The Child, The Story, and the Knowledgeable Educator

How can storytelling foster creativity and empower children to represent their own ideas?

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study on 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds of how storytelling opportunities can encourage and empower children to represent their own ideas verbally, through drama, or through drawings.

Introduction

The key focus of the project is children telling their own stories to share their knowledge, thoughts, and ideas; ‘making the internal external’. The project matters because children deserve the best outcomes, and I am responsible for teaching and learning; for developing and nurturing the whole child holistically, (expressing inner thoughts and ideas and making meaning)1 and supporting fellow educators in their practice (to engage in professional discussion and learning)1.

I chose to focus on children’s storytelling opportunities because I noticed children as story listeners and not necessarily story creators, so I posed a question and developed this project with the purpose of investigating how these opportunities empowered children to share ideas and engage as autonomous learners. From professional reading, I know that ‘what children say in their stories might give some indication of their thinking and how they are processing what is happening in their life’2. From my project, I wish to achieve positive change through strengthened collective understanding and increased shared practitioner knowledge, alongside empowered children who are leaders of their own learning with enhanced opportunities for creativity.

My project considers Froebelian literature: ‘When a child understands their creations are valued, their self-esteem rises and success breeds success! It is very satisfying for a child to see their book on a shelf with others3 and takes account of Froebelian principles of creativity and the power of symbols, interconnectedness and unity of experiences, educators who facilitate and guide, and high value relationships.  

1 https://www.froebel.org.uk/uploads/documents/Froebelian-Principles-Poster-A3.pdf

2 Bruce, T., McNair, L. and Whinnett, J. (2020) Putting Storytelling at the Heart of Early Childhood Practice. Oxon: Routledge

3 Happily ever after? Storytelling in Froebelian settings – Froebelian futures (ed.ac.uk)

Context

The setting, in the West of Scotland, has 73 registered children, with a maximum of 62 children attending per day. The children are supported by two Deputes, one Senior ELCO, 10.5 Early Learning and Childcare Officers (ELCOs), one Additional Support Needs Assistant (ASNA), and two Mealtime Support Workers. Staff turnover is low, but staff absence has an impact. One Depute has undertaken Froebel training previously. In terms of demographic, most children attending the setting this project was undertaken in live in SIMD decile 3.

Practitioners are highly committed and skilled, continually working towards improving child-centred practice. Practitioners value relationships and pride themselves on building trusting, high-quality relationships with every individual child. Practitioners seek to increase nurturing learning opportunities and are keen to undertake professional development.

Practitioners encourage children to explore stories, share their life experiences, and to be active listeners at story time. However, opportunities for children to tell their own fictional stories, or for adults to scribe children’s stories, are limited. In terms of the children as readers, children read often, and books are available within a cozy reading area. Prior to the project, children had limited opportunity to be celebrated as authors of their own creative tales. I chose to focus the project on the impact on children of storytelling opportunities.

In terms of positionality, my role is peripatetic, supporting several settings. I am a literacy ambassador and advocate reading for pleasure and champion children as storytellers. My role focusses specifically on teaching and learning, and supporting settings with improvement planning priorities, and as such, I sought to creatively align my project plans within my remit and scope. An educator since 2012, I have specifically worked within primary infants, early years, and ASN provision. Nurturing and educating young children with ASN is a personal and professional interest.

Before embarking on the project, I engaged in self-reflection4. To best approach the question, I engaged in dialogue with SLT regarding children’s storytelling opportunities. A child’s comment reinforced this: “I don’t know any stories”. We decided upon two approaches: practitioner training and enhancing children’s storytelling opportunities whilst modelling to practitioners. These methods consider my unique position of supporting multiple services. To gather data, I would use qualitative methods: creative methods (drawing and storytelling), along with observation and verbal questions. Watching methods include observing children, building relationships, and interacting. Asking methods include collecting staff feedback and learning from children’s stories, drawings, and dramatic play.

I began by observing children and facilitating discussions about stories, using their interests and my professional knowledge to inform next steps. Some children shared stories about familiar books, lived experiences, favourite characters. Others stated they did not know any stories.

Next, I began to tell stories in small groups. Usually this started with two or three children who were interested in the props, and highly engaged when I started to tell a story and ended with a bigger group of 8-10 children all listening! I used props, I drew, and I modelled key aspects of storytelling and a familiar story structure. I moved from observer to participant observer as I encouraged children to make changes to the story, to illustrate the changes, before encouraging independent storytelling. This approach allowed before and after comparisons to be made in terms of observations of children’s story telling, children using props to share ideas, and their role play and drawings. Initial observations revealed that opportunities for children’s stories to be scribed and shared were limited, and this was not something children generally engaged in. The role of observer and participant observer sits well with my professional role as teacher; participatory methods allowed me to use non-verbal interactions as a catalyst to develop further interactions.

