Tell Me a Story, Switzerland

  • Date published:
    22 July 2016

Programme Overview

Programme Title Schenk mir eine Geschichte (Tell me a story). The programme is also known under its French name, 1001 histoires dans les langues du monde.
Implementing Organization Schweizerisches Institut für Kinder und Jugendmedien (SIKJM) (Swiss Institute for Children’s and Youth Media)
Language of Instruction German, Albanian, Arabian, Chinese, English, French, Farsi, Italian, Kurdish, Croatian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Tamil, Tibetan, Tigrinya, Turkish and Urdu.
Funding Public funding, local partners and private foundations, namely the Mercator Foundation, Arcas Foundation, Avina Foundation, Sophie and Karl Binding Foundation, Ria and Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation, Gamil Foundation, Hamasil Foundation, Landis and Gyr Foundation, Ernst Göhner Foundation and Thoolen Foundation.
Programme Partners Numerous local partners (city/district government, community centres, libraries, social organizations, etc.) throughout Switzerland.
Annual Programme Costs CHF 120,000 (USD 124,000) for national coordination, further education and implementing new locations (not included are local running costs)
Date of Inception 2006

Country Context

Migrants in Switzerland face multiple disadvantages in the Swiss educational system. Children with a migration background are less likely to have access to pre-school education, are more likely to attend lower-tier secondary schools and are underrepresented among college graduates. For example, around a quarter of people with a second-generation migrant background do not continue their education beyond the mandatory minimum nine years compared to 16 per cent of the population without a migration background. Furthermore, the rate of secondary and tertiary education completion is lower among people with a second-generation migrant background than it is among the non-migrant population. While individuals with a migrant background have secondary and tertiary completion rates of 50 and 25 per cent, respectively, people without migrant backgrounds complete secondary and tertiary school at rates of 53 and 30 per cent, respectively (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2014). The main reasons for the disadvantage faced by children with migrant backgrounds are language barriers, the smaller financial means of their parents, and the relative lower involvement of parents from these groups in their children’s education (20 Minuten, 2011; Becker, 2010).

The family literacy programme, Schenk mir eine Geschichte (in English, Tell me a story, seeks to overcome language barriers and increase parental involvement by reaching out to families with migrant backgrounds in an effort to improve the language and literacy development of children in their native language. The premise of the work is that knowing their native language greatly supports children in learning the language of the home country. In this way, Schenk mir eine Geschichte plays an important role in addressing the educational needs of underserved populations in Switzerland.

Programme Overview

Schenk mir eine Geschichte provides storytelling courses to families with migrant backgrounds in order to promote the language and literacy development of children between the ages of two and five. In addition, the programme aims to involve parents in supporting their children’s educational attainment.


After its initial implementation, in Zurich and Basel in 2006, Schenk mir eine Geschichte gradually expanded to other cities and communities. Local partners of the Swiss Institute for Children’s and Youth Media (SIKJM), including libraries, community centres and city and district government, organize and finance the programme in their localities, while SIKJM supervises the programme and supports local partners by creating teaching materials and providing introductory and continuing training for facilitators. In 2014, the programme was offered in 14 kantonen (states) throughout Switzerland, including Basel, Bern, Lausanne and Zurich. Around 1,500 families participated in 1,663 classes, conducted in seventeen languages and facilitated by 130 teachers. Each class has ten participants on average. Since 2006, a total of 8,670 classes have taken place, involving approximately 87,000 participants.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to:

  • Promote the literacy development of children aged two to five with migrant backgrounds in their native language.
  • Induce parents to support literacy attainment and the language foundation of their children at an early age by introducing reading and writing activities into their daily lives.
  • Demonstrate to parents that incorporating literacy activities at home plays an important role in their children’s literacy attainment.
  • Indicate to parents that their children should be literate in their native language because this is an important foundation for learning the official language(s).
  • Introduce parents to available resources in their community, such as language classes for adults and children, libraries and pre-school classes.

