characters, especially the hero. Unconsciously they absorb the qualities and ethical behavior of their heroes, or deplore the misdeeds of the villains. In a story form, children may recognize the greatness in others or in themselves or, on the other hand, get a glimpse of the moments they were mean, inspiring them to correct their own behavior. Stories act like mirrors in that way.

7. Metaphor

The use of metaphors creates images that give stories a poetic touch and can leave a more lasting impression. A good metaphor conveys a thought more powerfully than a mere statement. Metaphors such as ‘her mind was a peaceful lake’, or ‘the lion in him roared’, capture our imagination more than a mere descriptive statement.
Metaphors add to the emotional and magical content of the story and their use can give greater clarity to what is being conveyed. Children love animals and using them metaphorically is a great way of teaching values. Metaphor also gives stories different levels of interpretation, making the story accessible to everyone.

8. Enchantment

Stories can transport children to a world of enchantment and wisdom; a world filled with endless possibilities where horses can fly, frogs turn into princes, and a pumpkin into a golden carriage, where the world of humans merges with that of animals, plants, rocks and where nature elements and creatures from different kingdoms can communicate with each other, creating a feeling of oneness. They affirm that transformation is within our reach, that growing and emerging is a part of life. Children move into the deeper layers of their minds and closer to the essence of their beings. Enchanting stories can induce or increase the children’s longing for a deeper meaning in life.

9. Storyteller’s voice and expression

The quality of the storyteller’s voice is an important component in storytelling. A melodious use of the voice helps to build up a pleasant tension and mesmerizing atmosphere as the story progresses and unfolds. Combined with supporting gestures and the right facial expression, it will hold children spellbound. A storyteller who merges her being into the story and connects herself to the children’s hearts creates a wonderful energy exchange, a oneness of mind which can be powerful in conveying empathic messages.

Conclusion: We can conclude that yama-niyama presented in the narrative form can be paradigm shifting and deeply connecting, instilling a common vision and presenting modes of behavior that bring out the children’s humanness in an effective way. Through stories children can share passions, sadness, hardships, and joy as they journey into adulthood.