“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”: how our little storytellers experience stories

By the age of three our children get to be the most wonderful storytellers. They engage in so-called “open ended” activities inspired by the stories we share with them. They learn how to use story props, how to pretend that story-related objects are integrated with their very own experiences. They take roles in their play and are completely immersed in stories, energised and fascinated by them. They become creators by changing parts of the story and making new versions. This is what “active learning” is all about, and it’s learning at its best.

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared!

Let’s start from the beginning of our project of bringing stories to life: Our work on this project started from our children’s love for books and stories that they kept going back to. We selected this particular story for its endless potential to be used in the setting in a range of different contexts. We read the story at circle time and children were fascinated by the plot, the actions and the new words. We tried to stimulate our children’s curiosity and creativity by putting together a sensorial “small world” display of the story. The display gave them an opportunity to re-enact the story and take the dolls through the grassy field, through the cold river, the sticky mud, tripping over the branches of the forest and finding the bear in the dark cave inside it. The children loved coming to the table and exploring with their hands the different sensorial resources like the water, mud and snow.

The story was revisited in a number of ways in different times and days. In our music and movement class the children got to practice how it feels when your legs are sticky and sink in the mud, or how heavy they feel when crossing the river and how they should tip toe quietly to get to the cave.

At the end of our journey was a trip at Islington’s most magical Little Angel Theatre, to watch a live performance of the Bear Hunt story. The children were fascinated to see the story coming to life in front of their eyes, the actors taking the puppets through the grassy bank, wading through the cold river, squelching over the oozy mud, stumbling into the dark forest, then peering into a cave… what will they find?

They repeated the lines from the story and were trembling with excitement when the puppets discovered the bear inside the cave. In the weeks to come our children would repeat the story in their play in so many different and interesting ways, giving it all sorts of dimensions, variations and endings. Constantina and one of the other children were walking on the bridge they built using the big blocks, and were enacting the story. Constatina’s friend  said “we’re going on a bear hunt” as he was laying down some more blocks. Constantina joined in and said “we’re not scared!” They recalled parts the story together and acted out the sequences using whole body movements. They balanced on the blocks during their journey and copied each other’s actions from the various parts of the story.

“We’re going to catch a big one, we’re not scared!’’ they repeated as they balanced on their bridge. They were building a bridge to help all of us cross the deep river with them. In fact, what was going on was that they were building a brand new story on top of the original one. But this time, this new story, which was their story, was entirely real.