Storytelling 101




Introduction: Storytelling 101

About: Grandma Van uses the Instructables website to share little print-and-mail books. Once in a while, she has other fun things to share.

I have been a storyteller-via-Facetime for four years. Two of my grandchildren have always lived far from Grandma. They are creative. They are lovers-of-language. They are my little long-distance buddies.

Storytime via FaceTime is our tradition.

Along the way, I’ve learned some tricks that may help other grandparents become long-distance storytellers.

NOTE: For illustration purposes, I am taking photos of my storytelling collection-of-objects as it exists after four years of storytelling. Start small. Keep an eye out for cheap items (Think Thrift stores!) Re-purpose things that you already have.

Step 1: Collect Some Characters.

Collect characters of a SIMILAR size. Our characters include a few Calico Critters, some LEGO characters, a set of painted resin owls, a few Playmobil characters, wooden characters from Janod story boxes, and miscellaneous characters from all over. Our two robots are made from craft pegs and pipe cleaners.

The scale does not have to be PERFECT, but if one character is more than double the size of another, things get hard to photograph.

Step 2: Collect Some Props.

Start with a few props and keep your eyes open for more!

I like to use LEGO pieces, ordered by the piece from

Miniatures from doll houses are also great.

Common household items, such as the lid from a tube of toothpaste, can be trash cans, drinking glasses, or hats.

A small item, such as a digital photo keychain, can become big-screen TV!

An Altoid lid makes a great baking pan.

When a story requires it, I sometimes make a prop. It’s also fine to use generic items such as blocks or pompoms and IMAGINE!

Step 3: Use a Ready-made Setting... OR....

You may find some toys that work well as settings. This playground set was purchased a few years ago, and it is being repurposed now as a storytelling set.

The market is from Target's "Woodzeez." (I removed one wall for photographing purposes....)

Step 4: Make Your Own Sets.

Using cardboard, an exact knife, some wood blocks, and some paint, you can make your own sets.

(I will be adding some Instructables on this topic soon.)

See "A Home for Pinka" ( for one example.

Step 5: Add Some Furniture and Vehicles.

Collect vehicles from various sources.

Dollhouse furniture is always great.

Furniture can been made by gluing together wooden items from the craft store.

Step 6: Plan for Attachments!

Find a way to fasten a prop to a character.

I use “Bendaroos” (which we erroneously call “sticky wicky”). These are waxed fiber sticks that can easily be cut.

You can also use a bit of putty or wax or craft clay.

Step 7: Store Your Items in Shallow Containers.

Find shallow containers to store the items. (I found this fabulous case at a thrift store. I can hold it up in front of the iPad and my grandchildren can easily choose props as the story evolves.)

As the collection grows, sort the objects into containers by type.

After four years of storytelling, our boxes are: Characters. Food. LEGO Props. Vehicles. Furniture. Trees and bushes and rocks. Blocks, pipecleaners, pom-poms and miscellaneous multi-purpose objects.

Step 8: Give Your Characters Names!

Pinka the Owl is the star of most of our stories.

Our Playmobile bunnies are named "Chocolate" and "Vanilla."

Other characters are given generic names on the spot: Little Orange Alligator, Green Dragon, Big Dog.

Step 9: ​Give a Few Characters Specific JOBS or TRAITS

For our current stories, Wilma Owl is the director of the movies. Mavis Owl and Grandma Owl have magic powers when they are in the Magic Forest. Pinka Owl and Rowan Owl are adventurous and sometimes a little naughty. The-Man-Who-Talks-Too-Much ... talks too much.

Step 10: Repetition Works Well in Stories!

Set up some key phrases.

“Lights! Camera! Action” is a phrase repeated in each story.

“A little sticky wicky DOES come in handy” is also a fun phrase as we attach props to characters.

I also have some standard phrases to say when I accidentally drop or knock over characters or props. “We will just ignore the fact that Pinka keeps falling off the swing…” or “Silly Grandma keeps knocking over the trees…”

Step 11: Use a "Pattern" for Storytelling.

Have a “framework” available for “patterned” stories.

Right now, we tell stories in sets of three: my granddaughter directs a story, then my grandson, then grandma.

Each story is a mini-movie directed by Wilma.

We start with the setting. (Pick the Magic Forest, the Bakery, the Market, or the Playground.)

Next pick the characters. (My granddaughter just turned five. She chooses five characters.)

Choose props. (one or two per character.)

Set everything up. Use the catchphrase. (Wilma says “Lights. Camera. Action.”)

Move the characters and props as directed by the child.

Step 12: Set Up the IPad, Tablet, or Phone.

Make the iPad, phone, or camera “hands-free,” so that you can move characters around easily.

I have used several different stands for my iPad. Eventually, I hope to design the perfect stand for storytelling. (Keep an eye out for THAT Instructable!)

Step 13: Go With the Flow!

Don’t worry if a story is perfect.

Let the child/children be your guide/s when storytelling.

Sometimes my grandchildren like to tell me how to move the figures. Other times, they just want me to do all of the storytelling. Some days, the stories come easily and everybody's happy. Other days, we just giggle and say "Well...THAT wasn't our best story."

One of the funniest stories came about when I could not find the piece of cardboard that I usually prop in front of my sewing machine. That day, the story began, "One fine day, Sewing Machine wanted to be in a story...."

Step 14: Record a Few of the Stories.

Most of our stories have short lives. We tell a story. We laugh. The characters get put away. We move on.

But once a week, I make a story (or two) into a little book.

Some of those stories are available here on my Instructables page.

If you have a Macintosh computer, I recently published a little template for a "minizine" storybook:

Using this template, you can quickly turn eight photos into a fun little storybook.

I hope you will give storytelling a try!

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    10 months ago

    Very cute! Nice job!


    Reply 10 months ago

    Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I am hoping that my Instructables do eventually find an audience and help someone! 8->

    Treasure Tabby
    Treasure Tabby

    1 year ago

    Very nice tutorial! Its very much in the tradition of "child's play" . Very much like that! Like I said great stuff! :D


    Reply 10 months ago

    Well, I am only about two months late in saying "THANK YOU" for taking the time to comment. I really DO appreciate it!