Telling stories to toddlers can be a bit of a challenge right? I know mine is usually bouncing about the room, finding it to be there perfect opportunity to ‘just get this toy out’ or have a go at perfecting the roly poly. For this reason I love active storytelling with young children, but really with any children, because it draws them in like to the story and makes them part of it. Sometimes it even makes them the storyteller!
Using Godly Play to get Active with your Stories
I wrote a while back about Godly Play, a method of storytelling using beautiful natural objects like sand, wood and felt. On first glance Godly Play might seem a bit overwhelming as a way of telling stories but it is really very easy introduce into the home. You certainly don’t need to be a trained storyteller or sit up at night memorizing stories and the great thing is that your kids will naturally do a lot of the work for you if you provide them with the materials.
Most of the kits are really easy to make at home and can then be left in a special spot for kids to take out and explore. Sometimes your child might want you to tell them the ‘official story’ (which for the parables are pleasingly short and easy to remember!) or other times they might like to just play and make up their own stories. Part of the fun of the parables stories is taking out each bit of the kit and asking the children what they think it could be. So a big piece of yellow felt could be a big lemon, or it could be the sun or it could be a big floppy sun hat.
I recently had a child in school ask to tell me the story during a Godly Play session and then do an uncanny impersonation of me as a storyteller! My favourite bit was when she took our each piece of felt and said ‘Oh, what could this be?’ to which I replied ‘A cloud!’ and she said ‘yes, it could be. It can be anything you want it to be’! I loved that she had grasped this part of Godly Play, that Godly Play is all about using our imaginations and drawing our own meaning in the things that we see.
All this imagining is helping children to look at a something and say ‘what could this be?’ or to read a story and say ‘what could this really mean?’ which is a vital part of our spiritual lives. It is about exploring and making our own meanings and this is the beginning of being confident to make sense of the world around us.
The Parable of the Good Shepherd at Home
My toddler and I have recently had a lot of fun with the parable stories. They are mostly made up of one large piece of felt (the underlay) in various colours and then other felt pieces and some characters (which I simply printed off and laminated). The kit for the Parable of the Good Shepherd looks like this.
You need a large green piece of felt, three small pieces of black felt that make a sort of sad (or indeed happy!) face, a little piece of blue felt and twelve long strips of brown. You’ll also need five sheep, a Good Shepherd (I found one that was carrying a sheep on his shoulders), an Ordinary Shepherd (just a person with a crook!) and a wolf. The official story is available in Stories of God at Home – A Godly Play approach by Jerome Berryman.
For the purposes of our play session with the kit though we focused on the character of the Good Shepherd. I told my toddler that the Good Shepherd comes to find the sheep whenever they need him and we then spent the rest of the time with the sheep ending up lost in various places and the shepherd coming to find them and help them home. At one point we discovered that the sheep had names and that the Good Shepherd knew their names and would call out to them when he came to find them – a lovely touch that was led by my toddler! We then read the story of the Good Shepherd in one of our children’s bibles.
The Good Shepherd has become a favourite story and a favourite game and I think it really gets to the essence of the story in a really easy, child led way. For us, we really want to share the important part of our spiritual lives and faith as parents that God is always there for us and comes to find us when we lose our way. But you and your child may draw other ideas of you own, perhaps ideas about helping, or family, or what it means to be a loyal person who supports others. How much more meaningful is it for a child to think about these ideas through play rather than it being simply announced to them by an adult in an abstract way?
I’m hoping to do a video soon of how I might share this story with young children but meanwhile do let me know if there are any questions and I hope it might be something you feel confident to pick up and have a go with in your home!