Exploring the Many Ways of Storytelling and Visual Documentation

Exploring the Many Ways of Storytelling and Visual Documentation

‘Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.’ L. Malaguzzi 


By Lena Johnson, Briya Director of Early Childhood


In the 2022-23 school year, the Early Childhood team embarked on a journey to explore what storytelling with our students and families looks like in our classrooms and how visual documentation enables us to capture children’s stories and share them within the classroom and school community.

Why Storytelling? 

Storytelling is at the heart of what Briya’s infant, toddler, and pre-K classes do every day. This includes empowering students to express their interests, ideas, and questions in the context of the close relationship we have with each student and their family and through the intentionality with which we plan, prepare the environment, and co-learn with students.

Young children are remarkable storytellers. As early as the first year of life, even with limited communication skills, they begin to share their stories with people who are willing to listen and observe. Briya teachers recognize pre-narrative stories (told through nonverbal behaviors, use of eye gaze, facial expressions, and gestures), listen, observe, value, encourage, talk to, interact, model, and expand students’ first stories throughout the day.

Many “ways of telling” a story 

Teacher and student playing restaurant together.Long before a baby can refer to their past, or even converse with another about the past, parents and teachers talk to their children about what has happened. The baby not only observes their teacher’s face as she tells stories of experiences, but they also nod and respond with emotion. Dramatic play provides many opportunities for students to engage in symbolic play and tell stories about the past, in which children and adults collaboratively build the story. Students can join in the teacher’s description, adding information, details, and perspectives – together they construct a story. When children are encouraged to be the protagonists of their lives through storytelling, research shows positive long-term effects, including

 stronger early literacy skills, increased cultural knowledge, an extended sense of self, and a stronger connection with the teacher.

Learning with and from each other 

In our professional development and monthly learning groups, early childhood staff deepened our learning on storytelling while incorporating the experience of storytelling ourselves. In one session, teachers took on the roles of teacher and students: students told the teacher their story while the teacher wrote it down, checking for accuracy and completion, to then act out the story with all participants, each one of them taking on a character or object from the story.  

In another session we participated in a storytelling experience that invited them to work in groups: each group contained one or two “teachers” and four to five “students” who explored the prepared materials in many ways. With the list of objects and characters from the teacher, the group created an imaginary story together – challenging and fun at the same time.   

In our learning group, it was truly inspiring to hear the stories from our classrooms – each story shined a light on the close connection between teacher and students and teachersthoughtful reflection and intentional planning. We also explored the importance of knowing students well and paying close attention in order to be able to tell and co-tell a story with a non-verbal child. It requires our constant reflection to make sure we are tuned in with the many ways our students hear or observe the story they are telling us. 

We are passionate about tuning in to, reflecting on, and sharing the stories students show and tell us. Having an incredible team of experienced and reflective infant, toddler, and pre-k teachers allows us to learn with and from each other