Guest Blog – Make A Story in a Bag

Wow, it’s been some time since I’ve opened up my blog – a break I never intended but as life has a tendency to do, it’s been hurtling a few unwelcome things my way to deal with. So I was delighted to be contacted by Seisha Lock from Education.com who requested to do a guest blog and came up with this wonderful story activity and a way to recycle those threadbare socks!

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Make a Story in a Bag

For lots of kids the beginning, middle and end don’t always come so easily. Ask a first grader to tell a story of the day, for instance, and often the result will be hilarious because it’s all mixed up. As fun as it is to listen teaching kids that stories have an order is important. Want to give your kid some practice? Make some puppets and put them to work!

What You Need:

  • 3-4 old socks
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Construction paper
  • Yarn (for hair)
  • Book of your child’s choice (from school, home, or the library)
  • Brown paper lunch bag

What You Do:

1. Set it up.  Explain to your child that you are going to read a story and then act it out! Let your child pick whatever book she’d like and start by reading the story together. Stop after every 2-3 pages to talk about what’s happening. At the end of the story, ask your child:

  • Who was the story about?
  • Where did the story take place?
  • What happened in the beginning of the story?
  • What happened in the middle of the story?
  • What happened at the end of the story?
  • Help your child write down the answers to each of those questions, to use for a puppet show later on, or take dictation if your child struggles with this task.

2. Reuse those socks! Sure, your toe may have wormed a hole in the tip, but old socks make perfect puppets. Just throw them in the wash first! Once they’re clean and dry, tell your child she’s going to make puppets for each of the characters in her story, and then act it out!  Give your child the craft supplies and let her use her imagination. Yarn makes great hair, googly eyes add a fun touch. And old ties or bandanas serve as great “costumes”. If she’d like, she can use construction paper to make background scenes, houses, or any other important settings from the story.

3. Act it out. Gather the family and announce the performance. Let your child take the lead and tell you whether she’d like to play all of the characters, or whether she wants some acting backup from you or a sibling. Once the show is over, place the sock puppets, scenery and written story summary in a brown bag and have your child write the story title on the front.  Be sure to keep your “story-in-a-bag” for future shows! This is a fun way to see if your child really understands and remembers a story, and who knows? It may become a new family tradition!

Thank you Seisha, it’s always good to pair up with others who enjoy promoting the fun in literacy.

I hope to get back into my blogging soon so watch this space for more to come.

Nature Narratives

Encouraging your child to write doesn’t mean they have to be stuck in the house chained to a table and told to churn out dozens of accurate lines. Writing is about conveying experiences, observations, reactions and feelings and one way to help children bring all these responses together onto one page is to get them outside and interacting with nature.

Today I’ve simply put together a mini scavenger hunt which purposefully includes things to collect for reactions and feelings, things to spot for observations and things to do for experience.

These templates can be printed and laminated for use in the garden or in the woods. They are best suited for A5 size. I then hole punched the corners and tied them together so they were easy to carry around.

Scavenger Hunt to Collect

 

Scavenger Hunt to Spot

 

Scavenger Hunt to Do

Your child will also need a small bag containing a piece of coloured or plain paper and coloured chalk for the bark rubbing and to collect and carry any of the scavenger items pictured. You can also include a piece of paper for the petal picture or it can be put together on the grass or ground. If possible take a photo of the petal picture to take home with you so your child can remember what it looks like.

Scavenger Hunt 2

When you return from the scavenger hunt ask your child to write a short story using items they saw or found on their scavenger hunt to inspire them. Tell them they can include as many of these things as they like. Let them think about the following questions to give them more ideas.Writing Nature Narratives

Don’t concentrate on grammar or sentence structure too much this is a light-hearted activity designed to encourage your child to use their imagination and create some crazy stories by showing them how to look for new ideas in unlikely places.

