A sense of agency and storytelling.

    Storytelling is alive and well, and in good hands! 

I had the privilege of working at a  kindergarten today and noticing how a storytelling culture is an accepted part of their daily routines. And how empowering it is for children when adults accompany the children into the domain of storytelling and play. When children tell their own story and when they use their imagination to create their own plot and narrative, this can be a wonderfully empowering thing. One has complete ownership and a sense of agency.

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13½ possible ways to play with/tell a known story – or – ’13½ ways to use your hands’.

13½ possible ways to play with a known story and bring it alive with the children, without using a book or a CD. A graduated series of steps towards building confidence and simply practising. Everything is hard until it’s easy… learning to walk, putting on your own clothes, becoming bilingual as a three year old… practise, practise, practise. Skill is secondary, ability to live with occasional ‘failure’ is imperative!

1. Jim Weiss has the first and most simple ½  step. Take a story book that you already know and read every second page but use your own words to ‘read’  the one in between. http://vimeopro.com/user13058727/greathall/video/48033909 from 4 minutes in, he covers the element of connection and respect, the neuroscience of storytelling. At 11.33 he tells you how to read every second page and paraphrase every second page. At 13.00 he talks about working with children who had never been read to or knew stories. At 15.00 he tells a story from Sherlock Holmes. (pretty good). In this image he is being the hare in ‘The tortoise and the hare’.




2. Take a story you already know and add gestures. Make up your own or ask the children for ideas and then tell it more than once so that the children can anticipate and join in with the story. Here is the story of Cucaracha, which is suitable for very young children who are very comfortable with copying gesture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpcHgob2i5A you can do this with any simple story. They love to join in and anticipate.

This Australian woman has created gestures to go with a short poem she has learned. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/telling_stories_mook_mook_owl_video.html

A very simple thing to do… and gives the children a change from the perpetual old and rather ‘tired’ favourites like Five little ducks or Head shoulders knees and toes.


.Louise Coigley, who is a speech and language therapist, also talks about rhythm and gesture. Brilliantly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVvMQR6jTYc





3. Take a story you already know and act it out. Here is a family having a great deal of fun acting out the story of the three little pigs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo2LDDbwlRg

Children playing out the three little pigs at a childcare centre.

4. Take a simple known story and support the children to take part by making the gestures and singing the chorus as the story progresses. Here is a storyteller telling the story of the Hare and the Tortoise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_032nPgwdM This is a performance but the basic building blocks are the same.





This chap also teaches the children how to do their part. He also does a running commentary sharing with us how he does what he does…the importance of eye contact, the use of names and so on. It is true that it is not a well known story! one must adapt! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJU5L3ZYODU

5. Take a simple story or a simple verse and learn how to tell it with sign language. Try ‘Baa baa black sheep’ or ‘ Goldilocks and the three bears’ or ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ePOq_S04p8

and check out the animation, vitality and generosity of this story teller doing the three little pigs.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw8u29Fa1Ag

and then there are these gorgeous young brothers (3 years and 17 months) who are bilingual in spoken language and ASL Here they are reading/telling a book together . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fha8ZsdxupI

And a child telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood in sign language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDFxr6dMJUE Amazing.

6. Take a story you all know and paint it.

The three little pigs.

Mr Gumpy’s Outing.

7. Take a well known story and create a string game around it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQkJpTVIyeA. This one is a classic and marvellous rendition of the famous story of Jack and the Beanstalk  and his goal in this instance is to entertain rather than teach but it would make a great springboard for teaching simple string figures like the witches hat. Or the story of the annoying  mosquito which is easy to learn.

8. Take a known story and try to recall the sequence with the children, such as Going on a Bear Hunt. Maybe have the images of the story shrunk to a smaller size and then glued onto stones and put the stones in the right order.

9. Take a well known story and find the appropriate table top puppets to act it out. Use fabric of different colours to suggest a river, a mountain, a lake or snow and ice. Leave the props available for the children to tell the story, or their variation of it!

10. Take a well known story and find the appropriate animals and act it out in the garden and take photos and make your own story book for the children, with the children.

11. Tell a well known story and encourage staff to ‘act it out’/ be ‘in role’  in front of the children in the course of the day and stay in role (on dress up days!) The children were delighted, aghast and initially stunned when Cruella Deville told Cinderella she had to tidy the resource room instead of have lunch! problem solving indeed! moral dilemmas abouding! social justice issues……but fun!!

Cinderellla and the two ugly sisters and a handsome prince! They actually came as Maleficent and Cruella Deville but they were perfect as Cinderella’s sisters. Not planned but it would be great to choose a story to share. Jack and the Beanstalk, Frozen…… not many with a lot of females actually??

12. Take a well known story and tell it out with playdough. No photos of the children because of privacy issues (in many of the photos on this post).

