StoryMaking with Performance Materials

Performing and Making Stories at The Muse

It was a rainy afternoon and I was gathering the children to the stage area at The Muse Knoxville for them to experience StoryMaking for the first time. My goal for our session this day was to play and make stories using performance materials. Many times, teachers in early learning classroom have centers in their rooms such as housekeeping or a kitchen area where children can interact with these materials and act out their imaginations. We have transformed these areas in some classrooms into performance makerspaces that allow children to make their own costumes and props, dress up and play with a variety of materials that help them imagine multiple settings to design the stories in their mind beyond just the kitchen. Here at The Muse we have many performance spaces that children can imagine who they want to become, where they want to go and what they want to do.

The Stage at The Muse – Children can choose dress up clothes to transform themselves into characters, pick the backdrop to set the perfect setting to their story, and select and make props from the baskets of puppets nearby and the art makerspace.

The Farmers Market at The Muse – Children can take on the role of a chef, shopper, restaurant owner, server, farmer or whatever they imagine to play and make stories.

The Vet/Doctor’s Office at The Muse – Children can use toys and interact with scientific equipment to act out and make the stories they imagine.

The U.S.S. Muse – Children have the opportunity to dress up in a space suit and act out going to space by interacting with the buttons and viewing the imagines on the screens inside.

On this day, I asked the children if they had ever made anything. They shared how they had made racecars with Legos before and even dolls using art materials. So I let them in on the secret!!! “Did you know that when you play and make things with these materials, you are also making a story to share?” They could already explain where their Lego car was going and what their doll would say, which was the foundation for telling and writing stories.

Then, I explained how to think like a StoryMaker. First, you need to imagine what materials you want to play with that would help you make a story. Next, play with those materials and have fun! See what stories come into your mind. Then, when you have that idea in your head, use those materials and start making! Finally, I told them that we would have the opportunity to come back and share the stories with each other. This is the StoryMaker Cycle! We looked at the different performance makerspaces and imagined who we could become, what we could do and where we could go to provoke their thinking.

Michelle asks the children to imagine who they could be, where they could go and what they could do in the different makerspaces.

Children imagine possible characters, settings and actions in the performance makerspaces at The Muse.

The children were excited and shared where they wanted to go to then rushed off with their parents to begin playing. As I stayed in the stage area I observed Abby go over to the dress up clothes and select a pink tutu and boa to transform into the princess she had imagined. She then looked through the different backgrounds hanging and selected the scene that she felt best matched the idea in her mind. She began to play and then saw the baskets of puppet nearby. She ran to find a princess friend to add to her story and she continued to play.

Abby plays and makes her princess story in the stage area.

Next, I visited the doctor/vet area and Margaret had already made a story and was off to another area to play with different materials. Thankfully, she agreed to act out and share her story with me. She explained that her story was about a dog and a cat. As she told me her story, I was able to ask questions along the way to help her elaborate. For example, when she told me that her dog got a shot I asked, “What did she say or do when that happened?” Margaret began to make whimpering sounds which added another detail to her story that will help her elaborate when writing in the future grade levels. When she paused as if it was the end of her story I asked, “What happened next?” She then added a wonderful ending that went like this…”I put a band aid on her and gave her a hug. She felt all better!

Margaret plays and makes her story about a time her dog had to go to the doctor and get a shot.

What is so important about any performance makerspace is that the children can use a variety of materials placed in the space to take on different roles and to make different stories in the same space. This is exactly what occurred when I observed Paisley playing. She selected a stethoscope and doll to play and make a story about someone choking. She began by pointing to different organs inside the body and telling me the names such as the heart, bladder and of course the esophagus which was the main problem in her story.

Paisley points to the internal parts of the body on her doll to explain their names and what they do before sharing her story.

Paisley continues to play and examine her character after sharing her story with me to see if she can add more details to her story.

As I headed back to stage to call everyone back for our Maker’s Talk I noticed Piper and Carolina playing with cars on the ramps. I did not consider this area to be a performance makerspace, but don’t you love when children prove you wrong?! They had made a car with building blocks and were acting out their story by sending them down different ramps. Brilliant!

“One day, the cars went down the road. They crashed! Oh no! Then they went to heaven.”

It was now time to gather the StoryMakers together back to the Stage for our Maker’s Talk. I had noticed two children playing and asked if they could act out their story again so they could share it with others. This was the story the played, made together and shared…


“One day, there was a princess who went to a dance. (We hummed dance music and Avery danced). Suddenly, a dragon monster came. (Cole yelled a loud ROARRRR!) The princess squealed and yelled. AHHHH! Oh no! So the dragon monster ate the princess! EKKKK! “


Avery and Cole acting out their story to share with others


The children laughed, squealed and burst into applause, which filled these two StoryMakers with pride and confidence! In just a little over an hour, these children learned how to think like a StoryMaker. The imagined what materials and what area they could use to inspire stories, they played and selected the materials that matched their idea, they tinkered and repurposed their materials to make their story and before leaving they shared their stories with each other.

Paisley shares her story with the audience.



Tips for Creating a Performance Makerspace

If you want to create your own performance makerspace for your classroom or in your home, here are a few materials you can include in your new or existing spaces to get children imagining a variety of characters.

  • Think about materials to help them imagine “Who” they can become.
    • Open-ended materials are best such as pieces of fabric and scarves for them to make their own costumes.
    • Place art materials nearby so they can make parts of wardrobe that match the character they imagine in their mind such as cardboard, tape, makers, paint, etc.
    • Gather costumes if your budget allows, but it still might not match their imagined character.

Caroline wanted to be a fairy, but there were no wings. So she selected a dress that she felt was fairy like, used a scrap of fabric to make her rainbow hair and then could go to the art makerspace next to the stage to make her wings.


Happy StoryMaking!


If you’re interested in finding out more about StoryMaking check out our book filled with over 100 colored photos and many lesson plans to help you plan units with the children in your life!