The Wonder of Storytelling Playscapes

When did storytelling begin? Storytelling has served as a vehicle for communication since the beginning of time. It is the oldest form of teaching and building community. Fundamentally, storytelling is the art of orally transmitting the tales shared by people and families. Storytelling helps to bond people together. It provides answers to questions about life. Stories define us, shape us, and help us dream and imagine a hopeful future. Children are natural storytellers. They make up stories to communicate their ideas, emotions, and interests. Children do not need to know how to read to tell their stories. They need an audience willing to listen. Storytelling is magical and transformative. Stories create a sense of wonder about children’s lives and increase their curiosity about each other. Through storytelling, children learn to respect and appreciate diverse cultures and people who experience life differently. Loose Parts add another dimension to storytelling by bringing a multi-sensory approach to sharing a story. Loose Parts added to baskets can be used as an invitation to tell stories from books children read together. Loose Parts can also support a story in a book or a fairy tale shared in the classroom. 

Creating Storytelling Landscapes to Support Inquiry

Why is storytelling important? Storytelling Playscapes provide children with an imaginative play experience using miniature environments. Educators can design Storytelling Playscapes to support children’s interests and ideas. Characters and Loose Parts can be added as the children’s needs and experiences with a habitat evolve.  

Storytelling using natural materials

These wonderful Storytelling Playscapes can be created using various containers, surfaces, tables, planters, and other small spaces. Different surfaces, such as sand, scarves, grass, raffia, or rug remnants, can add texture and interest. For instance, a reptile world may be created on a tray or flowerpot saucer, in a tire or wheelbarrow, or on a small tabletop. An illusion of ice may be made with aluminum foil, a scarf, or water with a mirror. Inhabitants could be dinosaurs, unicorns, gnomes, human characters, cars, trains, knights, fairies, or penguins. 

Because Storytelling Playscapes are small and easy to transport, they can be created at home, used in play therapy, and can also support children in a hospital setting. 

Children use their imaginations as they design and play in storytelling playscapes areas. This type of play involves fantasy, creativity, and make-believe, all creative behaviors. Children role-play with various accessories and Loose Parts. They create real-life and imaginary scenarios, assume different roles, and explore situations and personal endeavors. Throughout this process, children can explore their experiences and emotions and understand how those experiences affect them. 

Ideas for Storytelling Playscapes

Storytellingmakesus human. Therefore it is important to start with the children’s ideas and interests. For example, on a visit to the park, the children explored bugs and worms. When they come home, they want to create an imaginary habitat and explore where bugs live. Other Storytelling Playscapes ideas range from a traditional farm scene to desert, beach, or Antarctic habitats. Other ideas are adventure scenes with pirates, volcanoes, and space, fantasy environments with fairies and gnomes, and naturalist settings with insects or worms. Listen as the children play and respond to their play by creating Playscapes to continue their storytelling. 

Storytelling ideas

Fairy Houses and Fairy Habitats

Fairy Playscapes stimulate children’s creativity and a sense of wonderment.  A small discarded bird nest could be a soft bed for a fairy. A vine might make a terrific swing. A piece of driftwood can be a slide for fairies to play. From the children’s perspective, there is a sense that when tiny creatures, such as fairies and gnomes, arrive, they will use their magic to effect change in the world. Children want to believe because thinking things are real is exciting; it offers enormous opportunities for joy, play, and hope.

Storytelling with fairylands

Natural Habitats

Natural habitats allow children to explore and imagine how animals live and what they need to survive. Children can explore what plants are needed for each animal habitat. Children can engage in complex play sequences while learning about the importance of nature and the value of preserving natural spaces. 

Storytelling with nature

Imaginative Playscapes

Imaginative Playscapes foster creativity and provide a safe space for children to act out scenarios that they may be experiencing in real life. For example, children may portray not visiting grandparents during a pandemic or re-enact what it is like to be in the hospital. They imagine the power of being a pirate or the excitement of flying to the moon as an astronaut. 

Storytelling about space

Storytelling Playscapes Inspired by Literature

Children’s books can be inspirations that promote storytelling. The characters children get to know as they read the books can become friends. Storytelling Playscapes can help children retell a story while also adding their own ideas and imagination as they change the story and explore the characters. Often, children will play one of the characters in the story as they engage in dramatic play. For example, they may read the book Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson and retell the story as they explore the meaning of separation from their loved ones. They may read the book Leafman by Lois Ehlert as they discover that the leaves change in the fall, and the weather will soon be cold. The book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran may engage them in creating make-believe play sequences as they imagine a world they control. 

Storytelling with books

Storytelling Landscapes and Cultural Values

Storytelling is how many families share their cultural values, emotions, and beliefs.  Communities use storytelling to share information, dreams, and hopes for the future. Storytelling Playscapes can help children explore their cultural identity and express their values. We all have a fond memory of how we played growing up. I remember going to the market in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I lived, and exploring the market stall with miniatures of commonly found items at home. My mother would buy the small items, and I added them to my collection. I played for hours, recreating everyday life and exploring my role in the family. Storytelling Playscapes can also provide children with a global perspective as they explore homes worldwide or tools to make unique and meaningful items, such as a Galimoto, a toy vehicle fashioned out of wire.

Storytelling and family

Storytelling Playscapes for Equity and Inclusion

Storytelling affects the brain. When children can tell their stories, we open a space to share who they are, what they think, and what values guide them. Storytelling helps educators navigate intercultural misunderstandings and cultural insensitivities in the classroom. Children with diverse abilities can fully participate in storytelling. Loose Parts are wonderful supports: shaking-filled gourds simulate rain, pebbles in a can to simulate thunder, and scarves serve as wings, capes, and dresses. Aziel has limited use of oral language, but he is incredibly expressive, using storytelling stones (stones that have drawings or stickers representing different objects) and wooden cutouts to share his complex stories with other children. Children with diverse abilities share their knowledge, thoughts, and ideas using concrete visual cues designed into Loose Parts. Storytelling Playscapes further support children in telling their stories—and developing language skills—with felt animals and various natural Loose Parts. As children with diverse abilities tell stories, they enhance their emotional development while promoting their social, cultural, and ethical identities. 

Remember that every storytelling playscape is unique and evolves as children tell their stories. Every time children play with the Storytelling Playscape, they will engage in a different experience. As they grow and develop, their storytelling abilities will become more complex.