Programme Implementation

Learners' Enrolment and Establishing Learning Needs

Schenk mir eine Geschichte targets families with a migrant background, who usually do not attend comparable educational courses for parents. Programme facilitators emphasize low-threshold access to the programme, which means that all interested families are able to attend classes at any time, even if a particular course has already started. The programme is free and families do not need to register prior to attending. Usually, between eight and twelve families participate in each course, including mothers, fathers, grandmothers and aunts. In most cases, children are accompanied by one parent or family member.

The facilitators play a central role in enrolling families onto the programme, both in person, through frequent outreach activities, and over the phone. Other methods used to engage families include word-of-mouth promotion, outreach to friends and relatives, promotion in kindergartens and schools, language classes, and family services. Programme implementers also use social media tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook to spread information about the next storytelling event. Enrolling new participants ultimately requires gaining the trust of parents and overcoming cultural challenges. These cultural challenges include the shame some parents feel about their own schooling level, the restriction on some groups of women accessing public spaces, and negative experiences of Swiss government institutions.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The programme mostly offers storytelling sessions for groups of families with the same language background, who receive classes in their native language. More heterogeneous groups can attend classes offered in German, which also incorporate native languages in games and social activities. Parents and children attend classes together.

The facilitators conduct classes with a holistic, multi-faceted way that actively involves children and parents in the learning process. Furthermore, facilitators structure their teaching around reoccurring formats, which separate language and reading exercises from games and other social activities. Typically, language and reading activities take place in a classroom-type setting, where facilitators issue instructions and ask questions. Parents play a supporting role by helping their children remain focused during the class. Other activities, such as games, crafts and group activities, take place in a family-type setting, with parents taking a much more prominent role in working with their children.

The central component of Schenk mir eine Geschichte is storytelling, which facilitators approach in different ways. Some teachers prefer to tell stories in their own words, supplementing their storytelling with acting and gestures. Other teachers prefer to read the stories from children’s books and discuss the stories with the children afterwards. Both approaches are suitable for the purposes of the programme since each emphasizes storytelling methods and the importance of dialogue.


Teaching Content

During classes, facilitators tell and read stories and encourage parents to participate in games and activities such as singing, crafts, role-playing and individual reading. Families are also encouraged to write, draw or tell their own stories. Another major component of the programme is to introduce parents to the literacy resources available to them. The focus here is on familiarizing parents with libraries in order to facilitate easier access to books in both their native language and German.

Facilitators also educate parents as to how they can support their children’s literacy and language development within the family. Specifically, parents learn how to support a bilingual education and receive advice and information on other educational issues, as well as access to resources such as parent meetings, language classes and social groups. For this purpose, SIKJM creates and distributes information in the native language of participants. In general, facilitators have the freedom to customize course content according to the background of participants.

In 2014, the programme was offered in numerous languages, including German, Albanian, Arabian, English, French, Farsi, Italian, Kurdish, Croatian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Tamil, Tibetan, Tigrinya, Turkish and Urdu. The programme is open to the addition of new languages, should demand arise. One course usually consists of between eight and twelve 90-minute classes, which take place weekly or bi-weekly in community centres, libraries or schools. Eight to twelve families usually participate in each course. Most families attend the groups on a regular basis.


Volunteers who know the language and are familiar with the cultural background of the families attending the courses carry out the programme. SIKJM provides these intermediaries with a basic understanding of language and literacy development, methods of storytelling, bilingual education, parent education, and media usage. SIKJM offers both introductory and continuing education to facilitators and observes their activities during classes, offering support and advice to improve where necessary. Facilitators are required to attend training sessions. However, pedagogical education is not a prerequisite to becoming a facilitator. As such, most facilitators are ‘semi-professionals’.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The programme has undergone two major external evaluations. The first evaluation was conducted in 2008 by the teacher training college in Zurich. The second took place in 2014 and was conducted by the Marie Meierhofer Institut für das Kind (please find links to both documents in Sources). Internally, SIKJM has analysed all its courses in terms of: the number of attendees, the attendance frequency of families, the level of involvement of parents, and the information parents receive about family learning and community resources.


Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

The programme allows children to improve their language and literacy skills since they receive help from their parents and teacher and are able to interact with other children. Specifically, children acquire new words and improve their understanding of text. In addition, children become more interested in stories and books, which contributes to the sustainable impact of the programme. Testimonies of parents point out that their children learn something new every time they attend classes and enjoy listing to the stories. They also value other class activities, such as artwork and drawing, and the children are proud to have created something with their parents.

The programme also promotes intergenerational family learning as it teaches parents how to support their children in their educational development by implementing learning activities at home. Both parents and children gain self-confidence from participating in the programme because they feel that their language and culture is publicly acknowledged and they meet people with similar backgrounds. The programme is, therefore, also a source of motivation for parents to support their children’s literacy development. For example, one mother explains that she and her husband started to take out children’s books from a library to read to their daughter, something they did not do previous to attending the programme.

Moreover, the programme has a positive effect on the education of parents as many become interested in reading and visiting libraries on their own time. Parents also appreciate the strong social component of the programme as they meet new people with similar backgrounds and interests while attending classes.


  • The teaching methodology used in the programme could benefit from a more structured, goals-oriented approach. The facilitators design classes and activities after their own preferences and put less emphasis on general goals as they are often unaware of how much the teaching approach matters (the method of storytelling is an example). The programme could be improved through a structured and coherent approach that defines each teaching format, such as storytelling and games, in more detail.
  • Incorporating parents into the learning process is a central challenge of the programme. For example, some facilitators find it challenging to engage with parents in front of their children, when they see that parents need help with their children (e.g. a mother struggling to control her son). Another problem is that, sometimes, one parent does not want the family to attend classes, which can cause families to stop participating. Some facilitators also struggle to work with older and uninterested children.
  • Access to books and other media in native languages is another challenge, especially when courses do not take place in international libraries.
  • The enrolment of participants largely depends on the ability of individual facilitators to reach out to and engage families with migrant backgrounds.

Lessons Learned

  • The way a story is told matters for the literacy development of children. Facilitators who tell stories in their own words, with gestures and acting, allow children to recreate the stories with their own imaginations, which improves their verbal understanding of texts and promotes their ability to add additional information. Reading stories aloud improves understanding of texts but has the added benefit of introducing children to written language. Furthermore, discussing the stories with children afterwards shows children how written language translates into spoken language and allows them to evaluate their own understanding of the story.
  • The incorporation of parents into the learning process is crucial for the success and sustainability of the programme. Achieving this challenging goal requires a well-defined concept with a clear approach to teaching, as well as ongoing coaching and support for facilitators.
  • The location of classes affects the outcome. Generally, classes should take place in separate rooms and not in public settings such as the public space of a library. In public settings, children are easily distracted and parent feel less confident in participating in the learning process.
  • Establishing trust between facilitators and parents is crucial to the success of the programme. Gaining the trust of parents is not only necessary in changing family literacy practice and motivating parents to support their children’s literacy development but it is also the most effective way to enroll new families into the programme. In fact, successfully enrolling families from specific migration backgrounds (e.g. Albanian families) depends on the key role of facilitators who are well-integrated into the community. Those facilitators who come from the same community and are in close contact with the families are often those best able to incorporate parents into the learning process during classes.
  • The implementation of the programme requires time. Specifically, parents require time to become comfortable in their participation in the programme, especially if classes take place in public spaces. In addition, establishing trusting relationships and changing learning dynamics within families is a long-term process.
  • Having groups with families from the same cultural background is highly conducive to family learning, as parents are often more reluctant to engage in learning activities with their children in different settings.



The sustainability of the programme depends on the willingness of local partners to organize and finance classes. However, public authorities grow more and more reluctant to finance the programme, which is leading to scarcer financial resources.



Ms. Gina Domeniconi
Swiss Institute for Children’s and Youth Media
Georgengasse 6
CH-8006 Zürich
Tel: +41 43 268 23 19

Last update: 31 May 2016

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 26 July 2017. Tell Me a Story, Switzerland. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 5 December 2021, 13:02 CET)

PDF in Arabic

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