Have you ever watched a child play; a young child? Of course you have.
But have you listened to how they play?
Most educators will tell you that the stages of play vary and advance as they move from parallel play to playing with others to solitary play. Of course a child is always learning as they play, but what is fascinating is how engaged in storytelling they often are.
Storytelling is inherent in our make-up. Our ancestors and their ancestors communicated by telling stories. It is a natural and understandable medium that gives details, locations, and context so the listener can build a visual in their head. Stories were used to negotiate issues, convince others and debate different points of view. They paint a picture, craft a location and open up the imagination. But most importantly, stories satisfy the urge to complete a task or a question that results in an ending that is satisfying to all. If the story isn't right changes will be demanded.
Children seem to be natural storytellers. They draw them from the world they know. The world reaches out to them. For some, that world is their immediate family members and the close environment they live; often in a small radius of their home. Millennial parents take their children everywhere so the opportunity for influence is that much greater, but in the end, still somewhat narrow. Way to often they can be influenced by digital media. But these experiences in all, provide the assets for their storytelling. Those experiences we take for granted are instances of learning and provide character and voice to their stories. Everything is new and an opportunity to take in and try on. Simple storytelling to begin, but as the preschooler gets older they start to build plotted narratives. As they tell their stories it contributes to emergent literacy.
As you listen to them play, it is often a reflection of their short and limited experiences. But, how rich it is and it's how they interpret their world that is fascinating. Listening, you hear them tell stories as they play and some seem disjointed and with out reason. Most likely they are reliving something that was overheard or something they have just seen. It really is their interpretation of events with or with out props. Some say they just sound like a weird conglomerations of things, and that may be true, but it's their expression of their life. Young children bounce in an out of story at lightening speed. What for one moment is a story about trains; the next moment is about a horse and a boat! It's all part of the experimentation. Why shouldn't Batman live in Barbie's Dream House? Why can the cow sleep on the roof? Why does the elephant always scold the lion? Storytelling is taking shape in the most fundamental way. I won't get into the educators POV becuse I am not qualified, but there is some great work done in this area.
Stories don't necessarily need props but if we can provide things that allow the child to live out a story, the experience may that much more greater. Throughout my career designing toys, it was important the product had details in labels and surface sculpture to help launch a story. Platforms for Little People to walk on, things to point to, all helps fuel their conversation.
Designing product that allows the child to enter a story in many ways is important. it should allow others to ask questions to expand their storytelling. "Why is the cow sleeping on the roof?" "What did the lion do to be scolded?" Listen to the answers. They are special; perhaps confusing, but special..
If children have the tools, they can advance their communication, and if the product and experiences allow for it, their creative development will flourish. Getting product and experiences right takes planning, but oh so worth it!
So next time you are watching a young child play, stop and listen; you will be amazed!