Make Bedtime Reading Interactive

Children’s books are supposed to be fun but this intention can be easily misinterpreted by a child when reading is a daily part of their homework. So sometimes as parents we have to go that extra mile to show our children that although it’s a routine requirement it doesn’t have to be a chore. We know reading stories can be funny, interesting, surprising and enlightening but when we add in a little extra imagination they can be read in unconventional ways too. By doing this we can demonstrate that a writer can provide the platform for your enjoyment but how you the reader benefits from the book is a completely individual approach. The aim is to make reading stories a positive experience. I doubt there’s anyone out there who wants to do something they don’t enjoy so why would we expect our children to feel any different?

Reading with Child

  1. Invite a favourite cuddly toy to act out the story. A cuddly toy is like a child’s best friend. One that never disagrees with them, makes them feel safe and will always be there for them (providing they’re not left on the train, in the park or accidentally dropped down a well). So helping their toy act out a story can feel quite natural for a child. Ask your child to choose a cuddly toy who would like to play the leading character in the story. As you read, swap the name of the leading character with toy’s name and watch your child take them on an adventure. A great way to make the story more memorable too.
  2. Narrate the story in a silly voice. Pick a well known, distinctive voice to impersonate such as Buzz Lightyear, X Factor voice over, Mr Bean, a robot or Yoda etc. Then see if you can get some giggles by maintaining the guise for the whole of the story.
  3. Read the opposite of the story. Children love it when they know what the story is supposed to be and can spot the funny deliberate errors made by the reader. To do this choose a book your child is familiar with (you know the favourite book you must have read a thousand times). Then turn the story around by replacing words with opposite ones. For example, “We’re going on a mouse hunt. We’re going to catch a tiny one, what a rainy day! We’re so scared” etc (based on Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen) or “Once there was a boy and the boy hated stars very much. Each night the boy ignored the stars outside his window and wished they would all go away” (based on How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers).
  4. Take turns with reading the character’s lines. This is a simple one but very effective on the nights when your child is reluctant or just too tired to read as your joint participation takes some pressure away from your child to complete the whole book on their own.
  5. Sing the story. If your child likes to sing and is losing interest why not suggest they sing the story to you? This can be a made up tune, a memorable song from a film or a popular nursery rhyme and perhaps different characters could have different singing styles. Singing the story can add a new dimension and help develop intonation and expression.

Reading on Sofa

Livening up bedtime reading can be as much for us parents as the children at times. I know I struggle some nights to muster up the enthusiasm when I’m feeling exhausted, stressed or dispirited with life and just want them to be quiet and in bed so I can wind down from a challenging day. So removing the monotony is also a good way to keep it pleasurable for all involved. It’s important for us to stay engaged and enthusiastic too because if we can’t show we’re enjoying reading time the chances are our children won’t see the fun in it either.

Here’s a link to one of my earlier blogs for more ideas on how to encourage reading – 10 Tips to Transform Your Reluctant Reader into a Master Reader.

Kindle or book for kids?

 

Kindle or Book for KidsSo far I’ve resisted the Kindle urge and continue to cling to the faithfully printed pages which I can open up and touch; where I can fan through the remaining chapters and not stare at a soulless percentage figure; where I have the choice to peek at the last lines with a dramatic flick to tease myself into thinking I know how it ends, where there’s no scrolling through endless digital pages which look eerily familiar to all the previous ones. However sometimes I do wonder if I’m missing out or getting left behind in the dark ages. Could the slim line word generator make me a quicker, more avid reader?

For me I won’t be defecting to the Kindle side anytime soon as my current “mother of two” lifestyle gives me no need for one. I’m happy with my chunky literary fascinations knocking each other off my busy bookshelves. If you’d offered me one fifteen years ago however it may have been a different story. I may have welcomed the ease of such a svelte device in my overcrowded commuting bag.

As a determined writer on the other hand, sometimes the magnetic allure of its promises can be very tempting. When Amazon launched the Kindle Fire for kids coupled with their Kid’s Book Creator my mind started planning a whole new fantasy world of its own. Exciting! Was this the revolutionary kick start I needed? The book creator would enable little old me to publish full colour children’s illustrated digital books. At first I was ecstatic at the prospect of publication being at the command of my own fingers. Could the power of the send button be the answer to my success? I felt sure I could conquer the digital networks of such a program and present my stories in an instance to the real world.

