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

by Matthew Worwood

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!

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Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is an educator, Creative Studies scholar-practitioner, and co-host of the Fueling Creativity in Education podcast. He is a professor of Digital Media Design at the University of Connecticut and a husband and proud father to three young boys.

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