Nature Play On Vancouver Island

Nature Kindergarten On Vancouver Island

Supporting Children with Story Play

Supporting Children with Hands On Learning

Story Play

Ellen Galinsky in her book Mind in the Making shares a list of concepts that she feels are important in early literacy.  She writes:

It’s about expression. Catherine Snow says it’s important to remember that a central purpose of literacy is to communicate. That means not losing sight of the forest for the trees and putting excessive emphasis on mechanics such as sounding out letters or learning the alphabet at the expense of focusing on children expressing themselves                                                                               


how might materials support young authors and thinkers?

Using loose parts and setting up provocations provides children with time together to expand oral language, a sense of story as well as those important self regulation, decision making, co-constructing learning and planning skills that all students work on, but especially important in Kindergarten. The value of loose parts is that they allow the child to imagine who/what the characters are, create the setting and tell or retell the story all while editing their loose parts.

This is thirty-thirty five minutes three times weekly, of building and talking, negotiating and compromise. At the same time, stories of mermaids, knights and guards and dragons are being built with loose parts. The co-constructed learning and strong peer relationships that emerge from this type of daily experiences are rich and empowering as children see themselves as in control and sharing that control with others..

Setting the table for Story Play:

Susan (Opal School) wrote 

first we establish an environment that promotes play, because

play promotes story….💕

I love this quote because it completely aligns with my beliefs about how children learn and inspires me to be diligent about ensuring that I am curating a play based program. During the week before children arrive at school I organize my schedule so that the days begin with story play followed by a sharing circle and then back to exploration where the children explore the resources in the room through play. 

We already know that children come to school creating stories in their play. I want them to understand that school offers continued opportunities to wonder, be curious and creative. I want them to understand that this is our room and so in my program, story play begins the very first week of school when the children are coming in small groups for short bursts of time.

When we begin our two offsite mornings we return to the school with the children flowing into story play, followed by exploration until the mid-day school break. Often their stories merge seamlessly into exploration as children choose to return to their story play or begin new stories using different materials. I intentionally ensure that they have a predictable schedule so that they can plan their play, choose the materials and engage with peers.

Photo from Aimee Blow Loose Parts Workshop Feb 2020

Structure for Story Play:

1 Set up loose parts around classroom as a creative and open ended 


2. Provide an opportunity for them to choose working near or with a 


3. Circulate and support children, recording observations as needed

4. End session when children’s stamina is reached

5. Ensure that the children have continuous access to Story Play materials 

to offer opportunities for story play throughout the morning

6. Be intentional in your role as observer, recorder, supporter and assessor. 

As much as possible allow the children to co-construct their stories. 


Suggested Organization:

Choose a small space in your room such as a bookshelf or a section of shelving and set up a minimum of four storytelling baskets with loose parts. On top of the shelf set up some extra loose parts to encourage children to add to their stories i.e.: trees, fabric, flowers, leaves, peg people.  Alternatively, set up a shelf in your room which holds all of the story play baskets you would normally use for a whole group soft start.

You will discover that children will imagine or retell a story with the loose parts. Include story play opportunities in the atelier with paints, clay and collage materials. Depending on how much experience they have had with loose parts and story play, their stamina will grow until you decide how much time can be set aside for story play in your program. For younger children you could include story retelling of familiar folk tales like Little Red Riding Hood and 3 Little Pigs

A few pieces of an old circus Playmobil set  (donation) combined with loose parts

has become a popular story play basket. 

Susan (Opal School) wrote 

We are inviting the children to explore the classroom in search of their stories.  We are wondering together:  Where do stories live?  What stories do the materials inspire?  When using the materials, what memories are awakened?  We set up spaces and materials to inspire and entice children.  Materials like blocks, paint, water, sand, colored pencils and collage become the vehicles for the children's stories. 

I love these questions and actually write them on sticky note paper and post around the room. I am so grateful to have access to online learning like the Opal School provides to nudge me to be a better listener and gatherer of stories. 

Photo from Suzanne Axelsson Workshop, sponsored by Frogs Hollow Feb 2020

Gathering Resources:

Nature, recycled and repurposed loose parts, peg people, fabric, animals, mirrors, frames, placemats ….. paint, clay, collage, wire, beads, gems, sharpies … light tables … blocks and much more! These open-ended materials encourage, inspire and support children as they create stories.

I share resources with a colleague so that I have access to additional materials. This saves me a lot of time putting together baskets as well as storage. More recently, our early learning team acquired a grant to purchase shared story play resources for the school. This is exciting because we are co-creating a resource, working together and sharing our beliefs and ways we organize our story play/workshop. The shared resources will be stored on a small rolling cart and just rolled into a room for use and then rolled to the next space! Love it.

If you don’t already have loose parts here are a few ideas for collecting:

The Beautiful Stuff Project

Ask your Families for donations

Thrift Stores

Share with colleagues

Nature Loose Parts

Recycling Centre

Apply for Early Learning Grants

Use School Resource funds to purchase quality art materials

What are your interests?

Last year some friends and I took our first needle felting workshop. This interest has grown into a hobby which has spilled over into my practice. I love creating little characters for story play and colourful loose parts for all of the wonderful uses that exist in early learning. Some friends like to work with wood and are busy creating small forest animals, rocks or trees. Others like to sew and share their hobbies with students. Sharing your passions with the children you teach encourages children to share their passions, try new activities and find common ground with each other. Many of my woodworking and felting projects end up in story play.


Photo from Margie Radigan Kindergarten Story Retelling Invitation

Adding Story Play to your schedule:

In the beginning I use story play as a transition into the classroom beginning with ten-fifteen minutes as my children are new to elementary school. Over time as the children build stamina, I reduce the frequency and increase the length of time, capping it at 35 minutes twice weekly which continues until the end of the school year.



Organize an anecdotal recording sheet and choose a learning intention for observation i.e.: active listening. Then it’s easy to look for patterns to help decide if you need to teach a mini lesson or work with a small group.

Be intentional with your observations. What are you hoping to notice and learn about your children? What are your questions?

Choose a focus group to work on each time. I may make a short video of their conversation, take photos of their work, scribe their stories. Then after the children leave I can make more notes and add it to the assessment, e-portfolio or the documentation panel.

I hope that this document will support either your transition to story play or inspire you to try it. 

A colleague recently asked me why do I spend so much of our learning time on story play and my first word was Joy!! We know that story play is a rich learning opportunity but Joy Inspires me to make it an important and valued piece of our day together.

Thank you, Liz McCaw :)


No comments

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.