Until the first signs of doubt set in.

I soon hit the brakes when I started asking myself basic questions. What type of books am I writing? Picture books. Who is my target audience? That will be four to seven year olds and their parents. Of course by this stage a whole new set of questions tumbled out of my mind. How would the illustrations look on screen? Do the parents want their children to have more screen time? When would a parent deem it ok for their child to read from a Kindle? Or do they, like me, prefer the printed alternative?

Suddenly it was looking less and less like the best forum to launch my books.

With the way I feel about books I struggled to see how a digital picture book could be more captivating than its printed version. How a solid flat screen could compare to flipping the floppy pages of children’s books which of course have the added advantage of doubling up as hats or towers whenever the need takes hold! So I resorted to considering the practical advantages as a parent.

When would I be tempted to read picture books to my children from a Kindle or iPhone for example? The only time that I thought a children’s e-book would have its advantages over a printed book, was on holidays. Travelling with children inevitably involves taking a myriad of unnecessary items plus the kitchen sink, so a skinny, lightweight screen could be welcomed to ease such a heavy, bulky load. A Kindle would mean I could take one or even two different picture books for every night of the holiday without having to arrange a separate shipment for them. A definite advantage but is this enough to make the e-book option more attractive overall?

For now I’ve chosen to embark on the traditional publication route but I haven’t dismissed self-publication forever. Perhaps there are merits to pursuing both? I’m sure the debate will continue to rage on in my head for some time and I know as a children’s writer I’m not alone with this conundrum. Feel free to offer your thoughts.

Top Author Tips for Encouraging Reading

Reading leads

It’s no secret that the government has stepped up its reading initiatives throughout the country over the last few years following the revelation of the UK’s shocking literacy level results and we often see many famous authors at the forefront of these promotions. Obviously authors just want more people to read so more people buy their books, I hear you cry! Well yes…..and no. Yes because they want to make a living out of something they love to do but no because a child may love to read but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily like to read their books! Authors are pushing these campaigns because each one of them is continuously experiencing the true extent of how books can add value to anyone’s life. The strong link between the love of reading and writing is irrefutable and it is often by reading that a writer is inspired to create stories, just like those that inspired the writer to read in the first place. Writing fulfills the need to communicate and share that which inspires, uplifts and excites our minds, thoughts and perspectives and every kind of literature is bulging with words waiting to be understood.

Quote Margaret Mead

Reading leads everyone along an individual path. What better way is there to assimilate information about our world other than through reading? Whether it’s via a book, comics, newspapers, emails, letters or the internet, it is still the act of reading. Books give children the opportunity to absorb information for their own use. In my world I accept dragons and fairies but boot out all the unwanted zombies!

Quote Edmund Wilson

Twins can lead identical lives but their experience and perspectives will always be different. No two people experience the world in the same way just as no two people will interpret a book in the same way. Books are packed with information of knowledge and experience which is there for us to question and challenge and contribute uniquely to our lives.  This is how books nurture individuals and most importantly ones who can think for themselves. If everyone thought the same, the world would stagnate and never progress.

Quote Neil Gaiman

So I thought I would find out what the famous children’s authors are saying about reading and have summed up some of their top tips on ways to encourage children to read – from the mouths of those who know!

J. K. ROWLING: 

“The stories we love best do live in us forever.”

Sharing the experience has to be one of the best ways to encourage reading and finding the “right” book. #PotteritForward which was initiated by the MuggleNet fan site, has only added to the addictive magic of Harry Potter. The idea behind it is to leave post-it notes for the next reader giving their own real examples of what they have gained and what they will always remember from reading Harry Potter.

JULIA DONALDSON:

“Act the stories out a little bit with your child by taking turns to do the voices.”

Read interactively with your child. Julia Donaldson advises that reading rhyming stories with repeated sound patterns will help your child to decode and enable them to enjoy repeating the parts they know off by heart.

