I’ve spent the last ten months making weekly storytelling videos for YouTube (you can find them all here) and so I’m thinking I’ll do a few blog posts about things I’ve learned.
A few caveats –
First of all, the videos I’ve made have been pre-recorded. I’ve done a bit of live storytelling over Zoom with children present, but not a huge amount. Making something pre-recorded is different from doing it live.
Secondly, I’m fairly comfortable with the writing/language part of it – sometimes I use a script (we have the Beulah Land and Godly Play scripts and I can send these to you if you’re in the Diocese), and sometimes I’ll use the text from a children’s Bible, but in general I’m happy reading a Bible passage, making a few notes, and then improvising turning the text into a story that’s accessible to children, trusting that I can make the language and the story arc work. If that’s something you struggle with, and you have big questions on “how do I even connect with children,” that’s a bigger post that I haven’t quite got planned yet.
But the first thing – and the subject of this post – is, what do you need?
There are lots of Bible storytelling videos out there that use Lego, so if you have a lot of Lego, that’s a good starting point. But I found myself stuck at home last March, suddenly having to use only what I had to hand. Here are the things I’ve used over and over, which form a good basis for most stories. I store them all in a basket under my desk, so I can just get them all out at once and put them all back easily when I’m done.
- A fairly neutral olive wood Nativity set. I use one of the Kings for Jesus, the Mary figure is many female characters, the other Kings, shepherds, and Joseph take on other roles, and also “the crowd” as needed. If you have a second, smaller set (I happen to have one), it’s very useful for providing “children.” The sheep, cow, and donkey provide generic animals for stories and backgrounds. A more realistic Nativity would be recognisably, and specifically, those characters. A neutral wood or stone one provides more flexibility.
- Plain fabric for creating backgrounds and landscapes. White, blue, green, and brown. I use a blue shawl which is dip-dyed and therefore has shifting blue on it, which makes lovely water. The white can be ripped up to make tablecloths and, for the Lazarus/Easter story, gravebands. You can spread them across tables to create the ground or hang them from walls/over radiators to create sky. My living room was already painted blue, which was lucky, so I can use my wall as the sky.
- Wooden blocks. For building houses, walls, and tables.
- Play-doh or Plasticine. For making small versions of things like food.
- A small plant in a pot. Again, for landscapes – lots of stories have trees in them. Wrap fabric around the pot to blend it into the landscape.
- A collection of rocks and shells. It’s astonishing, when you start looking at it, how many stories have references to stones in them. They also create landscape detail, and you can use them to mark out roads and paths for your characters to travel – the Nativity story, the Prodigal Son, etc.
- A bird. I use a dove Christmas tree ornament. Useful for stories where the Spirit appears, but also as a symbol to add to a layout when Jesus is talking about peace.
- Generic-looking coins. Useful for a lot of parables.
- A candle. Again, useful for stories where the Spirit shows up as fire, but also to light and extinguish to mark the beginning and end of a story or session.
- A sense of humour. My cats have wandered into the shot sometimes and I’ve kept going, or they’ve started yowling and I say “I think he has something to say about the story!” I’ve knocked figures over, set fabric on fire, and made my phone shut down due to overheating by holding it over a candle while filming.
- A moveable light. Helpful for obvious reasons.
- A phone stand. I’ve been holding the phone with one hand and moving figures with the other for ten months, and it’s ridiculous. I’m going to buy one of these, which I should have done ages ago.
With this fairly basic set of props, you’ve got the building blocks of most stories. Yes, you’ll occasionally find yourself having to track down “something to symbolise ‘I was a prisoner and you set me free'” (I used keys), but this is the “capsule wardrobe” of your storytelling kit.