Educating our future: How to teach a toddler to tell a story

It’s World Book Day – an international celebration of books and reading – which I love! Why wouldn’t you? Books are simply fabulous. When you read (no matter what your age) you discover new things, develop your imagination and creativity, broaden your vocabulary, increase your general knowledge and your understanding of other cultures.

Reading is incredibly important. Statistics indicate that children who are read one book a day by a parent or caregiver will hear about 290,000 more words by age 5 than those who don’t regularly read books. Furthermore, young children who are read five books a day will enter school having heard about 1.4 million more words. Bearing in mind that words in books are more complex than those heard in day to day conversations and also stimulate a considerable amount of discussion (Why did that happen Mummy? Why was the bear sad, Daddy?), I’m sure you will agree that the impact of reading on children is phenomenal. That is why we have World Book Day.

And what of story telling? The art of story telling is inextricably bound to both reading and to our sense of humanity. For thousands of years humans have told stories to help them explain historical events, moral codes, different perspectives and cultures and ultimately to connect with one another. Telling stories is a brilliant way for adults and children alike to practice their vocabulary, bond with one another, exercise their imaginations and stimulate creative thinking. In addition, story telling helps to strengthen neural pathways and promote a love of reading in children who are still acquiring their vocabulary and language skills.

Source: Pearson

So how do you a teach a toddler to tell a story? With four simple steps: immersion, modelling, cues and practise.

1. Immersion

Read aloud to immerse them in language and storytelling. Discuss the stories they hear and see in books and television programmes. Ask your toddler to describe the characters and to think about their thoughts and feelings. Pause in the story and predict what will happen next, recap the story at the end and talk about alternative endings.

2. Modelling

As a caregiver you are the centre of your toddler’s world for a significant portion of their day. You can have a considerable impact on their behaviour and thoughts by simply modelling: demonstrating a task to set expectations and minimise ambiguity. If you tell stories yourself your little ones will know what is expected of them and quickly learn the basic framework for storytelling and character description.

3. Cues

Thinking up characters and events for stories can be incredibly difficult. Visual and tactile cues such as story stones, story dice, peg dolls, finger puppets or even a photograph or tray of selected objects/toys can be an excellent way to stimulate the imagination. Consider cues for characters, setting, weather, events and feelings. Simple sentence starters such as “Once upon a time” or random statements like “An excited little cat decided to go an adventure” prompt children to respond and begin a story. Follow up with enquiring questions (Where did they go next? How did that make them feel?) to help draw out the story. As children age you will find excellent frameworks online to bring structure to their stories.

Story stones: Imagistones, Peg dolls: Martoshki, Finger Puppets: Jenny B’s Makes, Prints: Loulou’s Lovely Letters

4. Practise

Acquiring a new skill takes time and storytelling is no different. You will need to practise and so will your toddler, but there is a lot of fun in trying! Don’t forget to write their stories down or record them on your phone for prosperity and to reflect on how much they have learned. Be prepared to hear them repeat your stories, famous stories and their own stories numerous times – this is part of the learning process. You are also likely to hear a significant number of stories that involve poo and farts…don’t say I didn’t warn you!


So this World Book Day I’m asking you to remember the power of words and the benefits of reading. Go and read books. Go and read books to you children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends. Tell stories. Have fun with words and see how far they can take you and your little ones.

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