MICHAEL MORPURGO: 

“It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”

Read as a family for pleasure. Make books easily accessible at home to show books are not just for education but also for pleasure. Show that you as a parent are interested in stories and love reading too.

FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE: 

“The joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children.”

Make time for bedtime reading. Let’s face it, children go to bed early so some of us aren’t even home from work by then but this is exactly when bedtime stories can become even more special, something to look forward to, a time with mummy or daddy and a treat. So Frank Cottrell Boyce is saying find that precious time to regularly read with your children each week.

NEIL GAIMAN:  

“Libraries are about freedom. The freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.”

The choice is theirs. Neil Gaiman sees a library as the heart of reading for pleasure, a place where a child should be permitted to read anything they like.

NICK HORNBY: 

Tell boys books are highly inappropriate.”

Break the rules with reading. A clever approach of reverse psychology could indeed encourage many a reluctant reader to find out what they’re missing out on!

DAVID WALLIAMS: 

“Books fire children’s imaginations like nothing else.”

Get your imagination talking. On 19 Aug 2015 Nicky Morgan (education secretary) and David Walliams launched a campaign to encourage fun book clubs to be set up in schools to help children share the stories and read them together for mutual enjoyment.

MICHAEL ROSEN:

Stop focusing on decoding and testing and encourage children “to lose themselves in a good story.”

Reading is fun and not just for school. Michael Rosen focuses on the danger that too much analysing could cause a fun activity to become something quite dull.

MO WILLEMS: 

“Forget about reading being healthy. It’s not broccoli. In fact, most children’s books are lies. And the bigger the lie the better the book – as long as it’s emotionally true.”

Reading is not like vegetables! So don’t make them devour a book because it’s morally correct or sound advice. Let them devour it because it’s gives them the enjoyment of experiencing something new. Then they will make up their own mind as to whether it’s good for them or not.

CHRIS RIDDELL: 

“I’m interested in illustration in all its forms, not only in books for children but in posters, prints and performance, as a way of drawing people into books and stories.”

“I want to help and encourage every school to do more for readers: if they have nowhere to read, create a space with a few books; if they have a bookshelf, have two; if they have a reading room, aim for a library!”

Reading is more than words. Voted in as the new children’s laureate, Chris Riddell will be bringing words and pictures together and campaigning for more time and space to be allocated to reading in schools.

If you would like to help a child to read check out the charity Beanstalk.

Children’s Picture Books about Books

Picture books about books, reading and creating stories are the perfect choice if you want to encourage your child to read during the new term. I really enjoyed putting this list together as each book demonstrates such an individual approach to the same topic from both new and established children’s authors. As before, I’ve written a short review and my two boys have rated them out of 10, the first score being from my youngest, age five.


This Book Just Ate my Dog – Richard Byrne (author & illustrator). Publisher: OUP Oxford (1 Jan 2015). RATING: 10/10; 10/10.

This is a fun, quick read. Beautifully sketched illustrations coupled with a basic story but guaranteed to get some chuckles from the younger ones enjoying the unexpected interactive element to the story.

CLICK TO BUY This Book Just Ate My Dog! (Ben & Bella)


Wanted Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar – Emily Mackenzie (author & illustrator). Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s (18 Dec 2014). RATING: 10/9; 10/10.

I adore this book in every way. The vocabulary and language used is just the right mix of simplistic and clever. The character is cute and the bright and bold illustrations compliment the humorous story. This is exactly the kind of book I aspire to write! I can’t get enough of Ralfy and neither can my boys. It’s a firm bedtime favourite. A “must have” for any little person’s book shelf.

CLICK TO BUY Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar


Recipe for a Story – Ella Burfoot (author & illustrator). Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (1 Jan 2015). RATING: 1/10; 7/10.

I thought this book was both original and informative. The rhyme makes it a pleasure to read and its light-hearted approach to the elements of story-making is a fun way to introduce story writing to children. However, for my youngest the idea was not believable. Being quite matter of fact, he was adamant that it was a strange story as “you can’t cook a book.” He had a point and it highlighted that the age group that this book was written for might not be able to understand or appreciate the full meaning inferred by the clever play on words and take the story more literally than intended.

