More on storytelling with children who are too young to have much spoken language.
I love working with adults and teens but there is a special place in my heart for tinies, partly because they are such an immediate audience. If they like it, their eyes shine- they lose themselves in the experience and they might come and give you a hug afterwards. If they don’t enjoy it, you know straight away!
So I won’t try and cover everything but here are a few thoughts.
Music: They love music! Especially familiar songs… and a singalong is great to draw the group together. If they’re not actually nursery rhymes, I try to make them super-simple and easy to “get”. An instrument, if you have one, is a win every time, even if it’s just a triangle.
Dynamic: Just because they can’t understand words doesn’t mean that little ones can’t follow a dynamic. They love joining in with varied moods, like evil and shouty (below), or mock-tearful, or maybe gentle and mellow. We adults understand how the story explains all these changing moods but under-threes can just feel each one.
Copying: If you want toddlers to do something, do it yourself… if they are engaged with you then they will be your mirror. If you want them to sit, you should sit. The moment you get up, you will find them popping up all around you. Like a horse whisperer, instruct them confidently and demonstrate a couple of times (below) and you will find they follow your lead.
Interaction: I like to use props but that’s a personal thing. It’s not necessary to have objects, the important thing is to be doing something definite, not just talking about it. Make the story into a simple to-and-fro game, call and response, copy and repeat, action and reaction (below). If they don’t understand words, they can still be engaged in the whole story and they’re learning about language just by participating.
Kids who don’t like it: Of course all the above is very nice and everything, but sometimes a child will be tired, hungry or just plain grumpy. Under these circumstances, it’s brilliant to have an “out” for them. I like to find a nearby place where a noisy child can be taken to calm down so their yells don’t disturb everyone else. Often they will quieten down in just a few minutes and can come back in. Sometimes they won’t, but hey, that’s toddlers.