Out to Play Mini Blogs – Blog 3: Storytelling

Written by Saffron Gillies.

Welcome to the third in our series of ‘Out to Play Mini-Blogs – An imaginative approach to outdoor play & learning in the early years’! Between August 2022 and March 2023 I’ll be working with 18 Early Years settings across Glasgow on our Out to Play Mini-Residencies programme, following the success of this strand of the project in spring 2022.

To accompany the Mini-Residencies, I’ll be writing a series of Mini-Blogs designed to give early years practitioners a bite-sized introduction to the Out to Play project, and some quick, practical tips to try out in your own setting. In this blog, I’ll explore storytelling.

Stories are always all around us; in picture books, on the telly, in the lyrics of songs, and even in our heads! At Eco Drama we love using stories as a way to encourage children to connect emotionally with their learning. Ultimately we hope that through building this emotional connection to nature, children will feel inspired to care for it. Within your role you will likely already be an experienced storyteller, even if you don’t feel like one! Storytellers make use of vocal and facial expression, movement, repetition and interaction to bring stories to life – all things you will use almost every day when working with the children in your setting.

At the outset of the Out to Play project we drew upon traditional stories, myths and pieces of folklore from around the world. Often these tales have strong nature themes alongside other themes that link nicely with sustainability; including sharing vs greed, working together, fairness and equality. As the project has progressed we have also created stories of our own, and occasionally drawn upon modern tales. As an EY practitioner approaching storytelling for sustainability you’ll be spoiled for choice – traditional tales can often be sourced online, you’ll likely have access to lots of children’s stories within your setting, and, your imagination can be a great source of stories too. Plus, some of our favourites can be found in our ‘Let’s Go…Out to Play!’ Early Years resource pack.

Within my recent residencies at Pollokshields Early Years Centre and Strathclyde University Nursery staff selected a range of stories for their groups. At Pollokshields staff explored the Chinese folk tale ‘King of the Forest’, as part of sessions exploring Lunar New Year, while at Strathclyde children were treated to a telling of the popular Indian story ‘The Cracked Pot’, in a session exploring planting and growth. 

Once you’ve selected your story, it’s time to get working on your telling of it! Here are some of my top tips for telling interactive stories either from memory, or supported by a book/text:

Break it Down to the Basics

In order to tell a good story, all you need to know is the key elements of the tale. Consider, if you were to tell a 10 second version of the story, what would you need to include in order to get the story across? Write your 10 second version out. This is sometimes called a Story Skeleton. Once you have your Story Skeleton and have gotten familiar with it you will be ready to tell a simple version of the story!

Get Creative with the Details

Once you’re confident with the basic structure of your story, then you can consider adding in some detail. This could be descriptive language: ‘The bark of the tree shimmered and shone with all the colours of the rainbow’. Moments of repetition or call and response: ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!’. Or moments of interaction: ‘Can you call out like a bird?’. Identify a few moments in your story that you can bring to life in this way.

Trust Your Instincts

Whether telling from memory or using a book to support you, storytelling can sometimes feel like putting on a performance for the children you work with! Take the pressure off yourself by trusting your instincts, it is likely that in your work with young children you will be using your voice and movement in expressive ways. If you can, let the story be organic: rather than being the same every time like a script, trust yourself to ad lib and respond to your children and your surroundings as you tell. For example, ask the children for the names of the characters, or if appropriate make reference to the things happening around you, like birds flying overhead, or the weather – ‘it was even colder in the forest than it is in the garden today!’.

Interacting with the story can be a great way to build children’s dramatic skills, confidence and vocabulary while exploring your chosen themes and topics. Plus, introducing the children you work with to new stories can be a great way to encourage their imaginations, and create a sense of discovery and adventure. There’s a storyteller within us all – so we encourage you to give it a go!

With thanks to staff and children at Pollokshields Early Years Centre, and Strathclyde University Nursery – I hope you keep exploring!