Storytelling - Setting the Scene

When I worked in nurseries I used to look forward to doing storytime. Now, as a nanny, I often find we struggle to fit reading into our day with the exception of the obligatory school reading. Perhaps one reason is that I don’t put the children to bed very often. In a home environment, bedtime is often the time we think to read stories to children. But do you read books at other times during the day as well? In nursery is storytime the time at the end of the session when the other staff members have started taking lunch breaks and the others are tidying up, ready for the afternoon session or for tomorrow? Do you use it as a time filler while waiting for the parents to arrive? Or perhaps you incorporate it into the session for small groups.

In nurseries we often had our storytime at the end of the session, when lunch tables would be being set up, we would be washing up paint pots from the morning session, someone might be shouting out to other team members across the room “do you want lunch today?” There would often be a constant flow of traffic through the room and around the carpet area where we did our storytime. And when you have limited space this is often unavoidable.

I think sometimes we need to take a step back and look at alternative ways to enhance storytime.  Let’s face it, most of us are easily distracted. Children, in particular, can find storytime difficult in noisy settings when they can’t hear properly or fully follow the story. If lunch tables have to be set up in the same room and at the same time as storytime, then why not go outside? Most settings will have a covered outdoor area and even in cold weather, you can make an outdoor area suitable for storytelling. Why not get active? You could choose stories which lend themselves to being acted out. “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen springs to mind.  If you keep moving you won’t feel the cold and of course, there is one of my favourite quotes “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Me and my siblings when we were children, playing in the snow with our dog Honey.

A great place to help you find suitable books to act out, inside or outside, is Julia Donaldson’s fantastic site This site is sure to inspire you and turn us all into budding thespians!

So realistically not all of you will be able to go outside for storytime, as there are some settings who just don’t have outdoor space and there are also those with no covered areas. So how can you create a storytelling experience which inspires your children and helps them to remain focussed?  Well to start with, I would suggest a trip to Ikea! Ok, so it doesn’t have to be Ikea. I found creating simple barriers around the storytelling area changed the atmosphere and helped children feel like they were in a smaller more secure environment which greatly improved storytime. Using simple materials to create a feeling of being enclosed helped a lot of children feel more confident when taking part in storytime. Creating this effect can be as simple as using a bed canopy, similar to a mosquito net which can be bought very cheaply. The netting creates a feeling of being hidden and seclusion, but of course, you can still be clearly seen by the rest of the team.

When I made some major changes to one of the nurseries I worked in I was heavily influenced by the work of Elizabeth Jarman.  Following Elizabeth’s technique of Communication Friendly Spaces, we radically transformed our setting.  I worked in central London and the majority of the children were bilingual. Following Elizabeth’s recommendations, we were able to provide an environment in which the children were much calmer and more focused than previously. We created new storytelling areas, indoors and outdoors. I highly recommend Elizabeth’s approach which you can read more about here  provides literature to help you create your own Communication Friendly Spaces as well as resources and training too.

Of course, the things I have suggested above can also be put into practice in the home as well.  Elizabeth Jarman has resources that can be used at home and I am sure that Julia Donaldson’s website will inspire many of you to give acting out a story at home a go. I think a fun way to incorporate something from Julia’s site at home is to use instruments. I also have activities around this in the Planning Ideas Pack which accompanies my kamishibai. Think Peter and the Wolf! Even using one instrument could add drama and excitement to a story. You could ask your child to play the instrument when a specific character is mentioned, or even a specific word. You could create a little reading area using a small pop up tent or making a den old school style with a sheet or blanket over the clothes horse!

Perhaps your new storytelling area will also help you feel more confident at storytime. As I said at the beginning of this blog I always enjoyed storytime but I know others didn’t. I think to be a successful and confident storyteller you have to plan, have a few tricks up your sleeve and of course book choices are key, but I’ll give you my thoughts on that in my next blog!

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