Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.

Paper and Crayons: 7 ways to go from drawing to interactive storytelling

My boy has always enjoyed drawing, give him some crayons, paper, scissors, and a stapler, and he’ll happily work independently to produce his latest adventure book. However, this month I’ve noticed a subtle change in his use of these tools. Rather than making books to express his imagination, he’s started to play games. Like his book designs, he starts by drawing something that he’s recently been exposed to or learn about in school. (This morning it was about Hermit Crabs, though I don’t really know what these are or where they came from). After he’s drawn and colored his characters, he cuts them out and uses them as props or puppets in his play. He then takes another piece of paper (or multiple pieces of paper) and draws the setting for his game. Today it was London, but other times it’s a different continent world depending on whether it’s set on earth or in space. Once all the pieces are assembled together, he embarks on a massive interactive story experience, and it’s really wondrous to watch.

This morning the Hermit Crabs, and their separate shells, went to visit my mom in London, he felt the need to call her via FaceTime so that she could join in the game – which she happily did, and with her help he added, modified, and erased (or scribbled over) items from his paper to keep up with the evolving story. I’ve also noticed that the drawings appear more simple and less time is spent then when he typically draws – perhaps this is because of the speed in which the characters change.

Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.
Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.

Interestingly enough he rejected my offer to help improve the design of his paper puppets by trying to attach a stick – obviously he’s content and I should know better and not interfere with his setup.

Anyway, this has got me thinking about ways one might cultivate this type of interactive experience with paper crayons, so I’ve reflected on his journey and shared my theory on how this activity evolved from simply drawing. Below are seven things that I think have played a part in his ability to generate and interact with the stories that he create – feel free to let me know if I’m missing anymore!

  1. Read, Read, Read! There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence about how important it is to read to your children. We started reading to Lucas when he was three months, and buy nine months it was certainly a well established routine. He now absolutely loves books, but more importantly the stories that are locked up inside. I’m working on his younger brother now, but confess I’ve started a little late – yep second child syndrome here we come!
  2. Expose your children to different topics. See it as a library of ideas that they can draw upon in their games and drawings. Try and show picture of videos via the Internet. If he or she is talking about snakes – show videos and pictures of snakes.
  3. Find a supply of cheep paper and crayons and don’t get too setemental – you cannot keep EVERY thing they produce when it’s in mass quantity like Lucas – who needs a plain piece of paper for every new game. Scrap paper does not suffice.
  4. Made a conscious effort to integrate paper and crayons into his play when out in public – I’m saying this because I am a conscious effort to avoid becoming over reliant on the iPad*.
  5. Early on we asked questions about his drawings, and praised the detail of his imagination as opposed to focusing on his drawing skills. Though we also played some drawing tutorials on YouTube, which he seemed to like.
  6. I’ve discussed with him the idea that most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. I accompany this with an effort to avoid bringing the game or story to an abrupt end because it’s bath time. Instead I suggest that you try and give advanced warning when they need to rap it up and if this isn’t working sit down with them and help facilitate it’s conclusion.
  7. Finally, be sure to sit down and challenge them to share the creation. This is important because part of storytelling, it ‘telling’ the story. They need an audience, which is why I think he wanted to call my mom this morning, as both myself, and the wife were busy getting ready for work.


One of Lucas’s first paintings. Notice how the colors represent different engines from Thomas the Tank Engine.

I think there’s a lot more to this story and I’m really loving the concept of an interactive story generated with paper and crayons, but unfortunately my train has arrived at the station and so I must depart.

*We’re going through so much paper so recently I’ve actually tried to encourage him to draw on the iPad, but he’s not having it!

FREE FILM for parents and educators

We believe the first stage in counteracting the imbalance of creativity verses content, starts at home. Help us share the word on Facebook and Twitter.

Anyone who shares or contributes content* will receive a FREE download to Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.

Unfortunately, we’re not super sophisticated (or perhaps lack creativity) so in order for us to know that you’ve shared content we need you to tweet to @dads4creativity or share from our Facebook page. We’ll follow up with details via a private message.

*Contributing content includes comments on existing articles.

Read More


Storytelling? Or just really simple homemade videos on YouTube?

Ok, as a digital media practitioner, I hate, love, and most importantly envy all the extremely simple, basic, homemade videos of talking toys, trains, and Legos that are shared on YouTube. I find myself sitting there thinking, who is watching all of this stuff, and how has such a simple video got thousands of views when the trailer for my documentary barely has over a hundred. The answer is right in front of me – ‘DADDY!!! Can I watch Disney Collector Girl’, says Lucas. Who is Disney Collector Girl I say, ‘She’s on YouTube silly’. My boy absolutely loves these YouTube videos, he watches them during lunchtime and often chooses them over his favorite shows on Disney Junior (ok don’t judge with the fact I let Lucas watch the iPad at lunch time, He’s three and can be an absolute pain when it comes to eating so we need a distraction).

It’s certainly difficult to specify on what he finds so engaging about the content, which may I add he finds himself by ‘browsing’ the suggestions on the right of the screen. Most of the videos he watches appear primitive and unstructured in their production and storyline to me, but to Lucas they make perfect sense and grasps his attention just like the latest Hollywood Blockbuster. This is probably because the director, filmmaker, and storyteller, is usually a child close to Lucas’s age. Why shouldn’t Elsa from Frozen jump into a spaceship to go and visit Lightening McQueen, who’s busy chilling on a wooden railway with Thomas the Tank Engine? Then comes in a monster in the form of a coke bottle and destroys everything in seconds and the film comes to a close. There are some videos that have been produced with the support of parents, and these include soundtracks and credits but the stories remain as sporadic. Lucas’s early favorites come from a category devoted entirely to wooden trains crashing and falling off tracks to the song ‘Accidents Will Happen’. This was when he was really into Thomas the Tank Engine and would get his trains and replicate what he was seeing on the screen.

As I reflect on this activity I realize that Lucas was actually acting out the story that was unfolding in the video, and this is what makes the videos so powerful – it’s kids telling stories, to other kids, who in turn are inspired to create their own modified versions. Obviously children have always created their own stories in play, I still remember some of the stories I created when I played with my Star Wars figures and Legos. However, in the digital age we now have the ability to capture and share these stories with the world. So last week I recruited Lucas to produce our first movie, it was certainly an experiment and didn’t last longer than thirty minutes, but participating in the activity I realized how much of a creative act it really was – We were making and telling a story.

Now I confess that in the first few minutes I made a genuine attempt to structure it as a wannabe filmmaker, but as you can see my boy was having none of it and quickly stamped down his authority as the director of our film.

Read More