I strived to ensure my project and practice was inclusive and supported equitable opportunities. I created myriad opportunities for children to tell, draw and play with stories with a focus on symbolism and role play to encourage ‘meaning making and creativity’5.

While all children were welcome to be part of the project, I focussed on those who had engaged in each step of the storying journey. Whilst this approach didn’t cause any particular challenges, I will be mindful of scale and scope of future projects. General challenges around my defined role, assignment to improvement priorities, and defined time in the setting, remained a consideration.

Prior to the project, two practitioners undertook professional learning to support children’s storytelling. Other practitioners stated a keenness to learn more. Working closely with one practitioner, I modelled storying sessions and facilitating storytelling opportunities with children. For all practitioners, I conducted a training session to inform practice for enhancing children’s storytelling opportunities which allowed practitioners to reflect on and develop their own practice and discuss the importance of a common understanding.

4Froebelian-Settings-Self-evaluation-tool.pdf (ed.ac.uk)

Ethics

I carefully considered ethical issues. Considering who would be part of the project was easy; all children were welcome to participate in each part of the project. In terms of gathering information, I chose to focus on children who had been active participants in every part of the process. I ensured that I followed the children’s lead; no coercion or directing the children to any expectations of results of the research. I sought children’s permission by emphasising their ownership of their work. Ongoingly, I assessed if children were happy to participate, and ensured they knew they were free to leave the area at any time. I reassured all stakeholders that participation is always optional, and I am aware of the verbal and non-verbal ways children will communicate their desire, consent, or willingness to be involved in the project6; at the beginning of the storytelling sessions some children chose not to participate, evident through gesture and body language, while other children joined part way through in response to their own curiosity. I ensured that I was constantly responsive to children’s consent.

My relationships with the practitioners and leadership team in this setting are strong and positive, contributing to robust professional discussions.

I have considered anonymity and confidentiality to ensure the wellbeing of all participants and the setting. I have excluded names of participants, the setting name, and the local authority. As always, I remain responsive to sensitive information and disclosures and follow Child Protection policy.

6 https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/briefings/research-with-children-ethics-safety-promoting-inclusion/

 

 

“I felt so happy because my story was all by myself, it was all my hard work and big ideas.” - Participant For me, this quote perfectly demonstrates the importance of children having opportunity to share, to lead, to create, to represent their own ideas. It sums up how important it is for children to have adults who are genuinely interested in them and amazed by them as they become leaders of their own learning.

Findings

Undertaking the project and conducting training centred on children’s storying opportunities led to greater consideration of observation of children, and facilitation of storytelling opportunities. The project has positively impacted children and practitioners, evident through comments and books children have created. Parents reported reading children’s books at home and an increase in children’s storytelling and imaginative play. Parents celebrated children’s successes: My daddy read it at home, he told me I was an author.”

From the project, I learned storytelling opportunities empower children to share their thoughts and ideas individually. I observed children’s confidence and self-esteem increasing as their learning, agency and identity was celebrated.

By discussing children’s drawings with them, I discovered what matters to them in an authentic, child-led way. The children told stories verbally, through storying props, role-play, and drawings, meaning a move from adult interpretation to children creatively explaining their ideas while organising their thoughts and information. I considered occupations and how children’s practical skills were developing through drawing as well as: ‘moving from here and now to the abstract’7. International data also reinforces valuing children’s drawings as a communication of their ideas8. I considered the interactions in which stories and drawings were produced, and my findings reinforced importance of symbolic play, and relationships. It is important to highlight nuances; for children who communicated their stories verbally, these were scribed verbatim. For children who told their story through gesture using the props, a narrative of their actions was scribed, and shared to ensure understanding. Following modelling writing for a purpose, some children made marks to write their stories. Some children’s stories developed from idea-lists to complex tales with structure, problems, and resolutions. Some children’s stories revealed self-awareness, emotions, or worries; I considered storytelling supporting children to make sense of difficult events. Other stories revealed interests, prompting future planning; one child compared ‘gentle’ and ‘sonic-speed water’. The project supported children’s imagination, as some used the props representationally, adding depth to their stories. Looking at his drawings, one child commented: “I used my imagination. That’s when you pretend things and dream things, and then you draw them and tell them in a story”. My findings link to connectedness as the learning undertaken with a nurturing adult during storytelling sessions is then connected to other play. Through the sessions, and subsequently, children were demonstrating purposeful, meaningful play highlighting their autonomy as learners. The process, with its emphasis on children telling stories via drama, props, words, gestures, and drawings, has encouraged children to represent and share their own ideas individually and creatively.

