What enhances the story telling experience for the children and adults?

Project author:

Project summary:

An observation study looking at storytelling in the nursery.


This observational study looks at storytelling within our setting, how children engage with their peers, adults and books within our setting and the role of the adult in facilitating stories. Exploring if children’s language delay can be supported through storytelling and if the different ways, we tell stories or read to children matters. The study takes into account staff knowledge and experience in storytelling.


We are a voluntary sector nursery in an SMID 1 area. There are 42 children aged between 2 years 9 months and 5years who attend our setting, 34% of our children have English as an Additional Language and 13% have Additional Support Needs. This year’s cohort show some language delay in comparison to previous cohorts, within this cohort there are children who were born just before and during the Covid Pandemic, also known as “Covid babies”. Our staff team consists of 7 people, with a range of experience from newly qualified to over 25 years in Early Years. We do follow Froebelian principles, which are embedded in our practice, however not all staff are aware of this, but we are introducing the principles to our newer staff through team meetings and sharing good practice.

Our “story area”, (we call this space the cosy area) has 2 small sofas’, some floor rugs, scatter cushions, blankets, low lighting, nursery rhyme prompt wooden disks, puppets, variety of teddies and a well-resourced book rack, which always has well loved books such as “The gruffalo” available and a variety of fiction and non fiction books.  We have tried to create a cosy, home like inviting space where children can relax and feel safe.

Pre 2019 we observed that adult led big group time was a very stressful for both the children and the adults. After many discussions we decided that we would stop big group times as they weren’t productive for the children, and introduce more child-initiated stories, singing, and discussions.

Froebel believed that

People, and that included children, are more receptive if they are co-operating by choice rather than participating through coercion.

(liebschner, 2001:140) (Bruce, McNair, Whinnet 2020:145)


When we returned to nursery after lockdown, we were very aware of children’s emotional wellbeing, supporting children to feel safe in a “new normal”, which imposed many strict guidelines on resources in the nursery, including children borrowing books from the nursery lending library. This was a well-used resource that children took ownership of, knowing they could take a book and take care of it, look at it at home and return it to nursery. Some books never returned but we hoped that it meant the child had at least 1 story at home their parents/carers could read with them.

My original plan was to ask parents for their opinions on storytelling at home however after discussions with my team I decided to focus on the nursery environment.


In discussions with staff I explained that I wanted to look at story telling within our setting and look at the experiences for the children. Some staff immediately thought this was about their own practice and questioned why. I explained I wanted to explore if language delay could be supported through storytelling and if the different ways we tell stories or read to children matters.

They conveyed they were uncomfortable with being filmed and didn’t want to watch themselves. It was decided that I would observe them reading and storytelling with the children at points through the week when they were unaware and write down notes. I spoke with the staff and got signed permissions to observe them. I also discussed my study with parents and got permission to observe their children.


Many children felt comfortable asking an adult to read to them, choosing the book themselves and approaching an adult to read to them, asking for another book when finished.

I observed children stop what they were doing and come and join a story when they saw an adult with a book in their hand.

Some children did not ask for their own story but would come and sit down when they saw other children sitting with an adult. Joining in with questions and repeating parts of the story that they knew.

A couple of children lingered around the area listening from slightly afar before feeling confident to come and sit down.

Children also chose books themselves to look at throughout the week without asking an adult to read to them. More confident children telling the story out loud, some pretending they are the adult and their friends were the children.

A few children did not engage with books or story telling at all throughout the week.

Staff’s ability to tell stories did not appear to make a difference, I observed children being engaged with staff and enjoying stories just as much with inexperienced staff as experienced. Is this due to children choosing books they want to listen too?

Experienced staff were also observed being more flexible in their story telling, building children’s vocabulary, repeating new words and pointing out interesting things in the illustrations, messing around with familiar stories, changing words etc and observing if children noticed and how they reacted to the changes.

I observed more experienced staff questioning children about books and stories, using Blooms Taxonomy questioning, supporting children with their understanding of the story and the characters emotions and experiences, supporting language development and introducing new words and phrases. Whereas inexperienced staff asked children if they liked the story or if they wanted another story.

The small number of children who avoided the area appear to not have an interest in books or stories. Which led me to think why they avoid this area? Do they have access to books at home? Do families tell stories orally without books? Do they use a tablet for stories?

I observed lovely interactions between adults and children, strengthening relationships and encouraging children’s confidence. I observed children making choices, choosing their own books, choosing to look at books themselves, choosing to join in or not join in.


Throughout the week I observed lovely interactions between adults and children, and children and children, strengthening relationships, encouraging children’s confidence, developing social skills, encouraging children think about the story they have listened too. I also observed children making choices, choosing their own books, choosing to look at books themselves, choosing to join in or not join in.

Staff’s experience in storytelling did make a difference in the learning and understanding for the children however lack of experience did not take away the enjoyment of sharing books and stories or building relationships with adults and children. Experienced staff were also able to make stories accessible to all children, changing how they read, how they engaged with children, simplifying interactions for younger children or children with EAL, supporting them with new words, repeating them and if possible, showing them through pictures, encouraging children to also repeat new words and phrase.

Staff being present in the area to support children, enhances their engagement and learning.

While Froebel’s principle of unity and connectedness is embedded throughout the setting. Staff do look at each child as an individual, with their own thoughts, feelings, relationships, interests, experiences and ability’s. Most staff are able to support children to make links between what they already know and what they are learning.


Next steps

I plan to share my findings with the whole staff team in a few weeks (staff on holidays).

Encourage staff to observe each other telling stories, look at how we extend children’s learning in this area and why storytelling is an important part of children’s development in language, imagination and creativity.

Encourage staff to observe children’s play, are there links between stories they have heard and their play? Have they taken on the role of a character from a book they have looked at?

Source storytelling courses to support staff’s confidence and understanding.


If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairytales….

If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.

(Albert Einstein as cited by Maria Popova, 2014) (Bruce, McNair, Whinnet 2020:63)


Set up our lending library, I aim to have this running again in the next few weeks, creating an information booklet/poster for families about the benefits of reading with children.

Support staff to observe children in imaginative play, support and encourage staff to recognise connections from stories and life experiences.

Support staff with their own learning, researching and understanding how Froebel impacts our practice today in our setting.

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. Poppy Richards
    Poppy Richards
    23 Mar 2024 at 9:07 am

    Really lovely in depth and focused study, I like how you focused on how this gently approach benefits individual needs of your children and plays to the strength and comfort of your staff.

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  2. Laura Brown
    Laura Brown
    24 Mar 2024 at 9:43 am

    I have really enjoyed reading your project. Our staff have also noticed a higher volume of children with some language delay this year.
    Your cosy area looks very inviting. Our setting has a story of the month (this is our main story, however other stories are available) and staff have built up a bag of resources to go with each of the stories. Staff have found that some of the children who don’t ‘seem’ to be sitting or listening to the story are as you say listening from afar and still taking it all in. We would then see some of those children using my the resources provided to retell the story either on their own or with their friend promoting language development.
    I think if staff can understand the benefits of it this can be translated to parents more easily for a more shared understanding of the benefits of story telling.
    Well done!

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