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Storytelling 101

This is little Zee, 21 months old, wearing his paper cat ears and clutching a paper tail during one of our paper tear-and-tell sessions.

Are you guys any good at making up stories for your kids?  As much as I’d love to weave intricate tales for my little ones, I just don’t seem to have an aptitude for it.  If you’re in the same boat, don’t despair, we have a wonderful guest poster today all the way from Singapore to help us out.  Along with some really helpful hints on storytelling (at the end of the post – don’t miss ’em!) she’s also got a great hands-on activity to go with your yarns.  Take it away Sarah…

One of the favorite hats I wear as a parent is that of a storyteller. Storytelling is not just pure fun; it is also a wonderful way to bond and play with our children. There are so many educational, social, cultural and spiritual reasons why every child needs the gift of stories. Literacy skills, creativity, development of a healthy self-concept rooted in a unique tapestry of cultural, social, historical and faith are just some benefits.

Storytelling is an art that is as ancient as the human race. There are many forms of storytelling to be enjoyed – from the traditional Indonesian shadow puppetry ‘Wayang Kulit’ to the more modern form of digital storytelling.

Today I would like to share with you a simple yet super-fun storytelling form that uses paper. I call them the ‘Tear-and-Tell’ tales. They are so easy in fact, you can do them anywhere and these paper stories are always a hit for kids of all ages from 1 – 99.  It is really pretty neat to see how a single piece of paper transforms into something entirely different. 

Just follow the simple storytelling tips and ideas below and you’ll be off creating your own amazing tales in no time. You don’t have to be a professional storyteller or have nimble fingers to do this at home, I promise. 

Free-Form Tear-And-Tell Tales
All you need are paper, your fingers and a fertile imagination. Just tear shapes, and invent your story to go along with them.

Here’s a peek at how I did it with my kids…

From a single sheet of paper, I first tore up three random shapes – a circle, an oval and a short rectangle. I showed him each shape, one at a time, and asked, “What does this look like? What does it remind you of?”  
Lee pointed to the circle and said, “ It’s a spinning top. This is the launcher for the top (he pointed to the rectangle). That is daddy’s spinning top (he pointed to the oval).”  To which I asked, “Does Daddy need a launcher for his spinning top?” He nodded and I tore out a longer rectangle. And so we started a story about Lee having a spinning top ‘Beyblade’ competition with his Dad at the park.
This is how our story went:


Daddy, Lee and Zee decided to go to the park for a picnic. (The leftover black paper was the park, and the holes are a big shady tree, and a pond.) Before the picnic, Lee and Daddy decided to have a spinning top contest under a big shady tree. This is Lee’s spinning top (I point to the circle) and this is Daddy’s (I point to big oval). They had a competition. Can you make your top spin? (I invite Lee to pick up his paper launcher to make his top spin. He gladly does it. We pretend to spin the paper tops together.)

After spinning the tops, Daddy, Lee and Zee decided to walk to the pond. The pond was a nice spot for a picnic. What food did they bring with them?  (Lee suggested foods like nuggets, fries and jelly.) They ate up all their food. (We mimed all the eating actions and added in sound effects of the munching, crunching and slurping.) Was it a good picnic? (Both boys nodded). And it was a good picnic. What did they do after eating? Yes, they got back on their bicycles and went home.

Try It: Tips on How To Tear-And-Tell

  • Have ready a piece of paper. Pages from an old magazine work really well.
  • Start by tearing 3 random shapes from a piece of paper.
  • Invite your child to suggest what each shape reminds them of. If you wish, you can have him name an animal ( What animal does this look like?), an object (What thing does this remind you of) and a place ( Where could this be?).
  • If you’re feeling jittering about doing this as a newbie, think of a familiar tale you could use as a template for your story. Tales with repetitive elements or structures like The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Boy lend themselves easily to retelling with character substitutions.
  • Once you’ve used up all three objects and need more to continue the story, tear up some more pieces and repeat the process in Step 3.
  • Involve your child. Get his ideas for character names, what adventures they go on, and what happens next in the story.
  • KISS – Keep it short and sweet. When you are just beginning to explore making up your stories, keep them as short as possible. A little tale with a small problem and satisfying ending is better than a long, rambling one.
  • Explore paper tearing and folding techniques when you can. The more tears and folds you know, the more creative you can get with your tales.

Spinning Your Paper Story: Ideas To Get You Started 


Here are some easy ways to start weaving your stories at home.

  • Make your child the hero. All kids love to hear a story about them. Let the story world revolve around them. Why not? Draw inspiration from your child’s daily life – his school experiences, his funny antics, his hobbies, his friends. 
  • Name characters or places after your child. Naming story lead characters and places in the story after your child can give him a sense of importance and involvement in the story.
  • Share stories from your own childhood.  Children love to hear about their parents’ childhoods. Share your own childhood fears and adventures when you were your child’s age. Think of a memorable incident from your childhood. This could be something naughty, cheeky, funny or scary. Then, think of three images that you would associate with that e.g. Your first birthday party :  a princess crown, a cake, a new dress. Your greatest childhood fear: lizards, bed, shoes.
  • Tell them about when they were little. Together, look at photographs and videos of them when they were younger. These images will not only pique their interest about themselves, but they are sure to open up a floodgate of fond memories for you that you’ll have no problems telling them a story. 
  • A slice-of-life story. Turn their daily life activities and events into a story. Stories are a good way of helping children process events and emotions in their life. If they have had a special experience like a first visit to Disneyland, let them relive those special times with a story. If your child is struggling with a fear or a difficult situation like being bully victim, invent a story about how he rises above the situation, and conquers the fear. 
  • Use a favorite story model – change it or twist it. Traditional tales like The Little Red Hen and Gingerbread Boy have simple story formulas that are easy to remember. Children love repetition and chain stories like If you give a mouse a cookie are amusing for them. Make up your own mash-up version of two different tales or put a new spin on an old favorite. 
  • What if…?  What if you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? What if you were given a magical power – what power would that be? What if you had three wishes – what would you wish for? Be ready to spin a fantastical tale when you start it with these two little but powerful words.
  • Follow your fancies! Be free to be as crazy and wild as your imaginations take you. Anything is possible in the world of stories.


Have fun!

About the Author
Sarah lives in a domestic circus where her loyal audience of two keep her really busy. When her hands are free from the spatula, laundry basket, mop or kid, you can find her at The Playful Parents thinking up new ways to make play of this serious business called ‘parenting’.


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