Benefits of Storytelling and Story Acting Probed in American Journal of Play

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

March 27, 2014

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,


Benefits of Storytelling and Story Acting
Probed in the American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, New York—Storytelling and story acting build vocabulary skills, help develop essential narrative abilities, and support a child’s social and emotional development, according to an interview in the most recent issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play conducted with Jason Sachs, director of early-childhood education for Boston Public Schools; Benjamin Mardell, professor in the Graduate School of Education at Lesley University; and Marina Boni, early childhood mentor for Boston Public Schools. The three educators launched the Boston Listens program nearly two years ago across Boston Public Schools, and 55 schools now facilitate storytelling and story acting curriculum in their early-education classrooms.

Boston Listens—informed by the innovative approach of renowned early childhood researcher and educator Vivian Paley—encourages children to tell a story from his or her imagination. Storytelling allows the student to use vocabulary in authentic ways, supports print and phonemic awareness, and fosters a sense of belonging in the classroom, says Mardell.  “Storytelling and story acting take all children’s ideas seriously. Their ideas become known and are celebrated. Children’s confidence increases, and they become more willing participants in the discussion.”  

After one student tells a story, the other students in the classroom then recreate the story by acting it out, allowing them to come together around a common goal and to learn from one another as they attempt to retell the tale. According to Boni, sharing ideas with friends in such a way boosts self esteem, encourages self-regulation (waiting, taking turns), and enhances creativity. The American Journal of Play interview reveals several examples of students casting off shyness and improving their narrative abilities within the first year of participation in the program.

The Boston program also involves professional development for teachers, and Sachs, Mardell, and Boni see the positive results of Boston Listens as a model for other districts nationwide. Says Mardell, “We hope that others will be inspired by our work and realize that storytelling and story acting can be used in a large, urban district to benefit all children.

Additional articles in Vol. 6, No. 2 of the American Journal of Play include:

 “Play as Self-Realization Towards a General Theory of Play” by Thomas Henricks, professor of sociology and distinguished university professor at Elon University. Henricks reviews the major theories of play and addresses the question of why humans play. He argues that play is one of
the fundamental ways that humans relate to each other and is a key part of human psychological and social life.

“The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play” by Scott G. Eberle, vice president for play studies at The Strong. Eberle acknowledges that play resists definition because it’s difficult to render its dynamic, emerging relationships into language. But in this thought-piece Eberle supplies a visual alternative that sets in motion six basic elements that comprise play—anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, strength, and poise. Eberle shows that because play builds fun and understanding into its essence, there really is no “dark side” to play. Bullying therefore cannot fit within the boundaries of play. 

 “Well-Played: The Origins and Future of Playfulness” by Gwen Gordon, independent scholar and producer and director of Now Playing, a creative documentary about the power of play. Gordon explores the role of playfulness in well-being and argues that playfulness might be an outcome of secure attachment in infancy. She also suggests that playfulness can be acquired throughout life by playing—which rewires the brain and reinforces neural pathways that lead to the development of playfulness.  

“Deep Play: Rationality in the Life World with Special Reference to Sailing” by Patrick Goold, associate professor of philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan College. Goold uses the sport of sailing and one sailor’s immersive voyage to examine the idea of deep play—something that
transcends sports or games—where there is no extrinsic goal or no other motivation, other than personal happiness.

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at

About the American Journal of Play

The Strong’s American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.