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29th September 2014How to use toys to help kids create stories

How to use toys to help kids create stories

Human beings have been telling stories for thousands of years, with camp fire tales the perfect way to pass on details about long-dead ancestors and even share warnings about dangers in the local environment.

Now, we are almost constantly entertained by TV programmes, radio shows and music that we can carry around in our pockets. However, the ability to make up and tell stories is still an essential skill and it's one that's well worth passing on to children by imbuing them with it at an early age.

Youngsters are naturally imaginative and will by their very nature make up tall tales on a day-to-day basis. But by capturing this skill and helping it to grow, you could be providing your offspring with vital developmental skills that will stand them in good stead well into adulthood.

Why is telling stories so important?

Good communication skills are essential in the modern world, with much being made in the media right now about young people entering the workplace without the ability to hold a conversation, conduct a debate or address clients appropriately.

All this may seem a long way off for your toddler or child, but getting them used to using their conversation skills can only be advantageous right the way through their education too. Indeed, lots of schools require kids to do presentations every so often, which can be extremely nerve-wracking unless they have had some kind of practice, so giving them a head-start will help them beat that apprehensive feeling.

Furthermore, telling stories can help brain development. It has been scientifically proven that facts are easier to remember when they are put into a narrative context, so doing this regularly will assist with recall and cognitive functioning.

Finally, getting children used to telling stories will help with their creative writing when they come to do it at school and should improve their concentration skills, as they are familiar with sitting quietly to listen to other people's tales.

How can I help my children tell stories?

The best thing about storytelling sessions is that you can do them with children of all ages, even the very young. You also don't need any equipment, although a few props can help to begin with if you want something to kick-start your own imagination.

For example, why not get hold of a set of wooden or plastic figurines and get little ones to make up scenarios based on them? You could also use toys they already have, such as Pillow Pets - these would be ideal for creating zoo, woodland or farmyard stories.

Try sitting in a cosy, quiet place without any distractions and try prompts such as asking them what they saw on a recent day out. You could also find a child-friendly fact book and make up stories about the pictures within.

For instance, choose a picture of a lion and begin a scene with a fictional creature, then get the youngster to finish it off - even if it ends up with the lion going to school or to the supermarket!

For older children, you can get much more adventurous. Why not read a fairy story and then get them to retell it in their own style? Alternatively, you might pick a series of objects and give them a minute in which to make up a story based around them - the time limit will feed their competitive nature and have them keen to beat previous attempts.

There are lots of other options, including coming up with a character and a location and asking them to describe how the character feels when walking through it, so have a play and see what works best for you.

A few tips to remember

There really are no rules when playing like this, so really let go and have fun. However, remember to always let the child take the lead. At school, they may have to stick to particular structures and goals in order to meet marking requirements, but this isn't the case at home, so let them stretch their minds.

That means carrying the story on even if, as we mentioned before, it does end up with a lion in your local supermarket; if you say 'not like that, like this', it can kill their imagination and result in boredom.

Also, don't forget to praise them regularly, whether it's for good dialogue or an original location, as this will take away any performance nerves. Encourage them to keep going regardless of 'mistakes' they feel they've made too, as it's just you and them and this can result in some really inventive solutions.

Why not give it a go the next time you're spending an afternoon together? Not only will it build all the skills we've mentioned, but it's another way of building closeness between children and their families that can't be overestimated.