Tell me a story

Recently I’ve been experimenting with making and using story stones. They are a fantastic way of engaging children in story-telling, and they are as fun to make as they are to use. We all know that learning to read is important. Research shows that people without good literacy skills do worse in education and are more likely to be unemployed or even suffer from health and relationship problems. But developing literacy skills is about much more than reading words on paper: it can mean being read to, listening to pre-recorded stories and (perhaps most importantly) learning to make up stories for ourselves. 

Shaping their view of the world
The stories children hear shape their view of the world. Most small children live in quite a limited environment. Stories are a way of expanding their world. They can also help to teach them how to deal with real life situations. Researchers have found that the brain activity that occurs when we read fiction is very similar to experiencing that situation in real life, so reading about a situation helps children work out how to solve it in the real world. And stories even affect a child’s social behaviour.

Scientists have found that children who have fiction read to them regularly find it easier to understand other people – show more empathy and have better developed theory of mind (the ability to understand that other people have different thoughts and feelings to us). These skills are essential for understanding and predicting other people’s thoughts and behaviour – and that in turn is an essential basis for developing effective social skills.

If you’re rushing around looking after small children, it can be hard to find the time to sit down and read to them every day. Parents also might not feel comfortable reading aloud to their children no matter how much they’d like to, through lack of confidence, or worries about their own literacy skills.

Story stones
Children will frequently consume stories without reading – listening to written or made-up stories, or (perhaps most importantly) as story creators. These activities are essential to their imaginative and intellectual development, as well as being the foundation of a love of reading. Supporting and encouraging story-telling as well as story-listening is something you can do to help your children develop literacy skills. Story stones are one way of doing this that is cheap (almost free) and fun for everyone. Story stones are just a method of firing imagination. Think of them as seeds – plant one, or a dozen, and see where they take you.

How to make your own story stones
You can buy story stones of course, but where is the fun in that? Collecting stones from a walk, or a visit to the beach, is a great experience in itself, and decorating them at home is a good opportunity for creative play.

What you will need

  1. Stones – preferably a consistent colour – very pale or very dark work best I have found. Smoother the better.
  2. Waterproof pens – you can use Sharpie permanent markers, but the best pens are POSCA acrylic paint pens.
  3. Imagination

Step 1: Collect your stones (or if you are desperate you can buy them from a garden centre!). Try to find different shapes, as that will ensure there are lots of options later on. You can get them at the beach or on a walk. Often once you have started this sort of activity you will find a child pouncing on a stone in the fields and announcing it is perfect for a particular image
Step 2: Lay the stones into the sink, fill the sink with water, and have someone who loves to play in water scrub each one with a brush.
Step 3: put the stones out to dry carefully. Make sure they are dry before you try to draw on them.
Step 4: Start drawing! It’s a good idea to find a stone that suggests an image to you (your child). Keep the outlines simple and use lots of block colour.
Step 5: Let the stones dry carefully. Read the drying times on the pens you’ve used and be careful not to smudge them. Once the ink is dry you might want to apply a coat of spray varnish, to make extra sure everything is waterproof.
You’re ready to start telling stories!
Story games to play

  • Roll a dice. Use the number of stones that comes up to tell your story.
  • With a partner, each choose three stones. Tell a story to your partner with your stones. Then swap stones and use your partners stones to tell your own story.
  • (With a group) take it in turns to pick a stone without looking at the design. Use the stone you pick to tell a bit more of the story. Keep going until you have used all the stones. This is a good game for large groups, or for small groups with a lot of time!

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