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The story sack: so many ways to play!

A young child wears an eye mask and some cut out cardboard box wings to play, the shadow on the wall behind is a rocket ship blasting off. The power of the many ways to play story sacks, imaginative play, cardboard box rocket ship
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The story sack: so many ways to play!

A young child wears an eye mask and some cut out cardboard box wings to play, the shadow on the wall behind is a rocket ship blasting off. The power of the many ways to play story sacks, imaginative play, cardboard box rocket ship
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What is a story sack?

A story sack is a bag that contains a book and a range of toys and objects to help your child to explore the book through play. It is a pretty simple concept. The magic comes in the huge number of creative ways that you can use them to inspire play and learning. This articles gives you loads of ideas of how you can use story sack for play, learning and discussion with children from young baby to older child.

The CalmFamily range of story sacks each contains a sheet of activities themed to each book; these include crafts, sensory play, discussion points and more to help you and your family from baby to grandparents have more fun with your carefully designed story sack.

You can find instructions to make your own story sack at the bottom of this page too.

Handa's Noisy Night Story Sack
Story Sack Club
The Snail and the Whale Story Sack

Playing with story sacks

There are so many ways to use story sacks to play, learn, explore themes, develop skills, or just keep children entertained when it is all you have taken out with you and you need some impromptu fun!

Let’s explore some ideas:

Reading the story

The simplest and most straightforward way to use a story sack in which the child leads the way. Lay out the contents of the story sack and read the story. Let your child look at, pick up and play with any aspects of the contents of the story sack. Do they make connections between the objects and the story?

Act out the story

This is what everyone thinks of when they think of story sacks, but it really is only one of the ways that you might use a story sack.

Use the contents of the bag as props and act out the story as you go. Get the kids to act it and animate the toys and puppets along with the story. Or, for younger babies you could hand them the toy/object when they show up in the story.

Explore the objects

Object play or heuristic play

This is a category of play that is hugely beneficial for baby and toddler learning. It actually helps develop problem solving skills as adults! Just let small children handle and explore object, hold them, turn them, gum them. (Please supervise your baby, toddler or young child with objects they may place in their mouths to minimise any choking risk . Do not leave children unattended with items that may pose a risk. Instead explore these together with your baby/toddler.)

Sensory play and exploration

Talk about textures. Feel the objects together. Find them in the book.

How is the blue floaty fabric like water? Can you make waves with it. How is it different to water?

Talk about colour with young children. Get slightly older children to group objects together by colour. You could even talk about what gives things colour with older children: wooden toys are painted or printed, fabrics are dyed, how do they colour plastic? Find out more. Let your child’s interest lead the way, if your 5 year old loves to know how things are made then check out “Do you know?” on CBeebies on iPlayer, or visit the presenter, Maddie Moate’s YouTube channel. If your kid isn’t interested then that’s ok too, there are lots of other activities and ideas here.

crafting with kids from found objects

Motor skills

What is in your story sack? Try some stacking or balancing games. How tall a pile can you make with your objects before it topples over? Which objects make the best base?

Super simple games

If you have taken the story sack out and about and find yourself stuck for things to do then there are lots of little games you can play that aren’t using it as a story sack, or that you could do with any other objects to hand or at home.

Create a line: lay out all the objects in a long line so they are touching. How long can you make it? Does it make a difference how you position them?

Fabric scarf games: floaty scarves scrunch down to a tiny size. You can thread them through a ring, wrap them around other objects like a little bag, create a blanket for the puppets, use it to play peekaboo with a baby.

Act it out (no book)

A young child wears an eye mask and some cut out cardboard box wings to play, the shadow on the wall behind is a rocket ship blasting off. The power of the many ways to play story sacks, imaginative play, cardboard box rocket ship

Just use the toys and play your way through the story, or make up a different story using the objects; let it develop from there. Talk about how characters feel. Use puppets or toys to play out why a character feels sad. Can the other characters help them to feel better?

What happens next, after the end of the story? Let your child’s imagination expand on the adventure.

Think about themes

Our story sacks contain themes ranging from belonging, family, friendship, fear of the dark, having a new baby sibling in the family, boredom, loss and death, the weather, inclusion and acceptance of difference and much more. Yes, in children’s books! Toddlers often have quite a strong idea of fairness when they come across unfairness in stories. They often raise issues of social justice and equality on their own so stories can be a great way to get them talking about these things.

For example

In Room on the broom how does the witch make sure everyone is made welcome? What does the frog need? What does the dog need? Why do they need different things? How might the dog feel if he got the frog’s shower instead of a bone? 

There are lots of ways to get talking about bigger themes, and older kids may engage with this more than toddlers, but this can be a great way to extend the age interest of stories. This kind of exploration through play is great for small children who are developing empathy.

A starting point: expanding thematic exploration

Let’s say you and your children explored Room on the Broom and a theme of diversity, storms, dragons, or habitats caught your child’s imagination, you could expand this exploration by:

Artistic activities

Frame art or craft activities around the book theme. Let the child lead, but to get their imagination whirring you could offer some options. Here are some we have tried.

  • Think about the characters in the story: can you make homes for them out of craft materials, or draw their habitat, or gather objects from your home to create nests, dens or imaginary habitats for creatures from the story.
  • Make a cardboard box/shoe box stage for puppet shows, and act them out using the puppets in the bag.
  • Look up some easy free felt patterns for finger puppets: these can often be glued or sewn, think about what resources you have (and how much patience your kids have) and create your own to add to the puppets in your story sack.
  • Lay out the objects to make a picture. Gather more objects. For example, stones, leaves, lego bricks. Make pictures of faces, make maps. You could take a photo of the different things you make pictures of. Keep the photos, look back at them and see if you can spot certain objects in the different images.

For example, The snail and the whale

For example, after reading The snail and the whale you could:

  • Search printable whale colouring sheets to colour in
  • Draw whales, (or anythings linked to the story.) Older children may enjoy drawing individual objects, such as the snail puppet, as a still life.
  • Set up a scene using the objects in your story sack. (If you have keen sketchers they could draw the scene too.)

Direct a film: stop frame animation

Stop frame animation can be lots of fun. It is made up of still images, such as photographs. Take a photo of a scene, change it slightly, take another photo, change it again… and so on. You may find that a free phone, tablet or computer app is helpful to edit the images and compile them together to create the finished video, although Google photos will often create little flick book animation if you have several similar images taken in quick succession.

The precision with which kids approach this will often vary with age and temperament. The key is that they are finding interesting ways to tell stories. Technique will develop over time if they have fun with it.

Make or adapt your own story sack

You will need:

  • A story to base your sack around
  • A cloth bag, or pillow case

You will also need to select contents for your bag. What you put in will depend on the book you have chosen.

  • A range of soft toys such as puppets or cuddly toys that represent the characters
  • A range of hard toys made from a range of materials such as metal, wood or plastic to represent characters, objects or places in the story.
  • Natural objects such as pebbles, acorns, pine cones, sticks, shells to represent scenery or environment
  • Fabrics with interesting textures and colours: these can represent fire, water, grass, mud, sand, the sky
  • Think about the senses: does the book talk about sounds? Are there any toys that make those sounds, like a whistle, a shaker, a drum or tub that you can tap.
  • A book on a related theme: for example, you might pick a book about the weather to We’re going on a bear hunt

Hire or buy a story sack

We have the  range of CalmFamily story sacks available to buy or hire. We also offer a story sack hire club if you want to subscribe and have a different story sack sent each month.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Baby play, Childhood play & learning, Toddler play
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