“Would you help me with my words?” the 3-year-old asked. “I’ll tell them to you and you write them.” He brought me a piece of paper and a yellow crayon; he then sat down beside me and began dictating. When we finished, he asked me to read his story. Afterwards, he smiled broadly and nodded his head in approval.

Creating stories with young children can originate from many sources of inspiration.

  • The children may initiate the idea and dictate to us.
  • We can sit beside them while they draw and ask them to tell us about it. Some children’s highly representational work lends itself to a narrative. However, lines and scribbles on paper also come alive in the imagination of a child.
  • Observing their dramatic play, we can write what we see and read it back to the children. They will then edit and revise our written version, affirming or correcting our interpretation of their play.
  • Different mediums can offer opportunities for story making to ignite. Blank drawing paper can be a source of inspiration.

A 4-year-old asked for the drawing paper each time she came to Expressive Arts. She had made a series of drawings about her younger brother, whom she adores (with a healthy dose of appropriate sibling rivalry).


Noticing the frown on the small figure, bottom left, I asked her how he felt.

“Sad, very sad. That’s my brother. He’s in a hospital,” she continued. “He’s sad because Grandma is leaving and he’s not home from the hospital yet.”

Knowing this story began as an actual event and was expanded through imagination, art and dramatic play, I asked if I could write her story. She agreed and began dictating to me. The story was very elaborate and meandered quite a distance from the original, real life story that sparked the one we were now writing. I continued to write exactly what she dictated, focusing on the feelings she expressed.

She chose a folder from the art cart and slipped both her puzzle and my transcript inside. She then chose oil pastels and began working on the cover.


She told her story aloud as she drew her brother in his hospital bed. “I have to take care of him,”   she told me quite seriously, “So I have a bunk bed over his. “

“You love him very much and want to take care of him,” I interpreted.

“Yes, but he’s still very sad,” she said pointing to the upside down smile she had drawn on her brother in the bottom bunk of the hospital bed. “But, I’m not sad because I didn’t get hurt,” she said pointing to her smile.

She paused, remembering the real life origin of her story. “But, I cried when he really got hurt.”

“That’s called empathy” I said, knowing how fascinated with a new word a 4-year-old can often be. “You felt his hurt because you love him.”

“I do,” she somberly nodded. “But, he will still have to stay in the hospital for two years.”

Encourage story-making with young children by providing each child with a dedicated folder they can use to keep all words and pictures that relate to their stories. The children can draw on the front of their folders to make a unique cover for their stories.


  • Set up a table with Colorations® construction paper, folders, Colorations® oil pastels and Colorations® markers and crayons.
  • Let the children know that, after they finish drawing, you are interested in hearing what the meaning of each picture is.
  • As the children complete their work, have them dictate their stories to you.
  • Some children may need more structure; you may want to suggest a theme. Some ideas could be: “Our Families,” “Animals I Love,” “The Funniest Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” or whatever is emerging in your classroom that interests the children.
  • Once you have all the children’s stories compiled, read them aloud to the whole group.
  • Be ready to have them chant, “Again!”

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colorations® Regular Crayons – Set of 8 (Item # CRS8)

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – Set of 28 (Item # COP)

Colorations® Marker & Crayon Combo Pack- 400 Pieces (Item # MARCRAY)

Colorations® Construction Paper Smart Pack – 600 Sheets (Item # SMARTSTK)

The Ultimate Art Paper – 100 Sheets (Item # 9UP)

Pocket & Brad Folder (Item # BTS023)


Open Ended Creativity

In researching theories that aligned with the practical suggestions on this blog, I rediscovered Simon Nicholson’s theory of “loose parts.”

 “In any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it.” – Simon Nicholson

The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s has begun to influence child-play experts. Nicholson believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that empower our creativity.

Loose parts are materials with no definite direction; they can be used alone or combined with other materials, natural or synthetic. Loose parts inspire children to use materials as they choose, encouraging imagination and originality, which provides a wide range of opportunity, one that is not purely adult led. Children playing with loose parts are developing more skill and competence than they would by playing with most man-made toys.

To read the complete version of this article in which the above statements and information have been pulled from please Click here.

Looking around my Expressive Arts room with drawers of open-ended materials, I am reminded of the unlimited nature of children’s art-making. All they need is to combine their chosen materials, or “loose parts,” with their imagination, skills, creativity and ideas.

Inside one bin, the plastic numbers and letters fascinated a 3-year-old. He was able to pick out and order numerically with ease. When his search for a “2’ was unsuccessful, he made his own out of colored tape. Image


He did the same, on another day, with the letters, constructing a difficult “h” quite skillfully with tape as well, as drawing a missing “M.”


Another 3-year-old, was using the rainbow crayons to draw on one of the large boxes recently brought in by a parent.

“They don’t work,” she told me, holding up the crayon. Upon looking, I noticed that the colors were not as vivid as she wanted on the brown cardboard.

“You could try these bright colors,” I offered, presenting theColorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack. She took them and began to draw inside the box. I watched her place the colors next to each other and realized she was creating her own rainbow.


As she happily sat inside the box she began expanding her rainbow into a very sophisticated and beautiful expression. For the next 45 minutes she sat quietly creating her own rainbow.


At the end of our time together, I found her curled up inside the box taking a well-deserved rest.


Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated to create from what’s available.

*For more information on setting up an Expressive Arts center at school or home, see the blog post from April 8, 2013 and October 11, 2012.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colored Masking Tape – 1 Roll (Item # 34CMT)

Uppercase and Lowercase Magnetic Letters (Item # LETSET)

Magnetic Numbers – 162 Pieces (Item # MAGNUMB)

Please share your favorite “loose parts” around the classroom.