Woman talking to her laughing toddler

Some children get excited for storytime. Other children are restless and simply cannot be bothered to pay attention at storytime. Some adults enjoy reading picture books to their children. Others do not. Regardless, engaging children through story is valuable for pre-reading development.

I hope this helps you on your journey of engaging preschoolers with stories.

Why engage preschoolers with stories without reading a book?

As a preschool teacher, here are some key reasons I would tell a story without using a physical book:

  • Children who have a limited grasp of English, whether due to speech delays or English being a second language, find it hard to follow long strings of words.  Many picture books have a lot of words with only a few storyline clues in the pictures. Several of the methods recommended below show the action of the story rather than just telling about it.
  • Some children have a hard time sitting still in general. Using new and unusual ways to tell a story catches their attention far better. Later, as they learn to follow and enjoy stories, they may be more able and willing to sit for a picture book.
  • Sometimes the child has already heard the story you are telling many times before. They get bored and fidgety because they know exactly what’s coming. This is an important indicator for the storyteller that it is time to find a different story or a new storytelling method to help capture the attention of the audience.

Methods of storytelling

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Keep in mind, you don’t have to make up your own story. Find an engaging preschool book you enjoy and retell the story using one of these methods.

  • Toys as props
    • Lego/Duplo – If you have time beforehand, you can build whatever building or vehicle the story requires. Better yet, ask the children to help you build it, then set it aside until storytime.
    • Small dolls or animals (stuffed or plastic, etc.) – I recommend using small dolls or animals, especially ones that can bend as needed for the story (some dolls can’t sit down).
  • Playdough
    • Some stories might lend themselves well to playdough. It would likely be best to pre-build all the props you will need, or at least practice building them so that you can make them quickly without losing the children’s interest. Think ahead about how you will make sure all the children can see what you’re doing.
  • Act it out
    • Stand up, put on a hat and play the parts yourself. Only some stories will work well this way, especially for preschoolers. Alternatively, allow the children to be actors. However, here again, I caution you to be intentional to keep things fair.
  • Felt board
    • Felt boards or flannel boards might seem old fashioned, but the children love them. You can buy felt board sets to use that correlate with specific stories or buy generic sets of farm animals or community workers. Also, consider cutting your own shapes out of felt or paper with velcro on the back.
  • Puppets
    • Puppets can be store-bought or homemade. Children thoroughly enjoy puppets with or without a puppet theatre to hide behind. If you don’t want to make the puppet talk, have them whisper in your ear and then repeat what they “told” you, such as:
      • “What’s that, Mr. Rabbit?” “Oh, you’re looking for your carrot?” “Mr. Rabbit says he wants us to help him find his carrot.”
  • Cut out paper shapes
  • Picture book pages
    • When it comes to preschoolers, you don’t have to change things much to make it seem brand new and exciting. Do you have a picture book with a spine that is falling apart? Consider cutting all the pages out and laminating them. Then you can hold up the pages, one at a time, while you tell the story. I encourage you to number the pages for your own reference. Laminating the pages will help them last far longer.

