Storytelling for toddlers in families, playgroups and similar less structured settings.

The great thing about telling stories in families and playgroups is that you can tell to small groups. This means that you can be a lot more intimate in your style, more specific and direct in your story content and be much more flexible in your response to your audience.

The challenge however is that there is a tendency for these situations to be a lot less structured. Structure in places such as schools and kindergartens is created and maintained to cut down distractions and distracting behaviour so that a larger group can enjoy and/or learn together. This same sort of structure can help make storytelling more enjoyable and creative as well.

So, basically, the more structure you are able to introduce into your family or playgroup situation the easier it will be for you to tell stories.

In a family situation this isn’t too difficult. You can start story time at the same time and place, eg, bedtime when everyone is in bed, or after morning tea when the cleaning up is done and everyone is sitting in the lounge room. You might also have structure in the form of content, for example - one read story, one told story, and one improvised story. Likewise it’s really worth cutting down on distractions by including in your structure ‘rules’ such as no eating during telling, all toys put away in toy box etc.

In playgroups you can create similar structure. I remember well attempting a storytelling performance at a venue where there was no appreciation of the need for a supportive structure. The playgroup met in a large single roomed hall with wooden floor and tin roof. Carers, children, toys, food, drinks (including hot drinks for adults) were all gloriously mixed up in a bunch. When the coordinator got a group of children together to listen to my stories the other carers just kept on talking and drinking and creating distractions. Children had food and toys with them as they listened and would often be distracted by them. In the middle of attempting to tell while children rode trikes and carers chatted it started to rain and the noise on the tin roof was deafening. I learnt a lot that day.

If you mentally reverse everything in the above situation you start to get a situation where children and adults can enjoy storytelling together.

Creating structure in a playgroup or family care situation can include telling to small groups of children in a small private space. If you don’t have a small room to tell in, you may be able to create a similar space with dividers or furniture or garden. If you really want to do it in a large group then wait till after food and drink is finished and disposed of, collect all toys and put them out of sight, have all adults take part along with the children so that they can model good listening and participation. This is best done with each carer sitting with their children and actively joining in with the storyteller.

I know that carers need time to talk with each other over a cup of tea during play groups and that this is an important function of playgroups but everyone will gain if this is done at a specific time and not during storytime.

Often, however, the best storytelling for the toddler age group is done ‘on the fly’ - short spells of storytelling with stories improvised on the spot about something that has just happened or is just happening. The story can be about something special eg about how a child found a frog and it hopped when she/he touched it, or about something mundane eg .

‘Once upon a time three children sat on the grass. One was called Peter. Hello Peter. One was called Anne. Hello Anne. One was called Jim. Hi Jim. Peter laughed ha, ha, ha. Anne laughed ha, ha, ha and Jim laughed ha, ha, ha.’

On paper it’s not much of a story but told to three kids sitting on the grass with fun, rhythm, and touch would be fine. If the kids are enjoying it it can be added to in lots of ways eg ,

‘Peter clapped, clap, clap, clap, Anne clapped, clap, clap, clap, and Jim clapped, clap, clap, clap.’

Stories can be created around the toys the children are playing with. ‘Once upon a time Peter had a ball. It bounced & bounced & bounced into a ....’

Nursery rhymes are great models to improvise around partly because they work really well for this age group and partly because we can remember them easily.

Telling with expression
All of the suggestions in my other workshop notes - ‘Bringing Stories Alive’, ‘Creating and Improvising Stories’ and ‘Storytelling with under three year olds’ are also appropriate for storytelling in family or playgroup situations. You may have to adjust them a little because of the younger or smaller group size. The main thing though is to work out how to enjoy the experience yourself and to have fun.

© 1998 Daryll Bellingham. One copy of the above notes are available for your personal use for developing your storytelling skills. If you would like to copy, distribute or publish them whole or in part please seek my permission.

Daryll Bellingham, Storyteller
P.O. Box 5300, West End, Q4101, 
Brisbane, Australia
Tel. 61 (0)7 3846 3135
Mob. 0417 478408
All contents copyright © 2001, Daryll Bellingham. All rights reserved.
Last update: 26th August, 2003.
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