Playing stories during the Coronavirus lock down

This blog sees me return to an old topic. Using stories as the basis of play with children. In the past I have spoken about how Verity and I have used stories like The Gingerbread Man and Goldilocks as the inspiration for our play but now we find ourselves in the midst of a national lock down I am finding that I have to be even more creative to keep both of us stimulated.

Here are a couple of ideas that we have tried so far. In each case our activity was accompanied by either reading, listening to or watching a video of the story that would be the basis of our play. I felt this was important context otherwise she wouldn’t understand that the game she was enjoying was anything to do with a book. In some cases the game we played was very vaguely connected to the story (maybe a theme or a picture) but I tried to make it as fun as possible during what must be a very confusing time for my toddler.

The Three Little Pigs – this is a game we play all the time. Verity has a Wendy House which she enjoys playing with. I simply stand at the door and pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf so that she can tell me that she won’t be letting me inside (not that I would fit!). The story of the Three Little Pigs is very simple and Verity has remembered the phrasing of the story from a very young age. We have played this game in play tents, soft play centres, her Wendy House and even Dens that we have built together – she never gets tired of saying “No Big Bad Wolf, not by the hairs on my chinny, chinny chin, I will not let you in!”

Stick Man – as the end of last year I was asked to use Julia Donaldson’s “Stick Man” as the basis for a day of play at a nursery. Verity and I chose some sticks and stuck eyes on them. We then used the sticks like dolls or action figures to explore the garden and the house – she loves it when Stick Man tries to climb the slide and keeps slipping down it!

Stick Man playing fetch with a puppet dog in our garden.

Elmer the Elephant – this is a brilliant kiddie craft project. For it you will need a plastic milk bottle, some card and coloured paper, glue and googly eyes. Cut the top off the milk bottle and trim the handle so that it is an appropriate length for your elephant’s trunk. Attach ear shaped pieces of card to the sides of the bottle before covering the bottle and the card in coloured paper and positioning the googly eyes. It is dead simple but a lovely activity that we were able to do together and the result is fantastic.

Verity and Elmer

Pirates of the Caribbean / Peter Pan – the other day we had a vacuum delivered. I decided to turn the box into a Pirate Ship complete with wheel and anchor. Verity put on her Pirate costume and I laid out the fabric I use to make seaside landscapes. We then put on Hans Zimmer and used some soft balls to have a canon battle then took some beads into the garden where we buried our treasure in the flower bed.

Pirate Verity sailing round the kitchen in search of adventure.

A few weeks ago I did a training course for Hammersmith and Fulham Libraries based upon the song Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer. During the session I asked the participants to decorate a washing peg so that it looked like a person.

Ten Little Men in a training session

My idea was that decorating cloths pegs was an affordable, accessible and relatively sustainable creative activity for a library authority to incorporate into a storytelling session. It also left me with a mass of unused cloths pegs.

Humpty Dumpty – this is a classic diorama using pens, paints and a boiled egg.

Verity loves her nursery rhymes so I had the idea of creating a wall out of food box, using an egg for Humpty Dumpty and a couple of cloths pegs for the soldiers and the kings men.

All the King’s soldiers (and Verity) couldn’t put Humpty together again!

Now you could say that this wasn’t a terribly inclusive activity for a toddler. Well we actually doubled up everything (so Verity had her own cloths pegs and eggs and she decorated the wall). She was so taken with the result that three days later and despite having dropped him on the floor, she will not allow anybody to eat Humpty Dumpty!

These are just a few ideas for games and activities inspired by books and facilitated through necessity during a public health lock down. Some of them I dreamt up myself but most I credit to the internet. I am very lucky; I have a lot of resources available to me that I don’t have to go out and buy. I have an eager audience to try ideas on (saying this Verity doesn’t care if an idea flops because she is still spending time with Daddy). We also have a lot of space to do things. I share these ideas to inspire you to think about how we can make stories a part of our children’s play so that books and reading remain present in our children’s lives even when libraries, schools and nurseries are closed. In the coming weeks Verity will be receiving her first copy of Storytime Magazine which I am sure she will devour because she loves good stories. It’s my job as her parent to feed her enthusiasm for stories not only by reading to her but by keeping our activities as fresh as possible and making sure this lock down, however long it may last, is as fun as possible for both of us.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.