Co-Creating Stories with Children (includes video)

by | Mar 14, 2024 | StoryMaking

I’ve never needed to be convinced of the importance of stories in children’s lives. Once upon a time stories, real-people stories, nature stories, adventure stories, fantasy stories – the value of stories goes well beyond helping children develop language and literacy skills, or helping children find calm or stillness at certain times of the day.

“Stories orient us into our family, our culture, our language and even onto this earth, helping us belong to where we were born.”

(Louise deForest from Tell Me a Story )

That is no small thing!

Most, if not all early learning educators, incorporate beautifully written and illustrated books for children into their programs. As educators, and as parents, we know we’ve found a truly important book when we witness children become spellbound as a story unfolds.

But not all great stories come as published books. Some of the most important stories don’t even come from adult storytellers. They come from the minds and experiences of children. As I write this, I can’t help but visualize Peyton who daily arrives to our program with something to tell me about what she has done or is about to do that day. Her eyes sparkle and her small legs jump up and down in rapid succession as she speaks – her body language speaking in tandem with her words about the joy she experiences in her world. I also hear Hunter’s loudspeaker voice suddenly bursting into the room with a real or imagined story that he’s anxious to share with others – the idea arriving in his mind like lightning sparked by something someone else has just said. To Hunter sharing his spontaneous stories means he has something to give, something that could make others curious or laugh.

Petyon’s and Hunter’s stories are ones that grow from their individual and personal experiences. Yet storytelling can also be a way to offer children an invaluable collective experience – a way to listen to one another, share different viewpoints, negotiate ways of solving problems together, and to imagine what it feels like to be inside a single story with one another.

How can storytelling become a collective experience?  

Thankfully, we don’t have to be Robert Munsch to get children excited about chiming in with their storytelling ideas. All we need to do is prime their creative juices.

  1. Start by observing your children’s play: e.g. Are they pretending to travel places; imagining they have a new baby; or maybe escaping lava during outdoor play?
  2. Find novel images/photos that tie in with the children’s interests and play.
  3. Look at the details of the pictures you’ve chosen, thinking about what details will capture your children’s interests.
  4. Plan a loose structure to guide children’s collective storytelling. (e.g. Who is this story about? Where is the story taking place? What problem(s) will arise in the story? How will that problem be solved?) You don’t need to determine the answers to these questions. The children can do that. You simply want the structure in your mind to help all the children focus on one part of the story at a time.
  5. When you are ready to co-create a story, show the children one of the photos you’ve selected. Invite the children to tell you what they see in the picture. Encourage the children to respond to one another and not just you.
  6. Tell the children that this picture is about to reveal a story that they create. Wonder aloud what the story is going to be about. Using the loose story structure you’ve planned, guide the children in creating the elements of the story. As their ideas evolve you may wish to bring in one or more different pictures that inserts a surprise or story twist and sparks more storytelling.
  7. Co-create the story within time chunks that respect children’s engagement. (You can always revisit a partial story and add a ‘new chapter’ to the story the next day.)
  8. I have found it valuable to record their words. Being able to write out the story the children create and read it back to them is hugely affirming. Children know that their voice and ideas were heard, remembered, and included in a written story. It can also spark confidence and more story creations.

Co-creating stories is a playful way we can help children experience the joy of listening, creating, and thinking together.

“Through stories, we are welcomed into the human family, accompanied through life with the assurance that we are not alone.”

(Louise deForest from Tell Me a Story )

Looking for an example of a co-created story? Check out this video Going on a Troll Hunt – the Magic of Storytelling co-created with the children at Southview Public School inspired by images of Thomas Dambo’s sculptures. To learn more about Thomas Dambo’s work, check out this link.

The images in this video are from public displays of the artist’s work and used here in accordance with fair dealing in Canadian copyright law