Jack and the beanstalk.

13.Take a well known story and create our own story books about it or create a puppet set. 

The list is absolutely infinite but my patience with computer technology is not!! so 13½ is where I am stopping. It certainly gives you a taste of the infinite possibilities for incorporating stories into one’s practice. This post does not even start to address the creative possibilities for collaborating and improvising new stories with the children. Or for supporting children to create and record and retell their own stories.

I hope this has been useful!

14. p.s how ironic! I did  not include a storytelling mat as another way to tell a story. Here is an image of the mat I made for ‘Going on a Bear hunt’, complete with house and bed and all the landscapes. About a metre diameter.


The Ugly Duckling or the Strange Grey Duckling

Yesterday at work, some children were unkind to another child with the standard ‘ I  don’t want to be your friend’ line, which is hurtful. A standard adult response is ‘We are all friends here’ but we know this to be untrue. However, ‘We all try to be friendly here’ rings a truer bell and can be followed through with more success. After this conversation, a student and I looked through a great basket of books labelled ‘Friendship and feelings’ which was on the centre shelf. We found a few good ones and I wondered about telling the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’, and said I would do it as a prop supported story the next day.
When I got home, I  had second thoughts because the original  is hugely long. Then I read a comment about it from wikipedia which made  me wonder if it were an appropriate story after all.


Bruno Bettelheim observes in The Uses of Enchantment that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment.[1]   Not cool.

A third reservation arose when I thought about the word ‘ugly’. This word does not appear to be in the vocabulary of most four and five year olds wherever I have worked, and I certainly don’t  want to be responsible for introducing such an insidious and cruel form of unkindness. So even the title had to be changed to ‘The Grey duckling’..

To overcome these problems and to make it pertinent to the issue, unkindness to fellow children, I decided to make various changes.

I wanted …

1 to make it shorter

2 to make it about a duckling that was different, bigger and ‘grey’, rather than yellow.And certainly not ‘ugly’.

3. i wanted to make it a girl, but there is a bit where a spiteful chicken says the following line : ‘My advice to  you is to  either learn to purr or to lay eggs’. I was reluctant to throw away such  a  line…… so he stayed a boy, but I would  like it to have been a girl, because girls are more prone to the exclusion game in my view. I remember doing it myself, and today at work the student recalled a child at her school who was shunned by all  because he was always dirty. In retrospect she realises why there were always two white lines running down his cheeks from his eyes, that they were made by the tears which had washed away the dirt. she still remembers his name and his sadness.

4. I wanted to ensure that the duckling was portrayed as proactive, kind, helpful and warm hearted.

Then I googled ‘storytelling to encourage kindness between children’ and found an amazing page in a book about Vygotsky…. it won’t let me cut and paste from the sample pages but the page number is 300 and the link is  http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=GUTyDVORhHkC&pg=PA300&lpg=PA300&dq=storytelling+for+preschoolers+who+are+unkind+to+their+friends&source=bl&ots=txcJUJHcvN&sig=BXsw-NU1GPtY9HlG84bbxSWqnjw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Q7JpVLmzFsa7mQXD84CoCw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=storytelling%20for%20preschoolers%20who%20are%20unkind%20to%20their%20friends&f=false

And then I started to edit the story….  but still need to chop it more. i combined the ideas of the wild ducks and the wild geese and had the ducks get shot and fall into the water beside the duckling.

Today at work we had the storytelling squares but the weather was so glorious that they were mostly outside and creating stories is a great rainy afternoon sort of event. But we were drawing and I drew the key picture for the ‘strange grey duckling who was different’.  Which was wonderful and makes me want to  write another post all about the ethics and dilemmas  about drawing for, or in front of children. But it definitely is another post.

I came  home for lunch and ended up grabbing a few cloths and objects and taking them back to work on the off-chance that I could try telling the story in the last 15 minute mat time slot. Which I ended up doing. To a silent, attentive and very  absorbed audience. It is a complex plot and I used my drawing occasionally to make a point and I used my props and I invented things on the spot that made the ‘duckling’ a kind-hearted animal who never gave up being considerate and kind even when very downtrodden.

I noticed that I felt a catch in my throat when I got to the end and he bows his head and waits for them to attack and instead sees his reflection in the still water.

I forgot to do my musical introduction, so I backtracked and did it after the second picture, and they loved it. So do I!!

The edited story will appear in a later post.





The power of storytelling

Bushman story telling

The power of storytelling

(click on title to view)

This poster  demonstrates, in a  very simple form,  some of the practical applications which I cover. Exploring ways to support children to create their own  written and illustrated story is really almost another session, but inevitably each workshop touches on all the various aspects and is, in any case,  designed to meet your specific needs. Some centres really want to learn more about the theoretical justifications for oral storytelling and others want to dive straight into the practice and have a go at being a storyteller.