Do consider including 'storytime' at your toddler group. It will introduce the children to the wonderful world of books and bring the adults and children together in a shared activity which might also include songs, rhymes, mimes and a short prayer on a chosen theme.
Some practical tips
- Try to create an intimate storytelling area
- Put any toys away as they might prove a distraction
- Sit on a low chair or at the children's level so that they can see the expressions on your face and any illustrations
- You might like to start with a familiar song to gain everyone's attention
Your storytelling voice
- Smile, stay calm, don't rush and try to make eye contact with the different children as you speak
- Vary your voice as much as possible. Use a sad voice, a happy voice, speak loudly for a fierce lion or a giant, softly for a mouse, and whisper to tell of a special secret or wonderful surprise. Speak quickly to indicate a galloping horse, slowly to describe a plodding tortoise
- Involve the children as much as possible. That was funny, wasn't it? What do you think is going to happen next? Shall we turn over the page to find out?
Telling a story in your own words
If you are going to make up your own story, keep it short as young children have a limited attention span. They won't listen to your story unless they understand it, so:
- Remember that children have a limited experience of life. Keep to subjects that are familiar to them, such as bathtime, the playground, feeling unwell
- You can introduce a new experience, such as 'my first swim', but start the story with something familiar
- Generally use words that the childen understand, but you can introduce some new ones if the context explains the meaning. Children love words that sound like their meaning (onomatopoeias), such as pop, splash, crackle
- The main character in your story should be a child or a young animal. It could also be an inanimate object, such as a tractor or a star, as long as you give it child-like characteristics
- Children experience the world through their five senses. (Think back to your own childhood and remember the smell of newly cut grass, the sensation of sand between your toes, the echo of voices at the swimming baths.) Tell your story in this way and you will communicate with the children
- Children are sometimes happy, sad, excited, frightened or feel lost. They will understand a story about a character who experiences any of these emotions
- Use repetition and rhymes in your story. Children love to join in with a repetitive phrase. Think about stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs
- Practise your story several times out loud. Say it in the bath or as you go for a walk. Tell it to the cat. Imagine the children sitting at your feet and practise saying it to them. This will help to ensure that you are telling it in a way they would understand and enjoy.
Telling a bible story
There is a tendancy to tell a bible story in a bland way. Try to tell it in just as entertaining a way as you would any other story, referring to the tips given above.
- Choose a story that is appropriate for young children and corresponds to your theme. For instance, if you are thinking about colours, you might choose Noah's Ark because of the rainbow. But you could tell the entire story by reference to the colour of the sky, the different colours of the animals, the flood waters and the leafy twig
- Read different versions of the story in bibles and storybooks so that you become very familiar with it. Decide what it is you really want to say to the children through the story and keep this in mind as you prepare your version
- Try to tell the story from the point of view of a child (perhaps a child in the crowd on Palm Sunday) or an animal (perhaps the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem)
- What would a child notice about Jesus? Perhaps they would see dusty toes in old sandals, twinkling eyes, or how quiet everybody became when he told a story
- Remember the five senses. Don't just say that Jairus's daughter was ill. Think back to a childhood illness and how it felt to be in bed for a long time. Describe her throbbing head, uncomfortable wrinkles in the bed clothes, a pile of toys at the foot of the bed
- Personify the wind and the waves in a story such as the storm on the lake. 'I'll blow a little harder,' roared the wind. 'Whoo!' 'We'll jump a litle higher,' shrieked the waves. 'Whee!' And one jumped so high, that it landed in the little boat with a loud CRASH!
Using visual aids
You might like to illustrate your story with some brightly coloured objects or toys. Bring them out of a basket (such as an old picnic hamper) or the pockets of a story apron at the relevant moments
- You could use a teddy bear or puppet to introduce your story or to help act it out. Give this character the same name as your group (such as Sunbeam Teddy or First Steps Teddy) and get it to ask questions that the children might be too shy to ask. Practise a few actions with the soft toy or puppet beforehand in front of a mirror
- Involve the children by asking them to participate in the story, for example by pegging dolls' clothes on a low washing line in a session about the weather or setting out a simple picnic for everyone on a rug in a session about sharing
- Involve the adults in the same way by asking them to hold either end of the washing line, or to wave either end of a blue blanket in a story about a storm at sea
Whatever you do, have fun telling the story. Everyone will appreciate your efforts and the children will have taken in far more than you think!
Here’s the nativity story that I demonstrated when I spoke at the 2013 Playtime National Conference in Tonbridge. The organisers wanted me to do a simple story that anyone could tell.