Agony Artist: How do I celebrate Book Week Scotland with pre and non verbal children?

12 November 2021

Welcome to our Agony Artist series – where each month we’ll be answering your questions about using the expressive arts with young children! Book Week Scotland is coming up soon, so we thought we’d collaborate all our favourite ideas for exploring books and storytelling with early years.

Books as Loose Parts
As storyteller Amy Hall-Gibson says, a book is one of the best open-ended resources, so why not explore them through loose parts play? Get books off the shelves and let wee ones explore them. What does the book smell like? What does the paper feel like? When you turn it upside down – suddenly all the characters are standing on their head! They don’t have to sit still or look through them in order, but you can still explain that we need to be gentle with books and not rip the pages so we can keep enjoying them.

Books can be intimidating for wee ones who don’t have English as a first language, or who don’t spend time reading at home, so this is a great way for wee ones to learn how to look after books, whilst still getting comfortable with them as an object. The more familiar books are to children, the more relaxed they’ll feel about engaging with story time.

Creating a photo story
Charlotte Allan, early years researcher and theatre-maker, thinks a great way to get into books and storytelling, is to go through the process of making one yourself. Start with a character – use a soft toy or a puppet to create someone “new” to visit the setting. When you’ve got your character, have them explain they’re new and need to be shown around the setting and ask the children to help you. If you need some puppetry inspiration, see our ideas here.

Photograph the visitor’s journey. Who did they meet? What did they get up to? Where did they visit? Did they find something they were looking for? If you’re stuck for ideas, check out Amy Hall Gibson’s “Once Upon an Egg…” project, where she created a creature that visited a nursery and left behind things for the wee ones to find, like paw prints, a nest, and sometimes a mess!

You can compile the story and photographs into a ring-binder to create your own book, meaning the children can revisit the story again and again! And remember, there’s no rule that says the photographer has to be an adult! Photography can be a great way for young children to express themselves and share with you what they find interesting, particularly if they’re pre or non verbal. See our Bunny’s Eye View video below for more ideas.

Top tips for photography:

Bringing stories to life

There are lots of ways to engage with stories that don’t involve sitting down “nicely” – you can explore narrative and fall in love with stories using all the wonderful skills young children are busy developing, like imaginative play and gross motor movements. Here are some of our favourites from our Wee Inspirations:

Amy Hall Gibson’s “Between the Lines” uses what’s already in a book’s narrative as a jumping off point for imaginative play. Similarly, “To Be Continued” is great for helping children build literacy skills through understanding that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end – but that we can always revisit them!

Explore storytelling and imaginative play together

A book doesn’t just have to be contained within a book corner – why not take a story for a walk? Go on an actual bear hunt or try and find the Gruffalo! Or, make it a sensory experience by preparing a sensory bag – use a piece of fabric for the bear’s fur, or autumn leaves to create crunching as you walk through the forest. Revealing items one as a time as they come up in the story is a great way to keep children anticipating what will come next!

If doing silly voices for stories makes you nervous, remember it’s amazing for engagement and bonding together. If you ask children to give you a sound, then they have an element of decision-making without entirely putting you on the spot to create something new! See “Give Me a Sound” for more tips.