For many years my blog post about stones was the most popular one on this website. The dash of colour added to stones is so much more than a lick of paint. Whilst undecorated stones have a multitude of uses, I thought it was time to celebrate literacy value of this resource for children of all ages.
1. Create your own story stones
Whilst there are now many commercial story stones on the market, there is something special for children in finding stones, decorating them and then having them available as a collective resource for all to use. When gathering stones, ensure you and your children follow the land access laws in your country.
The story of how and where the stones were found, is a story that can be told and re-told and become part of the collection. For example, in one Glasgow nursery, the children were into digging up stones in their garden. The stones they dug up were washed, painted and every child knew their origin and how they came to be.
2. Have a mix of fixed and abstract designs
This blog post explains the merits of abstract designs, how they stimulate open-ended thinking and promote more creative story telling. It also means that neither you or your children need to be great artists – whatever you paint and however it looks will have story-telling and play value.
3. Leave the story stones in a basket or pile and see what happens
Rather than rush in with a fixed activity at any age, observe how your children end up using them.
- Is it a talking point for a pair or group of children?
- Do they lay them in a line?
- Are they transported to other places in the outdoor space?
- Does the location of the stones impact on how children use them? In a corner? Behind a bush? On an asphalt surface with lots of space?
- Does the presentation of the resource impact on how the stones are used, i.e. put them in a pile, layout in a line, creating an array, keeping them in a bag which needs to be opened, etc.
Make notes whilst children explore the stones in their own way. These will help you work out the next steps in their learning. With older children, it will tell you about their interests too. Very often by making simple changes to the location and presentation, children will use the story stones in their free play in highly creative ways over many weeks and months.
4. Listening stones
Children who have created their own story stone, may appreciate its value as a listening stone. These are special as they are held quietly and help a child listen at times when it is important to do so. Children can also take them to a special quiet place to hold and listen to the world around them.
5. Use a character pebble to help you tell other stories
If there is a stone with a character on it, then this can become like a pocket puppet. He or she can pop out to help tell any story rather than be in a story. They sit ever so still! Some like to come and look at something interesting on a page. Others whisper in the ear of a teacher or a child, their thoughts about a story.
6. The story stone walking story
This is a simple memory game. Every child in the circle needs to choose a story stone. Have a stone character who has a basket. This character is out for a walk and keeps finding interesting things. Each child in the circle gives the character another stone for its basket or bag and has to decide what it is. The character stone and basket are passed around the circle as this happens.
The challenge of this activity can be increased if children have to collectively remember the names and order of the stones put in the basket as it is being passed around.
7. First, then, next
In this activity, a trio of children have three stones and develop a 3-sentence story using their stones as prompts. If each child takes one stone and creates one sentence then it helps with story sequencing. These stories also make great tweets!
This can be expanded to paragraphs in due course. When this happens, a lovely development outside is to request that children move from place to place to tell the story, making the most of the different locations within a wood or school ground.
A simple way to get going with big group story telling. First, each child or pair to choose a stone. One person begins by putting their stone on the ground and opening the story, e.g. “A long time ago, in a woodland far from here, there lived a ….” Whilst going round a circle gives children time to prepare their contribution, a fun development is for children to be able to choose when to add their pebble – random turn taking.
In my experience, this activity takes several attempts for children to develop the skill of adding a sentence with ease, regardless of the age of the class. Doing the “first-then-next” activity is a good precursor.
For young children, a good way in is for the children to choose a stone in turn to give to the adult who must include it in their oral story.
9. Chalk maps
Story stones work well with chalk maps. Each child can create a simple scene or map on the playground. Story stones are added into this and the children play with it to create simple stories. I have also seen teachers use a similar approach to developing work on initial sounds where alphabet pebbles are added into a chalk scene to highlight the initial sounds of some of the features.
Children can also create scenes using natural materials available in woods or on beaches. Story stones can be added here too.
10. Story starters
As a teacher, having a cards of story starters was an essential resource. For children who struggle to read, choosing a story stone may provide a good prompt to start a story.
11. Stone similes
If you have stones with abstract designs, then these make useful warm ups for writing about similes. What is the design on the stone like? What does is it remind you of? This could work well in groups or for children who like to work alone. I find that children of all ages can come up with similes for stone designs.
12. Creating story stones
When making story stones, I tend to use acrylic deco pens as they seem to withstand a lot of use and are easy to touch up worn designs. They are also waterproof without needing a layer of varnish or other complicated finishes. They dry very quickly. I find that one pack of pens, although they cost around about £11 lasts a long time. I don’t bother with the pearly versions as the paint is disappointingly dull when dry. I find that permanent marker pens don’t give the same bright finish.