Storytelling is big in our house. From tales of the little people who live behind the skirting boards, to the owl family up our chimney; from the lego men who come to life after bedtime and party hard in the playroom all night, to Mummy’s magic shoes which dance when anyone steps in them; we weave stories into the fabric of our days almost without thinking, and Harry loves it. Experts may say that we are storing up untold problems and creating a fantasist; I like to think that we’re just unleashing Harry’s imagination throughout the wonder years before the real world starts to hem it in.
And indeed, Harry loves telling stories too. ’My turn, my turn!’ He’ll exclaim as we sit around the table, or bundle into bed together. And Harry’s stories are a delight, though they tend towards repetition and rely heavily on goodies and baddies, robbers and jail, and cars. Oh, and usually someone falls into a giant vat of mud at the end.
This week we introduced The StoryBox, and it’s transformed our tales. Filled with random but enticing words – like custard, mud, helicopter, sword and pirate – each person has to pick out a word and use it to begin their story. Whenever you run out of narrative steam, you choose another word and have to incorporate it. At three-and-a-half, Harry grasped the idea immediately and loves the unpredictability of what might come next. It gives him triggers to keep his own story going, and it also allows him to direct – or perhaps sabotage? – our stories too, by pulling out words and insisting that we now need to add in a huge pile of elephant poo – or grandma on a motorbike, or a slimy monster, or whatever is written on the card.
To make this I used a sturdy giftbox and filled it with chips of foamboard to which I glued interesting words. I chose the names of family members, comic concepts and ideas involving mud, poo, custard and slime, and current obsessions like Lego men, the emergency services and all forms of transport. And I added in a few completely new words, so that we could explain them and continue to expand his world. It’s helping with Harry’s word recognition too (though you have to shut your eyes when actually choosing, to add to the drama and unpredictability…).
Some very cool stories have emerged. Like the one where Granny had to rescue Daddy who slipped on a banana whilst escaping from the naughty pirates, who she then chased on her scooter before making them jump into a big bowl of custard that they had to eat all up before going to jail.
You can make this at home in just a few minutes, and it can be as simple or as finessed as you have the energy for. For the five-minute version, scribble a host of words onto scraps of paper and place them in a hat, shoebox or bowl for family members to pull out. For the lux version, you can print them out and glue to something more substantial as I did, and decorate a special box to keep them in.
If you want to use my graphic (below) for the cover of your box, you can find a printable version to download at the bottom, albeit one without Harry casually strolling through the pages..
I will keep adding words to our game as Harry’s vocabulary expands and his interests change, to keep it fresh and ensure that the StoryBox retains a firm place in family life. And now I must go; apparently there’s a cross-eyed camel running loose in the garden, and we need to find a saucepan full of sausages to tempt it over with. No rest for the wicked…