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What’s the story?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Fashioning Winter: From Fairy Tales to Fashion at Somerset House, for the start of their winter season events.

The evening was hosted by Shonagh Marshall, curator at Somerset House and Camilla Morton, a London-based fashion writer. In brief, the panel discussed storytelling within fashion (even quoting some of my childhood favourites, such as the Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Elves and the Shoemaker) and how these stories influenced the work of fashion designers Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.

elves and the shoemaker

 A poignant comment from Camilla was ‘Every object has a story’. I listened attentively as Camilla spoke about narratives in stories and how these can bring a fashion show to life.

This made me reflect on using objects to share with children, to deepen their understanding of oral stories and the history of objects, be they natural or man-made. Ooh, there’s so much to link to the seven areas of learning and the three characteristics of effective teaching and learning: adding new and unusual words to children’s vocabulary, worldly stories for children to listen to, emotional links.

Take this conch shell, which I brought back from my parents’ birthplace of St. Lucia on one of my visits. You can feel it, you can hear it and you can play a tune on it! A totally sensory interaction.


This particular visit was for my grandmother’s 100th birthday. It provides many stories to share with children: Where is St. Lucia? What exactly is a conch shell? Discussions of sea life, families and life-cycles.

In addition, we can use inquiry-based questions, such as:

  •  What does the shell remind you of?
  • What happens if you blow into the shell?
  • What does the shell look like?
  • What does the shell feel like?
  • What do you feel when you hear and listen to the shell?

And of course, lovely Ofsted would be very impressed to observe an Educator using inquiry-based questioning with children!

This is why I always suggest that Educators should think outside the box and be creative, leaving boring topics and themes locked away! I’ve discussed my love of provocations and invitations before.

So, what objects do you have that you can share with children? How can you elaborate on stories and use questions to support their critical thinking and help children to solve problems?

Please see my ‘Conversation Cards’: Confident Talkers

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  • Penny Webb

    Hear, Hear

    And some of the best critical thinking comes when children explore an object – any object and ask the questions.

    What is familiar to us, might be new to children, and we must not forget that things that are familiar to the older children are not to the younger children, or the children who are new to our setting.

    I thinking things like spider webs, and snail trails, pine cones, and autumn leaves – as well as the objects that we introduce,

    Linking back to your post about fashion and traditional stories such as The Elves and the Shoe Maker, I remember when I asked my friend to make some aprons for the children, and she came to measure the children – her old fashion cloth tape measure was fascinating to the children and spark an interest in not only measuring and numbers, but in dressing the dolls and making sure the clothes fitted – and matched/ went together. which led to similarities and differences in the clothes they wore and the sizes, which led to exploring a collection of different sizes socks, and then matching the socks, seeing how many pairs of socks could wear at once – all with lots of questioning, thinking, reasoning – and all that encompasses critical thinking.

    And having written this – I have remembered that the collection of socks has not been available within the accessible environment for a few months – so off to find them, and put out for tomorrow. I wonder if any interest will be shown – and where the sock collection might take the group of children in my care at the moment.

    Thank you Laura

  • Nadege havard LTO

    Thank you Laura for sharing this very interesting article. It reminds me the Montessori philosophy.
    I believe that we learn through our senses.
    I tried provocation activities this last two weeks ( I like the term, invitation too), the children were interested, they touched, explored, counted and they were interacting each other. I’m going to explore more this area.
    Please, I would be very interested to have a copy of your resources.

    Best wishes

  • Amanda Ralph

    Provovation/invitation/interest table – so many good ways to do this, but practitioners need to be ‘on board’ with open ended questions, and ready to follow the child/children as they question and explore. I think it is a great way to spark children’s learning – fits in beautifully with Emergent Curriculum theory. Just wish the PYP (primary years programme) the International School Early Ed Centre I help out at was better at taking advantage of such moments (I really am trying hard to get the message across :-)). Thank you for another thought provoking post!

  • Emma

    What a lovely reminder of how an object can spark enthusiasm and that sense of awe and wonder, thank-you, please could you email me your resources?

  • Jayne Roy

    A great article and it’s so something we as Early Years practitioners must always
    Remember to reflect on the child’s findings and objects.

  • Rebecca Fisk

    I often use unusual objects and pictures to encourage children to talk about what they think and wonder about them. Always fascinating!

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