CLICK TO BUY Recipe For a Story


The Incredible Book Eating Boy – Oliver Jeffers (author & illustrator). Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books (25 Jun 2009). RATING: 10/10; 10/10.

This is an entertaining story full of amusing and quirky illustrations. It must be on the road to becoming a classic by now. We have read this book so many times and yet it still remains a page turner for us all.

Note to reader: Although you can’t cook a book apparently it’s quite possible to eat hundreds of them!

CLICK TO BUY The Incredible Book Eating Boy


Bears Don’t Read – Emma Chichester Clark (author & illustrator). Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books (26 Feb 2015). RATING: 7/10; 8/10.

George is a bear who is not satisfied with doing the usual bear things, he wants more. He wants to be able to read and it takes a little girl called Clementine to give him a chance and fulfill his dream. This is a charming story with amusing illustrations which can inspire children to be brave, determined and go beyond what they know.

CLICK TO BUY Bears Don’t Read!


Books Always Everywhere – Jane Blatt (author) & Sarah Massini (illustrator). Publisher: Nosy Crow (31 Mar 2013). RATING: 4/10; 2/10.

A very simple rhyming text coupled with large bold illustrations of different types of books, where you find books and what you can do with books means this book will appeal to pre-school children.

CLICK TO BUY Books Always Everywhere


It’s a Book – Lane Smith (author & illustrator). Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (1 Mar 2012). RATING: 10/10; 10/10.

This is a book of few words, yet it says so much. It’s a humorous comparison between a traditional book and our expectations of modern technology. It’s brilliant and my boys find it hilarious. We usually take turns in reading the different character parts. However, although the tongue in cheek use of the word Jackass (opposed to donkey) is apt for this story as it’s not a word we commonly use for a male donkey in the UK (except for negative connotations perhaps) I’m not convinced it works as well in a book for young children in the UK as it might in the US and it leaves me cringing ever so slightly every time the boys read the word.

CLICK TO BUY It’s a Book


The Story Machine – Tom McLaughlin (author & illustrator). Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s (15 Jan 2015). RATING: 10/10; 9/10.

The author’s creative imagination and artistic skill shines through in this book. It beautifully demonstrates that the art of telling stories doesn’t require high tech gadgets to bring them alive. It’s about creating something new with words and pictures in your mind.

CLICK TO BUY The Story Machine


Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite – Nick Bromley (author) Nicola O’Byrne (illustrator). Publisher: Nosy Crow (6 Mar 2014). RATING: 6/10; 4/10.

It’s all about the book! Caught up in the wrong book is a crocodile, who likes to eat words, gobble up letters and swallow sentences. He gets scribbled on and shaken until he eats his way out the book. A book that aims to engage the reader to comment.

CLICK TO BUY Open Very Carefully


Use Your Imagination – Nicola O’Byrne (author & illustrator). Publisher: Nosy Crow (4 Mar 2015). RATING: 8/10; 9/10.

Wolf teaches rabbit how to create his own story using well known, traditional wolf tales as the basis for this amusing modern twist. A witty, colourful and vibrant read.

CLICK TO BUY Use Your Imagination

What theme would you like to see in my quick look book reviews?

Source: Public or private library.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

 

The Story of “Puy du Fou” – A Magical Experience

For me story related events are just as important for encouraging children to read and write as a book itself. Well……. I think I may have found the ultimate land of stories, a place that wholly draws you into its world of fantasy.

That place is a theme park situated in the Vendee region of France known as Puy du Fou. Like all good theme parks you have the option of staying in one of their four themed hotels where your surroundings are a stage in themselves. However toss aside any images you may have of fast rides, plastic characters and cinematography and replace them with theatrical productions of myths and legends on a scale which will continue to amaze you long after you’ve left. If you ever get the chance to visit, prepare to be wowed again and again.

