Jun 16, 2011

Storytelling & Drama in the Early Years

Children reading books together

We are delighted to have a guest blog from Julie Meighan, which is all about the importance (and fun) of drama in the Early Years sector.

Engaging in storytelling

When engaging in storytelling for young children, parents/educators should pinpoint the children’s interests. These interests may revolve around topics like animals, stories featuring children their age as heroes, adventures involving activities they enjoy such as getting dirty, playing with adults, or trying something new for the first time.

One common query, especially among new educators, is, ‘Where can I find suitable stories for young children?’ Stories can originate from one’s memory, drawing on childhood reminiscences or creative imagination. Picture books offer a valuable resource, particularly when fostering a love for reading. Local libraries often house collections of folktales, conveniently organized in easy-to-access formats or adaptable to specific needs. Stories that delve into family dynamics can also prove highly effective.

Certain essential elements must be incorporated to ensure successful storytime sessions. It’s imperative to genuinely know and enjoy the story you’re telling, understand and connect with your audience, and ensure that the story and the audience align harmoniously. Flexibility in your approach is also key.

Next critical step is to become proficient in storytelling. Initially, you’ll want to grasp the fundamental plot structure. For instance, think of the classic tale of the three pigs who ventured out on their own, each building a house – one of sticks, one of straw, and one of bricks. A wolf came along, huffing and puffing to blow down the straw and stick houses. He attempted to enter the brick house but ended up in hot water, quite literally, falling into a pot. The end. Or consider the story of a clever fox persuading a crow to drop a piece of cheese by flattering her into singing with her mouth open. The end. Practice telling these stories, perhaps even recording yourself and listening while driving. You might also want to practice in front of a mirror to assess your facial expressions and body language.

You must make the stories exciting and fun for the children!

A good voice exercise is to write some sentences on a blackboard, and have each person say them in different situations. For instance, say “I want a cup of coffee” as though you were tired, happy, angry, disgusted, humiliated, etc. Then change this to an entire situation: you are in your boss’s office and he has just fired you. Let them choose the emotion and the voice.

Have two people hold up a sheet, and two more stand behind it, the sheet covering their torsos and upper legs. Whisper an emotion into their ears, and then say “go.” Have the students point out what made them know which emotions they were imitating. This is called cultural knowledge. We know when people are angry, sad, excited, etc. We don’t always know why we know, but we do know. So do children in fact, they are sometimes quicker to pick this up because they need it for living by adult rules. So be careful with your face and body language; the children are reading it.

Remember: you’re not just telling stories; you’re teaching them to be an audience.

Some other tips for telling a story to young children

  • Intersperse with rhymes, fingerplays, prop stories
  • Sing
  • Keep stories short

Examples of storytelling activities

Game: Pop-up Story Book

Age: 3 years +
Minimum number of participants: 2<

Resources needed: Clear space, a story book.

Other Benefits: This is an excellent listening game that can be played with any number of children. It helps them to engage in the storytelling process.

Instructions: The educator will choose a story to read that the children are familiar with. Each child is given a word. For example if the teacher was reading ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, child A is given the word Goldilocks, child B, baby, child C, porridge, child D, bed and so on. When each child has been given a word the game can begin. All the children lie on the floor. When the child hears his/her word s/he must jump up. If they miss their turn they are out and can’t pop-up anymore.

Game: The Hungry Tree

Age: 5+
Minimum number of participants: 3
Resources needed: Clear space.

Other Benefits:This is an excellent introduction to improvisation as the children are free to explore their imaginations. It also helps with their co-ordination skills.

Instructions: The teacher tells the children the following story and they have to improvise the movements in the story. The teacher gets the children to imagine they are an adventurer who wants to go on an adventure. They have to pack up their bags. The teacher asks what they need in the bags. Children’s answers are usually for example water, sandwiches, sun cream, and sunglasses and so on. The children mime putting all these essentials into their bag and then mime all the actions in the adventure below. The teacher says imagine you are walking quickly because you are so happy to be on your adventure. You see a mountain and decide you should climb it. The sun is getting hotter and hotter and you are getting tired. You get very, very tired. You wipe your brow to show how tired you are. You begin to climb slower and slower. You are very thirsty. You take out your water and take a drink. You put it back in your bag and climb the rest of the way up the mountain. Eventually you get to the top. You are exhausted, very hot and very hungry. You decide it is time for your picnic. You see a lovely tree and you go and sit under its shade. You eat your picnic and go for a nap. Then suddenly you wake up and see the tree moving towards you. The tree grabs you and you realise it is a very hungry tree and wants to eat you. You scream. You struggle. You fight the branches but you are getting weaker and weaker. Then suddenly the tree stops fighting for a moment. You get your chance to escape. You quickly grab your bag, and run back down the mountain. You get to the end and you don’t stop in case the hungry tree is running after you. You run all the way home, lock all the doors and hide under the table.

Blog written by: Julie Meighan, Play Therapist

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