One child went from struggling to express her ideas in play, to an observer of the storying sessions, to an active participant. With encouragement, she told her story through gesture, vocalisations, and actions, using the props. I marvelled at her story; her movement of the props representing her main character on a journey, stopping to converse with other characters (her thinking developing through symbolic representations5) and following a clear story structure that was individual and relevant, as the result of a nurturing environment and relationship and a focus on creativity, celebration of the holistic child and all communication. This tangible change was captured through the expressed joy when I verbally recounted her story to her. Acknowledging that: ‘supported non-verbal communication develops into multi-layered, sophisticated communication’3, my findings empower me understand what that support looks like as I celebrate children’s uniqueness.

Aware that children should be active participants in analysis of their data, I discussed what I’d seen with the children, ensuring emotional wellbeing and increased understanding of their perspectives. Studying their drawings and hearing their stories, one child commented: “I am in joy”.

Following the project, I observed children creating stories within free-play as well as the structured storying sessions, recognising this as equally valuable. Non/Pre-verbal children who struggled to express their ideas did this in the nurturing sessions. Imaginative play for autistic learners can support matching the outside to the inside, and the props supported creativity by aligning with needs of specific learners to collect, sort, and visually organise their story. Compared to before the storying sessions, many children were now using a variety of language in free play, drawing on shared, lived, and imaginary experiences.

Following modelling and training, practitioners felt more confident in extending children’s learning. Training feedback highlighted positive impact: practitioners felt empowered to take forward storying opportunities for all learners, and support children’s development across the environment. Some are seeking further CLPL opportunities. Practitioners have now pledged to ensure books in all areas and relevant languages. Children will be celebrated as authors; their creative stories and drawings will be displayed and accessible. Time, space, and relationships will play a vital role in ensuring that all stories, told via the child’s preferred/intended method of communication, are captured.

Personally, and professionally, I have improved via self-reflection and aligning what I have learned to my understanding of Froebelian principles.

7 027_froebel2.pdf (nurseryworld.co.uk)

8Improving children literacy through drawing – Research (csu.edu.au)

Conclusion

The overall lesson is that I have, with the children, achieved opportunities for them to share their stories and take creativity and confidence into their own learning. I have learned that in developing Froebelian practice, the principles are the underlying ethos. My professional practice, underpinned by Froebelian ideals (meeting children where they are, celebrating their uniqueness, prioritising high-quality relationships, following children’s interests, encouraging children to reflect) continues to develop.

The project prompted me to consider ways to truly hear children. Such a strength-based approach meant seeking deep connection and understanding in the child’s preferred method of conscious or subconscious communication. This links to 100 Languages6, the reality of it humbling.

Above, I refer to my efforts to truly listen. On reflection, I am aware of my body language and holding tools to scribe the children’s stories. Next, I will explore the option of a recording device (with consent) to ensure my hands are free.

The project question asked how storytelling could foster creativity and empower children to represent their own ideas. New questions that have emerged, leading me myriad ways: How could storytelling opportunities nurture non-verbal and neurodivergent children in this setting? How could these approaches enhance relationships for EAL children in this setting? How can all story opportunities be inclusive experiences for children with barriers to communication? How can storying support children who communicate in ways other than verbally?

Following the project, practitioners will enhance children’s storytelling opportunities, following their natural curiosity. They will plan extending learning using the raw data of what children are saying and doing. They will scribe their spoken stories, and those told though non-verbal means. Sustainability is high; practitioners feel informed and empowered to take these approaches forward, and I am leaving behind positive experiences of the process of the project which emphasise process over product.

Next, I will share my project and consider new questions. On reflection, had project lasted longer, or had taken place in a setting where I worked substantively, I would consider benefits of gathering data comparing genders or pre/ante-pre children to inform next steps. Future research will certainly include more creative opportunities for prop making via clay and sewing.

I suspected that any storytelling opportunities would empower children to share their thinking; but the how was, in the truest sense, awesome. Children telling stories through gestures, sharing their interests and worries through spoken words, and exploring and imagining characters from entirely new and individual perspectives and practitioners armed with increased experience and skill to follow the child’s lead and to ensure continuity of experiences to show children their voice is valued.

6 https://www.reggiochildren.it/en/reggio-emilia-approach/100-linguaggi-en/

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    24 Mar 2024 at 12:17 pm

    I found this project very interesting as my setting has been introduced to children’s story-telling some time ago. It is time consuming and requires staff’s confidence, but the benefits to children’s empowering and enhancement of learning are wonderful. Seeing children developing a sense of efficacy, pride and recognition for their own ‘work’ is so rewarding for the practitioners too. Also, there are so many Froebelian principles included in your story-telling project. This could be a fantastic opportunity to share with parents and promote early literacy at home too.


    Report comment

Add a comment