All the hotel themes are packed with elaborate detail. We stayed in the Gallo Roman Villa. I’ve included a picture of our neighbour whom we got chatting to through our hotel room window.

Puy du Fou 3

Puy du Fou 27

The park is set in 50 hectares of immaculately kept gardens and forest. Even the gardeners were in costume! It hosts five main signature shows varying from approx 20-40 minutes in length and several other shows. All shows are based on historical stories of the region. As we were only staying over two days and one night we made sure we scheduled in the main shows (see later below), plus one shorter show, The Knights of the Round Table…..

Puy du Fou 28

…..and a night show, The Organs of Fire a stunning light show of musicians and dancers choreographed to emotive and powerful music.

Puy du Fou 4Puy du Fou 5

On entering each show you walk into a totally different and incredible set and when the show starts the atmospheric surround sound makes you feel like you too are a part of it. By the second or third show you learn to expect the unexpected. However it is not only the shows which will astound you but the sheer size and level of hydraulics and engineering both over and underground it must have taken to construct the sets. Walking into a full sized reconstruction of an amphitheatre with the capacity to hold six thousand people is an experience you don’t come across every day.

Triumph’s Sign

The amphitheatre came alive the minute we sat down as the Gauls Vs Romans got us cheering and jeering and Mexican waving. We were entertained with chariot racing, wild animals parading the arena and gladiators fighting for their lives – and the damsel in distress.

Puy du Fou 13Puy du Fou 16

The Vikings

This was the first show we saw so after walking into the impressive set of a reconstructed 1000 year old fortress we didn’t really know what to expect next. We were soon met with flashes of hot fire, dramatic fighting and unexpected feats – and of course the saving of a damsel in distress!

Puy du Fou 17Puy du Fou 19

The Phantom Birds’ Dance

Magnificent hunting birds skimmed the top of my head and landed on perches only a few feet away. The falconer’s skill is clearly demonstrated with a vast array of species including the The Secretary Bird and The American Bald Eagle pictured below. The birds also play an integral part in saving the (yes you guessed it) damsel in distress!

Puy du Fou 7Puy du Fou 8

The Secret of the Lance

From stunt riders travelling at break neck (luckily they didn’t) speed in front of a reconstructed Middle Aged Castle, to entire buildings moving. A fast paced drama to save the damsel in distress!

Puy du Fou 18Puy du Fou 20

Richelieu’s Musketeer

I was too mesmerised to be taking pictures of this one. This is an indoor theatre with a circular stage which adds to the illusion that the show is happening around you. The stage floods with water and a flamboyant display of drums, dressage, sword fighting and flamenco dancing splashes before your eyes.

All the shows are obviously in French so audio translations are available but in my opinion not necessary as the shows are too loud for you to hear the audio properly anyway and as you may have noticed, the majority of the story lines tend to centre around the familiar theme of true love and a damsel in distress. However, you are not there for a complex story line, you are there for the show and there is enough to keep you amazed for this to fade into insignificance so understanding French is definitely not essential.

It was refreshing for a theme park that we experienced very little queuing and the majority of the tourists were from the hosting country. In between shows there are several reconstructed historical towns and villages to visit too with working artisans and themed shops so you are immersed in their make believe world at all times. At no point are souvenirs thrust in your face and much of what is on offer is true craftsmanship.

The Medieval City

Puy du Fou 26

The Market Town in 1900

Puy du Fou 21

I wanted to try and show you from the photos exactly why I am in such awe of this place without spoiling any of the anticipation and surprises so have deliberately omitted some of my pictures. Having said that, this is undoubtedly a moment when a photo can only spark your interest and by no means lives up to the wonder of the park. It is a place you have to experience to fully appreciate its brilliance. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stay for their ultimate night show, the “Cinescenie” and by no means saw all the other shows or areas on offer but this is one place I was happy to leave open a good excuse to return some day!

Truly captivating and an inspiration for all story tellers.