Tips

  • Know the story
    • Whether you make up your own story or retell a story from your favourite picture book, the most important key to storytelling is to know the story well. If the story is written down, read it over several times and practice paraphrasing it. If you need to, write cue cards to jog your memory of the order of events. If it is a repetitive story such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle, try writing out the first few stanzas to help you get started.
  • Know your audience
    • If the story you want to tell is too complex, or otherwise not age-appropriate, you will lose your audience. It isn’t so much a matter of whether the child is a five year old or a two year old. Rather, pay attention to where they are at developmentally. When you tell a story, watch for cues that they are not following a too complicated story or that they are bored since the story is too simple. This, of course, gets tricky when you have more than one child and a range of developmental levels.
  • Make eye contact
    • Once you’ve learned the story inside out, you won’t have to be looking at the words on the page. This frees you to make eye contact with the children as you are telling the story. Eye contact makes storytelling more personal and engaging.
  • Consider the setup
    • Think about how you can hold whatever props you might be using so that all the children can see them. For larger groups, you may need to sit on a chair while the children sit on the carpet. Or if the children are in chairs, you may need to stand. A child who can’t see the props will find it much harder to be engaged.
  • Involve the children
    • Find ways to involve the children in the story. Some of the methods in the following bullet points work well to enhance the reading of a picture book rather than telling the story without using the picture book.
      • Let them fill in blanks: A key way to do this is by letting the children say parts of the story based on clues you provide. For example, when I’m reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, I might say “Brown bear, brown bear what do you see? I see a…” then wait for a child to tell me what picture/prop I’m showing.
      • Include actions: Some stories lend themselves well to actions. Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes, is a good one for this. You can encourage the children to wiggle their noses or pretend to climb a tree with the character.
      • Ask questions: Pause the story from time to time to ask a question. The question could be in line with the story: “Do you think he will do it?” “How did that make her feel?” Or the question might be a side comment that enhances general knowledge: “What colour is her shirt?” “How many buttons does he have?” Be careful to watch for signs of your audience’s engagement with this one. Too many questions, or miss-timed questions, can break the flow of the storyline.
      • Hold props: Most children love being allowed to hold the props, but I caution you on this one. Be very careful about fairness. For small groups of children, or one on one storytimes, allowing the child to hold the props, or find whichever prop you need next, can be excellent. However, if you have a large group of children, but only two props, it may cause arguing over who gets to hold it. On another note, once you’ve let the children hold the props for one story, they may beg to hold them for all future stories. Therefore, consider carefully whether this powerful engagement tool will be beneficial in your setting.

Other resources

Need something simpler, yet still engaging? Check out my post about 7 interactive preschool books. These are a great way to engage a child with picture books who won’t sit for most books. sjlittle.ca/preschool/7-fantastic-animal-guessing-books-for-preschoolers 

For a list of my favourite stories see my Pinterest board: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/preschooltoddler-books-s-j-littles-favourite 

Other picture books I also recommend: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/books-for-preschoolers-and-toddlers 

What are other ways you’ve engaged preschoolers with stories?

Child colouring behind title "3 Go-To Places for Preschool Resources"

Free Printables – 

With all of the Covid-19 restrictions, you may be finding yourself in need of new, easy activities for your youngster. Here are three sites with free printable resources that I recommend.

(Note: None of the links below are affiliate links. I am recommending these websites because I have found them to be valuable resources in the past. I have no control over these websites, nor am I connected to them in any way.)

1.  SuperColoring.com

While there are many free colouring page websites out there, my go-to is Super Coloring. I especially enjoy their realistic animal colouring sheets. Sometimes I print their pictures for my preschool class to colour. At other times, I use the pictures to make visuals for circle time. They have just about everything from dinosaurs to flowers and from insects to world maps. If you’re looking for something more academically based, they even have colouring sheets for letters A-Z.

supercoloring.com

2. Teaching2And3YearOlds.com

Teaching 2 And 3 Year Olds is a website full of free resources, including free printable activities or other creative play ideas. Many of the posts include tips and mention the developmental benefits of each activity. Activities on this site are often sorted by theme.

teaching2and3yearolds.com

3. TheBeginnersBible.com

Have you read the Beginner’s Bible with your children? Did you know that there are free printable colouring sheets and activity sheets that go with it? With the same illustrations and pictures as found in the picture Bible, your youngsters might enjoy this extension to their learning.

thebeginnersbible.com

Looking for more? Check out some of the ideas I’ve collected on Pinterest:

S. J. Little’s Preschool Posts: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/s-j-littles-preschool-posts

Ideas to Try: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/ideas-to-try

Keeping Toddler Busy: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/keeping-toddler-busy

Make Your Own Toys: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/make-your-own-toys

Free Preschool Teacher Tools: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/free-preschool-teacher-tools

 

What are your go-to websites for free printable preschool/toddler activities?

Hand holding nativity scene picturing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

New Christmas Song for Preschoolers –

Looking for a new, easy, and Biblical Christmas song to sing with your preschoolers? Then you’re in the right place. While this tune is familiar, the words are new. I came up with them in late November 2020. You are welcome to use this song at your home, church, school, and/or childcare. When you do so, please include my name (S. J. Little) as the author so that you and those around you know where to come for more unique preschool ideas.

