Sue Cowley: 9 Ideas for Exploring Storytelling With Children

Storytelling activities for learning, listening, and taking the spotlight
January 29, 2020
Reading time:
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Storytelling is one of the most important ways to explore the world around us.

In your early years setting, storytelling with children allows them to step into the worlds and perspectives of new characters, to imaginatively explore the unfamiliar. Even the simplest story is an exercise in how we communicate and listen to one another.

Below, we’ve collected a number of ideas from our expert contributor Sue Cowley about storytelling for children, full of advice on how to get them engaged and involved with creating and telling stories.

Some of these activities allow your children to listen and reflect, while others make space for their imaginations to fill the spotlight. Whether it’s during play time or a part of a lesson plan, these activities offer new ways to get your children developing critical skills for communicating with one another, reading their emotions and exploring new worlds.

Keen for more? Well these activities were contributed as part of our NMT award-nominated Activity Library, a resource which you can access for free as part of Famly Free – a light version of our software which gives you access to observations, learning journals, and parent communication without spending a penny. Why not sign up for free today and head in to see 20 more free activities from Sue, as well as more than 50 other free activities.

1. The Tiger Who Came to Tea

The storytelling idea: You’ll read aloud Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea, about a tiger that interrupts Sophie’s afternoon tea, and afterward have a talk about behavior toward others.

What you need:

  • A copy of The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
  • A carpet or common sitting space

How you do it:

  • Read the story to your children.
  • Afterward, ask the children to discuss the following thoughts.
  • Which words would they use to describe the tiger? Why?
  • What impact does the tiger’s behaviour have on Sophie and her family?
  • What do the children think of how Sophie’s father reacts to the tiger? Were they surprised that the father didn’t get angry?
  • Why do the children think the tiger doesn’t visit Sophie again? Was the tiger real?

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The storytelling idea: You’ll read aloud Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, about a very hungry caterpillar, and respond to the story through movement.

What you need:

  • A copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • A carpet or common sitting space

How you do it:

  • Read the story to your children, and explain that they are going to help dramatize the events of the story through movement.
  • Ask them to curl up like a caterpillar in an egg on a leaf.
  • Next, they should “pop” out of the egg — How can they look hungry in the way they move?
  • Now get them to chomp through various foods, and then show that they are still hungry.
  • At any point, you may want to pause to help your children think through how they can express these actions and feelings.
  • At the end of the story, get the children to become butterflies and “fly” around the room in the way a butterfly would.

3. Not Now Bernard

The storytelling idea: You’ll read aloud David McKee’s Not Now Bernard, about a boy named Bernard who is eaten by a monster (which goes unnoticed by his parents), and afterward have a talk about how we relate to our parents.

What you need:

  • A copy of Not Now Bernard by David McKee
  • A carpet or common sitting space

How you do it:

  • Read the story to your children.
  • Afterward, ask the children to discuss the following thoughts.
  • Why do Bernard’s mother and father always say “Not now, Bernard” to him?
  • Do their own parents ever say “Not now” to them? Why might they say this?
  • Discuss what happens as a result of Bernard’s parents not listening to him.
  • What do the children think the characters in the story could have done differently?

4. We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

The storytelling idea: You’ll read aloud Michael Rosen’s We’re Going On a Bear Hunt, a playful, song-like tale about a group of children encountering a bear, and will help the children develop a pantomimed performance to accompany the story. Optionally, you can help prepare your children to present their performance in front of a parent audience.

What you need:

  • A copy of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
  • An open space, with room for movement
  • (Optional) A parent audience

How you do it:

  • Read the story to your children and talk about the events of the story — Which noises or movements would go well with certain moments in the story?
  • Many moments in the story use onomatopoeia like “splish splosh,” and children can think about how they might turn these noises into movements.
  • (Optional) Help your children practice their accompanying performance, and invite a parent audience for a performance of the story.

5. Talking About the Past

The storytelling idea: Children’s elder family members will be invited into your child care center for a history-focused story session, as they recount their memories of childhood and events in the past.

What you need:

  • Willing parents or grandparents
  • A short list of interesting historical trends and events

How you do it:

  • Ask among your families to find any parents or grandparents who are willing to come and talk to your children about the past, and arrange for a visit.
  • Help the children prepare a list of questions for your guest, encouraging them to think about how life may have been different in the past.
  • The theme of the talk might tie in with a commemoration of a historic event.
  • Encourage your visitors to bring in items from their childhood or past, for instance a ration book from World War II or an old-fashioned rotary phone.

6. Modelling Behaviors

The storytelling idea: Staff model behaviors through a series of scenes that explore acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

What you’ll need:

  • Two staff members
  • A carpet or common sitting space

How you do it:

  • Explain to the children that you are going to model some situations where behavior might be wrong, to see what that might look like.
  • Get staff to role play a series of behaviors modeling bad conduct, for instance snatching a toy from another child, or refusing to let one child play as part of a group.
  • Encourage the children to talk about what is going on. Why is this behavior not okay?
  • Ask the children to reflect on how they would feel in each situation.
  • Finally, ask the children what they could do differently in these situations to achieve a better outcome?

7. Deconstructed Role Play

The storytelling idea: Children will be challenged to develop their own role play scenes and stories using open-ended recycled materials as props.

What you need:

  • An open space
  • Large cardboard boxes
  • Sheets
  • Planks
  • Crates
  • Other open-ended craft materials of your choosing

How you do it:

  • Clear your open space, then supply it with your collection of craft materials
  • When the children arrive, explain that it is up to them what they make of the various materials on offer.
  • Talk together about different scenes or topics they might want to develop. This could be based on their interests — For instance, superhero role play or exploring the idea of space by creating a rocket ship.
  • Support their play and understanding by playing alongside them and encouraging shared thinking.

8. Musical Imagination

The storytelling idea: Children respond imaginatively to a piece of music, exploring what sort of a mood it projects, and how it makes them feel.

What you need:

  • A CD player, Bluetooth speaker or laptop
  • Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (Downloadable and streamable online)
  • Open space
  • Art supplies

How you do it:

  • Explain to the children that you are going to play them a piece of music that creates a very specific mood. Ask them to close their eyes so that they can concentrate on the music.
  • As they listen, encourage them to think about what the music makes them feel, and whether it makes them imagine any specific settings, characters or stories.
  • When the song is over, ask the children to respond using various art forms — They might dramatise the music, create a piece of art in response, or you might get the whole group moving around the room to show them how the music makes them feel.

9. Thinking About Listening

The storytelling idea: Take time to talk about listening with the children, and discuss why it’s important.

What you need:

  • Carpet or common sitting space for discussion

How you do it:

  • Talk about ‘good listening behavior’ during carpet time.
  • How can we tell if someone is listening to us? What can we do to show someone else that we are listening to them?
  • Why do we need to keep our hands and feet to ourselves when we are on the carpet?
  • What should we do if we want to ask something during a whole class discussion?
  • Why is it important not to talk when someone else is speaking?

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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