Creating Stories Using Art and Play: Part 3 – Paintbrush Plays

Paintbrush Plays

It’s been getting crowded in our house this last week due to the population of paintbrush people and creatures growing rapidly. This story making activity took a tiny bit more preparation in terms of gathering together a selection of craft items to pick and choose from but it has probably been the best one of this series in terms of getting them to think about story structure in more depth. Although I did get involved by making suggestions along the way and assisting with a couple of the paintbrush characters, I mostly left the design and character names to the boys. So it’s by no means polished or perfect but that’s the whole idea. This is something the kids can do themselves, the characters can be crazy and the story doesn’t even have to make sense. The sole intention is to get them laughing and enjoying creating stories.

So we started with an assortment of paintbrushes. Some were children’s brushes and others a cheap packet of wall painting brushes from a local DIY store.

I then put out an array of craft items such as buttons, wiggly and sticky eyes, pipe cleaners, feathers, felt, foam, tissue paper, glitter, paint and mini pom poms etc.

Next we got decorating……….

And soon we had a wacky cast of paintbrush characters. Each have been ranked out of 100 for evilness, skill level, humour and speed.

Paintbrush Plays Pencil Armour GuyPencil Armour Guy: He’s the ruler of the kingdom. He looks mean but is really a big softy. He loves his sweeping capes and dancing to “Happy.”

Evilness: 10

Skill: 88

Humour: 92

Speed: 53

Paintbrush Plays BristleBristle: A young donkey, always over-excitable, keeps crashing into things and says what he thinks!

Evilness: 2

Skill: 8

Humour: 100

Speed: 98

Paintbrush Plays Super DogSuper Dog: Who looks nothing like a dog because………. he’s in disguise!

Evilness: 39

Skill: 87

Humour: 51

Speed: 78

Paintbrush Plays Evil CatEvil Cat: The supreme fur ball of ultimate nastiness! She is constantly plotting and scheming ways to capture Pencil Armour Guy and rule the kingdom.

Evilness: 100

Skill: 67

Humour: 5

Speed: 44

Paintbrush Plays Evil EdnaEyeballs Edna: Evil Cat’s evil sidekick who has her eyes on you! She enjoys people watching and chocolate. Suffers from an identity crisis!

Evilness: 86

Skill: 51

Humour: 43

Speed: 88

Paintbrush Plays MorrisMorris: These minions get everywhere. Although Morris is lesser known in the minion world, he’s totally brilliant at scaring baddies away with his craziness.

Evilness: 2

Skill Level: 45

Humour: 100

Speed: 68

Paintbrush Plays TwisterTwister: Fast, untouchable, out to save the universe in a whirlwind.

Evilness: 36

Skill Level: 89

Humour: 51

Speed: 92

We then needed to create a backdrop for our play. I was ready to keep it simple by draping a throw across a chair and hiding beneath the kitchen table but it seems my boys had other plans. They wanted to make a whole theatre! We settled for a cardboard box they could decorate with foam and felt instead!

Paintbrush Play 7

Making stories should be fun not a chore and most children naturally do it as part of their play, just sometimes they need some new ideas and a different approach to tap into their enthusiasm. Have fun!

Creating Stories Using Art and Play: PART 1 – Sand Stories

Creating Stories Using Art and Play: PART 2 – Stories in Shadow

Getting all Mixed up

Lego Army

Meet these little guys!

I have to warn you, these are not just Lego people. These figures have evolved into Captain Cuphead, Superstorm, The Undead Surfer, Conehead, Mr Brickhead, Skeleton Warrior, Leverhead Lenny and Torch. In fact I can’t possibly list the whole army!

This is the result of my boys secretly concocting their own Lego characters for their made up battle game. As you can see, it involves taking legs, heads and bodies apart and mixing them all up with unusual additions!

I love it when they play like this. This is how creativity grows. Children are naturally good at creating things as they aren’t limited by the boundaries we impose as adults. They are more open to the impossible becoming possible.