At Christmas time, we celebrate Jesus’ coming to earth. That’s why, in the first verse, we sing “Welcome Lord.” For the second two verses, it is the shepherds and the wise men who come and say “Welcome Lord.”

Baby Jesus, Welcome Lord

Words by: S. J. Little

Tune: “Are You Sleeping” aka “Frère Jacques”

 

Baby Jesus, baby Jesus,

Son of God, Son of God.

You were born to be King, You were born to be King,

Welcome Lord, Welcome Lord.

 

Baby Jesus, baby Jesus,

Angels praise, angels praise.

Shepherds run to Your side, shepherds run to Your side,

Welcome Lord, Welcome Lord.

 

Baby Jesus, baby Jesus,

Wise men come, wise men come.

Following the bright star, following the bright star.

Welcome Lord, Welcome Lord.

Actions

Baby Jesus – Pretend to rock an infant in your arms

Son of God – Point up

You were born to be King – Put an imaginary crown on your head

Welcome Lord – Use one hand to beckon towards self

 

Angels praise – Extend hands above your head and move them side to side

Shepherds run to Your side – Run in place

Wise men come – Pretend to ride a camel

Following the bright star – Shade eyes as though searching. With your other hand, point forward/up towards the star

I hope you and your children enjoy this brand new Christmas song that reminds us of the very first Christmas so long ago.

Merry Christmas!

Looking for another Christmas preschool song? Check out:
Mother hugging daughter with title "5 Things to Teach When Homeschooling Your Preschooler"

 

With the current pandemic, you may find yourself homeschooling your preschooler, whether by choice or due to circumstances beyond your control. In order to help you out, I’ve collected a list of 5 things most preschool teachers include every day at circle time.

Circle time is the part of the preschool schedule when all the children gather around, typically sitting on a carpet, while the teacher teaches. Sometimes activities are interactive, while at other times they require listening to the teacher talk. At home, you could schedule a regular sit down circle time with your child. Alternatively, many of these topics can be integrated into other moments of your day. 

Note that circle time doesn’t have to be long. For younger or more wiggly children, you could start at 5 minutes a day and slowly, over several weeks, build the length up to 10-15 minutes depending on the attention span and interest level of the child.

1. Stories

Storytime is an important part of the day for many areas of child development. Your child will learn pre-reading skills, gain knowledge about many topics, and be exposed to new words. In preschool settings, storytime is often a part of circle time, but in a home setting, you could easily have a reading time that is separate from other circle time activities.

There is so much more I could say about storytime, but that is another topic for another time.

Wondering which books I recommend? Check out my post: 7 Fantastic Animal Guessing Books as well as my Pinterest boards:  S. J. Little’s Favourite Preschool/Toddler Books & Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers 

2. Songs

Scientists have discovered that music is hugely beneficial for brain development. Not only that, but most children enjoy singing. Therefore, nearly all preschools include singing as a daily activity. Some teachers only sing one or two songs a day, others have songs for nearly everything, from clean-up songs to “What’s the Weather” songs and everything in between. Thankfully, being an excellent singer is not required for singing with preschoolers.

From a practical teaching perspective, songs can be useful for:

  • Transitions (example: clean-up songs)
  • Teaching (example: ABC songs)
  • Memorization (example: days of the week songs)
  • Enjoyment (example: The Wheels on the Bus)
  • Exercise (example: If You’re Happy and You Know It)

Chances are you already sing some songs with your child. If you’re looking for more songs to learn, check out some of my favourites:

3. Letter of the week

To help keep the alphabet from seeming so big and overwhelming, a common strategy for teaching 3-4 year old children is to focus on one letter per week. This typically happens at circle time. There are endless strategies on how to teach each letter. You can use posters or songs or mystery boxes. If your child seems to be losing interest, try switching things up with a new technique. Here is a list of 9 strategies I’ve used: Teaching the ABCs at Circle Time 

4. Calendar

Did you know that most preschools review the calendar with the children every day? By that, I mean the children will sing a song about the names of the seven days of the week and discuss which day of the week today is. Then, as a class, they will count the number of days to find out which day it is. They also discuss the name of whichever month it is.

