Hello everyone, I’m Rachel and together with Oscar Orangutan and Mabel Monkey (my much-adored giant puppets) I run Munchkin and Me multi-sensory story-play sessions for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers with their parents and carers. I am a Mummy to 2 wonderful girls, and also a qualified and experienced lower primary and Early Years Teacher. I was delighted when Annie asked me to do a blog for you all on her fabulous website. I love Ele and Me, the products, the ethos and the fantastic customer service, so I was only too happy to shout yes!
I am passionate about storytelling and the huge benefits it can bring so I thought I would share with you some of the many positives of reading to babies and young children and give some practical ideas of different ways that stories can be explored and brought to life. Experiencing stories at a very young age has many benefits. Reading to a baby enables them to hear different sounds and words which are the building blocks for language and literacy skills. Looking at books and pictures helps with recognition and cognitive development as well as awareness of shape, space and colour. Making eye contact, whilst reading aloud, encourages a child’s personal social and emotional development. It can offer relaxation and a time to bond. Stories and books help to widen a young child’s experiences of the world around them and to explore different concepts and emotions. Stories develop the imagination and build confidence and self-esteem. They can transport us to magical lands and imaginary worlds and introduce us to characters who we will forever hold in our hearts. These are some of the many reasons I love stories and reading with children.
Not every parent and carer feels confident with reading, but today there are so many different ways to hear and experience stories. The internet means that we can now find lots of stories being shared online. There are some groups such as mine, that provide storytelling and activities for young children. As a family we have recently discovered the fabulous Tonie Box (which we bought from Ele and Me at Christmas). It is a massive hit at home enabling our girls (aged 6 and 2) to safely listen to a story anytime they choose, even if we are busy doing other things. However, there are many other ways that stories can be explored and here are some examples of things I have done to bring stories to life both at home, in my teaching experience and at my Munchkin and Me sessions. I hope you find these ideas useful.
Books with strong contrasting colours or black and white shapes and patterns are great for very young babies who have yet to develop the ability to distinguish between similar colours. As you read and tell stories to your young baby keep them close and make eye contact with them. Smile and make expressions as you tell your baby stories and listen and respond to them by mimicking their coos and babbles.
Whilst telling stories to young babies I often use soft toys and puppets for them to see, feel and hold. Safe sensory objects and materials can be a great way to complement a story, as well as linking songs and rhyme.
Ideas to try*:
Farm story/picture book: Try naming the animals and make their sounds; use any animal soft toys or puppets for the babies to reach out for, stroke and feel; sing songs such as Old Mc Donald and Big Red Tractor and use a shaker or homemade instrument to accompany the tune.
Space themed story/picture book: Dim lights and use a torch or projector lights to create a sensory experience, sing “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Three Little Men”, collect some sensory objects for you and your baby to explore together, black cloth, silver foil, soft balls for planets, things that can make different sounds.
Older weaned babies and toddlers:
I’ve found that with this age, reading simple picture books, sensory books, sound books and (strong) lift the flap books or making up simple stories
with props, either inside or out in the open air is appealing. Try to make storytelling very interactive and fun, as little munchkins of this age often have a short attention span and want to be on the move. I love making up stories, it doesn’t have to be a prize-winner; often you can just talk about what you are doing and add a bit of imagination: “Once upon a time Alex was crawling along in the jungle when suddenly he/she/they spotted a big river, beside the river was a slithering snake!...”
Ideas to try/Invitations to play*:
Jungle Stories: A blue sheet/towel makes a great jungle river, as does water in a bowl or tray, soft toys/puppets or figures for jungle animals or a stuffed long sock for a snake, an empty cardboard box makes a super jungle-jeep. There are a number of great jungle themed songs such as “Row, Row, Row your Boat” or “Down in the Jungle.” It can also be fun to set up your own messy ‘edible’ play tray for your little ones: coloured rice, jelly and cereal with jungle animal figures works a treat.
Under the Sea Stories: Loads of opportunity here for bathtime or beach/sandpit fun. Lots of bath toys are sea themed! Most children I know love bubbles, and the ‘Tiny Tim Turtle’ song is always a winner, Baby shark has fun actions and “12345” introduces little ones to simple counting and number correspondence. You can base play that encourages physical development on stories too. Perhaps you can be a turtle and crawl after your little one up the beach (around your home or garden), or help your munchkins row their boats to shore, but look out for that big snapping crocodile! Maybe you could even build your own bathroom beach or garden beach? A sandpit and paddling pool (summer) or a bath and sandpit (winter) and a few beach props are all you need for a great invitation to play.
Let them choose the stories, use lots of expression if you can. Ask them to find things in the pictures: colours/animals, can they count them, find the objects? Begin to ask how they think a character might be feeling. Can they show you (make a happy or sad face) and can they tell you why? This is called inference and shows a child is starting to interpret things based on what they have understood. Your little one may want to make up their own stories independently or with you, using toys, characters, playdough or similar.
Ideas to try/invitations to play*:
Dinosaur Stories: Set up a play-tray together, find sand, leaves, bits of flora, rocks, make an ooblek swamp. Create your own dinosaur-den with sofa cushions and a blanket or build a dino-den outside and play tag-hunt with the other dinos in your family. Make your own disosaurs from playdough or similar or paint your own dino-eggs (stones or hardboiled), build a dinosaur nest or perhaps play ‘pass the dino-egg’ (don’t drop it!)
Traditional Tales: Lots of children love traditional tales, the characters and repetition are winners. For this age in particular, I find ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears is very popular. It is a great story for introducing little ones to number correspondence and counting skills. You can have fantastic fun playing with oats in the kitchen, making porridge with pre-schoolers or playing chase Goldilocks for some active-play. It is also easy to get creative with paw prints, face painting, making paper-plate masks or junk modelling a new chair for Baby Bear.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog. Do come and follow my Instagram and Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/munchkinandme.co.uk https://www.instagram.com/munchkinandme.co.uk and if you live in Norfolk and have a baby or under 5, then why not join our very original and popular sessions. We have great fun exploring a different story each week with a variety of multi-sensory play activities to discover, plus rhyme and song linked to the weekly stories. I run groups for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Every session is planned by me, to support and encourage development, as well as providing time for parents and carers to meet and get to know others, something which I found invaluable as a first-time mummy. If you don’t live locally please do still follow us. I plan to grow Munchkin and Me and bring the story-play to new locations. I also have other exciting plans up my sleeve, so do keep your eyes peeled! Check out my video to get a feel for what Munchkin and Me is all about and take a look at the reviews on my pages from parents and carers.
Thanks for reading!
*Please supervise babies and children at all times with suggested props and activity ideas.
Written by Rachel Curtis 05/02/2021