Creativity is the reason I encourage reading and writing so much, not just because I enjoy it but because to me creative thinking is one of the most important skills we can learn. It’s about thinking outside the box, mixing things up and trying new combinations. Creativity has no boundaries and no rules. It explores, it questions, it experiments and it jumbles up the conventional. By thinking and acting this way we become better equipped to deal with the lows in our lives. By turning things on their heads and thinking of novel ways to approach a problem we begin to create a few more highs in our lives. We might even make some innovative discoveries along the way!

Reading can ignite new creative ideas as the reader gets pulled into the writer’s potion of thoughts, knowledge, imagination and points of view. Whilst writing can be the outlet for translating the reader’s creation into a physical form for others to digest, interpret and mould into something else new.

As a children’s writer I experiment with letters to make new words, I mix words to make new sentences and new sentences to create new meanings with the aim of building a fantasy world which is unique, fun, interesting and believable. There’s a story in everything if I look hard enough.

But it’s not just writers who create. An artist expresses creativity by mixing up different mediums, colours and strokes to come up with an individual style. Musicians listen out for new chord combinations or varying tones and lyrics to add depth, feeling and connection to their pieces. Dancers strive for the ultimate emotive expression to draw their audience in by experimenting with different actions and facial expressions. All these activities require the same fluidity of thinking as do inventors, designers, sculptors, speakers, mathematicians, managers and so on. We are all creative thinkers who create new moments and stories each minute and each second of every day. How we present our creativity is the part which is unique to each one of us.

Now I’m sure some of these highly evolved Lego creatures must have some stories to tell……………….

Creating Stories using Art and Play: Part 2 – Stories in Shadow

Shadow Stories Pinterest

I’ve discovered that egg boxes and sieves make fantastic army tanks!

Most of us will by now have seen either on TV, U-tube or even live at the theatre, the seemingly effortless magical stories from the shadow theatre group know as Attraction who won Britain’s Got Talent in June 2013. The shows are original, moving and mesmerizing, surely three of the most coveted elements of any great story.

So continuing with the art and play story theme to help develop children’s imaginations, this week my boys and I created our own version of shadow stories – on a much smaller scale of course.

For this we collected together several random everyday items from around the house such as kitchen utensils, fruit, toys, boxes, bowls, pencils, books, flowers etc. as well as a very important blob of Blu Tack. Barr the Blu Tack these items could have been anything as it was more about looking for different shaped objects. We then twisted and turned the various household items until creative inspiration took hold so we could start to set the scene for our stories. This is where the blob of Blu Tack proves invaluable because invariably things will need supporting, sticking or boosting at some point!

There were a few challenges we encountered whilst setting up. We needed a light bright enough to show a good contrast and it also had to be just the right height to work effectively. Achieving quality photos of the shadows was somewhat tricky but hopefully I’ve captured them sufficiently to give an idea of how it works so you can try it out for yourselves.

Below: Battle of the Tanks………

Shadow Army 2

…… and this is how we made it!

Shadow Army Items

Below: Land of the Giant Butterflies.

Shadow Butterfly

We used the items below and a stalk from a shrub in the garden (not pictured) as the tree.

Shadow Butterfly Items

Below: The Pirate Captain’s Pet Sea Monster.

Shadow Sea Monster

Who would have thought a banana, some plastic cups, custard pots, toothbrushes, bowls and pencils could look like this?

Shadow Sea Monster Items

Below: Alien City.

Shadow Alien City

Here we held the Velcro ball and bat up above as a UFO against the city skyline.

Shadow Alien City Items

Below: Dancing Round the Maypole.

Shadow Maypole Fete

A pencil, wool, cut out people, Lego figure, book and a large mixing bowl was all it took!

Shadow Maypole Fete Items

Once we had set up our scene and given it a title we swapped silly stories of what could happen. Sometimes other objects got added or we used hand shadows to add more shapes and creatures. As with my sand stories blog last week these images are ideal as a story starter for a written piece of work too.

If you do try this with your children I’d love to see the results so feel free to post any of your sand or shadow stories on my Facebook page.

Creating Stories using Art and Play: PART 3 – Paintbrush Plays.

Creating Stories using Art and Play: PART 1 – Sand Stories.