Let’s Play: Simple Games & Storytelling

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Simple Games

A favorite game, Guess Which Hand, can be used to help tell stories, promoting childhood literacy! Choose a tiny object that has a special family memory or something fun to start a story about your day as a parent…

We recently attended literacy night at our school. My little one enjoys any and all extra free time with friends on school grounds. Whatever the activity, she loves to go. She asks to go to PTO meetings. It means time being silly in school running about and connecting with friends from other grades. Literacy night was perfect for her. Many friends from class, a storyteller/musician and to make it perfect—the parents were ushered into another room to hear from a literacy expert. Parent free silly time.

While the kids heard fantastic tales and played instruments in a very interactive experience (we could hear them across the school), the parents were reminded of early literacy basics such as daily reading with our children and practicing language skills at home. The imagination and ideas that result from reading stories together help in so many areas of early learning. We were given a bit of parent homework on literacy at various stages. I’ll add it to my summer reading and research stack. I try to leave events like this with one item to work on. One thing is manageable. More can be too much during the crazy end of school year rush. One extra on top of culture night, science fair and field day. The facilitator’s point that resonated with me this night—the average child only experiences 3 minutes of one on one, eye to eye conversations each day. The reminders to empty backpacks and put dirty clothes in the hamper do not count. She was talking about real one on one conversations about your day, friends or the playground happenings. Time where you both sit and truly listen to each other. I can top 3 minutes.

When we returned to the storyteller to collect our children, he reminded parents that we are all storytellers and stories are an important part of early literacy. Written and verbal stories. Stories about our day and our childhood are great ways to share with our little ones while building vocabulary and communication skills. Easy peasy. I can add this to our day. More time to listen to each other and interact. Time to play perhaps?

After quizzing friends of young ones and those with grown children, I came up with a plan. Simple table games. The games we play while waiting for dinner at a restaurant or for turns at the dentist. No materials required. Just stories and one on one time. We could add so much to a game of I Spy With My Little Eye or Guess Which Hand. You need a pencil and paper for Hangman or maybe a pen and a restaurant napkin, but instead of the usual word or phrase, maybe you use a favorite saying from your parents. My mom always said, “sleep tight” every night before she turned out my light. After the words are revealed you could tell a tale about a typical bedtime routine from your childhood.

I Spy With My Little Eye can become a game of searching out favorite colors, items that remind you of your child’s toddler years or things that remind you of your hometown and childhood. My daughter loves to hear stories of the adventures my brother and I had at her age, what we did summers and what my school was like. I would try to spy a blue bike or a summer kite or a slide like the one my playground had. She is so accustomed to the plastic tube slides of a typical jungle gym that the old free standing metal ones are a novelty.  When I add in the time I fell head first off top of the slide in first grade because the girl in front of me peed her pants and left a streak so I tried to slide around the wetness— the laughs could not stop.

Guess Which Hand was a favorite game of a dear friend from Chicago. Choose a tiny object that has a special family memory or something fun to start a story about your day as a parent. A hair elastic can start a detailed account of the disgusting, slimy hair clump you removed from the shower drain before breakfast. Think of the string of adjectives you could introduce with that story! Can a paperclip start a tale about a funny incident from your work day?

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Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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