A Caregiver’s Guide to StoryMaking
Anyone can support a child in the StoryMaking process as they imagine, play, make and share their stories. To make your making time as successful as possible, we wanted to provide a few tips on how to encourage your child whether it be at home, in your classroom or even on a trip to a children’s museum this summer!
The StoryMaker Cycle
Provide time to explore. Observe the child playing and do not interrupt the flow of their imagination. Children need ample time to explore the materials, especially if they are new, before they make a story. I remember the first time that I tried the StoryMaking cycle with a group of kids. I was so excited about the possibilities that as soon as I laid out the materials about 2 minutes in I began to question. “Does this make you think of a story?”, I would say as I interrupted their play. The children were engaged, having fun and doing heavy thinking by using all their senses to fully explore the materials. The children looked at me in a daze because I had interrupted this valuable thinking time. It was too early to prompt them to think about a story. It will come, but with time. Therefore, let them touch and look at the objects and wait at least 15 minutes before engaging in a conversation about a story unless they invite you in to their play, but let them lead.
Robin respectfully plays with the children and allows them time to fully explore the materials in the sensory makerspace.
Observe and record. While children are playing with materials whether it is the blocks in your classroom, pots and plastic containers on the kitchen floor, or the rocket ship exhibit at your local museum listen to what children say. Usually, they will begin to narrative their play. They imagine characters and create dialogue about what is happening in minds. I remember a few weeks ago, I was watching my 3-year-old play with his 1-year-old brother in the kitchen. They pulled out all the organized baskets of food storage containers, dumped them on the floor and climbed into the baskets. I watched, trying not to be bothered by the huge mess, and listened to what they said. “Get in the boat, Cai!”, Cole would yell. “Paddle, Paddle! Look out! Here comes a crocodile.” They continued to play by adding more dialogue and details while acting out their story in their plastic “boats”. I wrote down the words and after their play died down a bit, I called them over and told them the story that they had made. They were amazed and proud that they had created a story! Once they understood that they could make a story with the things from our kitchen they wanted to go back and play some more. However, this time Cole kept shouting out, “Mommy, listen, here is another part of our story!”
Miss Angela quietly observers a boy playing with a puppet in the block makerspace. As he plays, she records the story he is making and what he says on a documentation form.
Ask simple questions to prompt. Once children understand that they can make stories as they play, we can ask questions to cultivate this StoryMaking culture. After children are playing for a good amount a time, you can ask them a few questions. I like to begin with this simple open-ended question, “What are you making?” It allows the child to still focus on exploring the materials. Often they will launch into details about HOW they are making the art or project they envisioned in their mind. Then you can ask, “What story can you imagine by playing with these (insert name of material)?” This will prompt children to discuss the importance of WHAT they made and imagine the possibilities of a story. Children often begin talking about a character and what they might do. They even imagine places they could go. Then they can continue to make with this new intention to their play that was highlighted by a few simple questions.
Simple but powerful questions to ask children to cultivate a StoryMaking culture and help them imagine possibilities of story with what they made.
Listen and linger. When children are in a StoryMaking culture and they know someone wants to hear the story that they made, they are ready to share. Therefore, when they are ready to tell their story, I give them a little prompt by asking how they want to start their story. A few options could be, “One day” or “Once upon a time” until they build their repertoire of how to start a story. Usually, during the first few times they share a story they tell a very short story and want to move on to playing with something else. Therefore, I always listen intently and when they stop I pause so we both feel the silence and quietly add, “And then…”. Most of the time, the child looks back of what they made and imagines a new detail to add. You can do this a few times to support elaboration until the child indicates that it really is the end of their story.
This four-year-old girl tells her story that she made with watercolors by pointing to parts of her artwork. Michelle listens intently and asks, “And then…”
Celebrate together. This is probably one of the most important things to remember. Children need to feel pride in their work and that they have done something amazing. And you know what? When they play, make and share a story no matter how big or small…it IS amazing! Hive fives, hugs and special cheers are great ways to promote this accomplishment. Take a picture of what they made or how they played in a space and hang it in place of importance in your home. Have the child add their own words to the picture or you could record what you heard them say and add the writing to celebrate their story.
Cole and his Mom celebrate the volcano story he made at summer camp. It hangs proudly on the fridge with the writing telling his story attached to his artwork.
So whether you play at home, summer camp, at the park, or while visiting the museums on vacation, try a few of these tips to create and cultivate a culture of StoryMaking with the children in your lives. They will see a new purpose in their play and will grow into confident storytellers and writers as they imagine, play, make and share as StoryMakers!