Here’s an example of teaching and singing about the days of the week: 

Understanding the calendar can be tricky for many children. Therefore, repetition is helpful. Also, reviewing the calendar every day provides excellent counting practice. Once a child can count to 30, they are well on their way to being able to count to 100. Having said that, children do get tired of reviewing the calendar every day. So long as your child has a basic understanding of the calendar by the time they start kindergarten, it is up to you whether you want to review the calendar daily or not. You could choose to review the calendar once a week or choose to focus on it daily for one month. However you choose to do it, have fun with it.

5. Weather

Learning to name the different types of weather such as, sunny, snowy, and foggy, is another thing preschoolers learn at school. Since many preschools are run indoors, teachers must be intentional not to forget to talk about the weather. At home, these conversations happen more naturally. As you discuss which type of footwear is needed for the day, or when the weather makes going to the park formidable, you can be teaching your child about the weather.

6. Bonus: Bible stories

In many Christian preschools, Bible reading is an important part of the schedule. Some of the Christian preschools I’ve taught at always read one Bible story every week from a children’s illustrated Bible. When I read a Bible story to my class, I like to pause and sing the “B-I-B-L-E” first to remind everyone that this isn’t just another storybook. The Bible is special and true. If you don’t know the song, I explain the actions and link to a video of it in my post here: 7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers

I highly recommend The Beginner’s Bible by Zondervankidz . They also have free printable colouring sheets and activities on their website here that match the illustrations in it.

I hope this information is helpful to you as you teach your child at home!

You may also find my  Ready for Kindergarten post helpful.

If you have questions you’d like to ask a preschool teacher, feel free to comment below or fill out my  contact form.

As Christian parents and teachers, we desire to introduce our children to the Bible while they are young. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of songs. These classic Bible story songs will engage your preschoolers in an exciting way while teaching them the Bible. Chances are, you may be familiar with some of these songs. Have you introduced them to your children yet? If not, perhaps today is a good day to start!

 

Because most of these songs directly correlate with the Bible stories they are telling, I would encourage you to try using visuals to tell the story as you sing it the first time. This helps young children associate meaning with the words they are singing.

 

Some of these songs have well-defined actions, while others don’t. For some of the songs, I have suggested my favourite actions. For others, I will let the videos show you some possible actions. If the actions don’t suit your fancy, feel free to make up your own!

 

Please note: The sample videos I have included were chosen for the clarity of the song and actions. I am not associated with any of them and have not done extensive research into the groups who posted them. Also, while I tried to find videos similar to how I prefer to sing these songs, some actions and/or words may vary from the versions I have recommended for you.

1. Arky Arky (Rise and Shine)

I chose this Bible story song about Noah because I appreciate how it includes God. It was God who told Noah to build the ark, and it is God who deserves all the glory. This song also has silly rhyming which is sure to thrill many preschoolers.

Depending on the age of your children, consider repeating the chorus after every verse or after every two verses. I would repeat the chorus more often for younger children.

Genesis 6:8-9:17

 

 

The Lord told Noah,

There’s gonna be a floody, floody.

Lord told Noah,

There’s gonna be a floody, floody.

Get those animals out of the muddy, muddy –

Children of the Lord.

 

(Chorus) So, rise and shine and,

Give God the glory, glory!

Rise and shine and,

Give God the glory, glory!

Rise and shine and,

Give God the glory, glory –

Children of the Lord.

 

The Lord told Noah,

To build him an arky, arky.

Lord told Noah,

To build him an arky, arky.

Build it out of gopher barky, barky –

Children of the Lord.

 

(Repeat chorus)

 

The animals, the animals,

They came in by twosies, twosies.

Animals, the animals,

They came in by twosies, twosies.

Elephants and kangaroosies, roosies –

Children of the Lord.

 

(Repeat chorus)

 

It rained and poured,

For forty daysies, daysies.

Rained and poured,

For forty daysies, daysies.

Almost drove those animals crazy crazies –

Children of the Lord.

 

(Repeat chorus)

 

The sun came out,

And dried up the landy, landy.

Sun came out,

And dried up the landy, landy.

Everything was fine and dandy, dandy!

Children of the Lord.

 

(Repeat chorus)

2. Only a Boy Named David 

This song, and the Bible story it recounts, are truly classics. I recommend singing it standing so your children can get some energy out spinning and then pretending to fall down like Goliath. Who knows? This one might just become your child’s favourite!

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Only a boy named David.

Only a little sling.

Only a boy named David,

But he could pray and sing.

Only a boy named David.

Only a rippling brook.

Only a boy named David,

But five little stones he took.

 

And one little stone went into the sling,

And the sling went round and round.

And one little stone went into the sling,

And the sling went round and round.

 

And round and round,

And round and round,

And round and round and round.

And one little stone went into the air,

And the giant came tumbling down.

 

Suggested actions:

Only a boy named David – hold hand out as though patting the head of a child

Only a little sling – pretend to swing a sling over your head

But he could pray and sing – fold hands in prayer and/or pretend to strum a guitar

 

Only a rippling brook – wiggle fingers while moving hands from right to left

But five little stones he took – hold up five fingers

 

One little stone went into the sling – hold up one finger, then put finger into other hand

The sling went round and round – swing imaginary sling around over head

 

Round and round – if standing, turn around while swinging sling

One little stone went into the air – point one finger as though following path of the flying stone

The giant came tumbling down – fall down

3. Who Did Swallow Jonah 

This could be a fun song to get creative with. Try letting individual children take turns singing “who did?” There are 12 “who did” parts per verse, not including the “who did swallow Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo” part which could be sung all together.

Jonah 1-3

 

 

Who did? who did?

Who did? who did?

Who did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo?

 

Who did? who did?

Who did? who did?

Who did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo?

 

Who did? who did?

Who did? who did?

Who did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo?

 

Who did swallow Jonah…

Who did swallow Jonah…

Who did swallow Jonah down?

 

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo.

 

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo.

 

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did, whale did,

Whale did swallow

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo.

 

Whale did swallow Jonah…

Whale did swallow Jonah…

Whale did swallow Jonah down.

 

Optional other verses:

Daniel, Daniel, …  Daniel in the li, li, li, li.

Daniel in the lion’s, … Daniel in the lion’s den.

Gideon, Gideon… Gideon blow your trump, trump, trump, trump.

Gideon blow your trumpet, … Gideon blow your trumpet loud!

4. Zacchaeus

Another timeless classic Bible story song that has been loved by many! Want proof? Look up “sings Zacchaeus” on Youtube and you’ll find many recordings of young children trying to sing this song. The song and storyline are simple enough for a child to follow. The actions, also, are straight forward. I’ll let the video teach them to you, other than one comment. In order to make the actions more full-body, I recommend walking in place as you sing “And as the Savior passed that way.”

Luke 19:1-10

 

 

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,

And a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree,

For the Lord he wanted to see.

 

Toddler crouching and smiling

And as the Savior passed that way,

He looked up in the tree,

And said, “Zacchaeus, you come down!

For I’m going to your house today!

For I’m going to your house today!”

 

Optional Verse:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,

But a happy man was he.

For he had seen the Lord that day,

And a happy man was he;

And a very happy man was he.

5. Peter and John Went to Pray (Silver and Gold) 

This is another fantastic Bible story song in that it has an easy to follow storyline that can correlate well with actions. I especially appreciate how accurately this song tells the story in line with Acts 3:1-10.

 

 

Peter and John went to pray;

They met a lame man on the way.

He asked for alms and held out his palms,

And this is what Peter did say:

 

“Silver and gold have I none,

But such as I have I give you.

In the name of Jesus Christ

Of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

 

He went walking and jumping and praising God,

Walking and jumping and praising God.

“In the name of Jesus Christ

Of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

6. Bonus!

Here’s a bonus recommendation for you. This song, titled “Stories” by Go Fish, includes both “Only a Boy Named David” and “Zacchaeus” in a catchy, upbeat modern song. I encourage you to take a moment to listen.

 

What are your favourite classic Bible story songs to sing with your preschoolers?

Other preschool songs on SJLittle.ca:

7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers

Another 7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers

If You Want To Be A… (Action song for almost any animal)