Story Tables: Supporting Literacy and Professional Learning in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. One of the most significant professional learning experiences that we have engaged in during the last few years was our trip to Adelaide, South Australia. While there to present workshops focused on the possibilities of buttons as loose parts and the beauty of agates as materials to represent in multiple languages we came away with significant professional learning. From our deep conversations with the amazing educators that we had the good fortune of meeting, to the multiple schools that we had the privilege of visiting and the many conversations we had with each other, there were sparks! Fortunately, the sparks that were ignited remained bright as we often look back and continue to digest all that we saw, heard and felt. We felt a deep connection to our new found friends in Adelaide and wanted to learn more about so many things. At the top of the list was story tables.

Old Lady who swallowed a Mozzie

Very much like what we have come to know as invitations, these literacy rich, book-related displays gave us so much pause for further thinking. Fortunately, the friendships that we have made with our Australian colleagues have stood the test of time and distance. Still basking in the glow of two of friends visiting to attend the Rhythm of Learning in Nature 2017  retreat  we barely ran out of the delicious Haigh’s chocolate gifted to us when two more friends told us they would be visiting! To host Lisa Burman and Marilyn Hayward and to be a participant in their workshops was indeed a treat and we are not just talking about the new supply of chocolates! Now was a chance for us to learn more about story tables.

Rock Storytable

We learned that these wonderful literacy invitations were the brainchild of a colleague of Marilyn’s and that they have become a staple at many early learning programs in Adelaide. Marilyn continues the tradition of story tables at the Nest, the early learning centre at Alberton Primary School. We learned from Marilyn and Lisa about the important literacy connections and the intentionality of these story tables that can represent information or story books. We watched videos that demonstrated the literacy learning that these story tables inspire in children. In the workshop we chose a book and considered how it could generate a story table. Here is a slide from the workshop. Notice the recommendation to photograph the table so that children can help each other to “reset the learning environment”! What an amazingly authentic and positive way to reframe tidy up time.

Practical Suggestions

Lisa and Marilyn invited the workshop participants to bring a favourite children’s storybook or choose one from the display table. The invitation was to create a list of materials that could be offered to children to enable them to fully engage in retelling the story using the handout depicted below.

Book display

We chose Nanna’s Button Tin (2017) by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Heather Potter for many reasons. It is no surprise to colleagues who know us and those that follow us on social media, that we have an affinity for buttons! We have offered these materials to educators during numerous workshops to fully explore the affordances of these loose parts. The two of us have developed connections, deep relationships with these wondrous materials. Each of us were recently gifted buttons from friends and family and we have enjoyed sifting through so many treasures.

Another reason that we chose this book was because we received a copy from our colleagues Dannielle Gibson and Sally Cook, friends from South Australia who attended the memorable Rhythm2017. We are excited to have this Australian publication prior to it being available in Canada.Nanna's Button Tin

It is available for preorder but we have the book because of the friends we have made from Australia. To honour them and the story we decided to take our initial plan and create our very own story table.

Story Table Nanna's Button Tin

Marilyn and Lisa kindly shared the form that we used to plan our story table and we hope that you also find it useful and be inspired to create a story table of your own.

Storytable planning form

We still want to learn more and we are both very excited to take the Playful Literacy e-course that Lisa offers because it features story tables and so much more. Here is a link to the course. Over dinner with Marilyn and Lisa we had deep conversations about the materials or loose parts that inspire us. We share a passion for buttons as well as agates and tree cookies. We are here to say that 2018 will be the year of vintage treasures as loose parts. In this season of giving and right into the new year consider giving children the gift of these treasures as loose parts. This is the way to honour the traditions of our grandmothers – the nannas, nonnas, bubbies, etc … and to value and play with these materials for their heritage and beauty. From a sustainability perspective, rather than going to the dollar store to buy loose parts, finding these beautiful materials in your attic, basement, grandmother’s closet or at a second-hand store is giving a second life to an existing treasure. Vintage loose parts and story tables are in our future. Are they in yours?

8 thoughts on “Story Tables: Supporting Literacy and Professional Learning in Early Childhood Education

  1. Very timely post! While rehearsing for our Christmas concert, our kids have had many questions and thoughts about the songs (Mary had a Baby and Little Donkey). We found a Playmobile crèche. The children assembled it and I set out several versions of the Christmas story. It’s been a popular corner. I have seen many story tables online. Now your post is inspiring me to do more. Certainly the holidays have many familiar traditional stories that will lend to this type of activity. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  2. I wonder if a revival of the premise from the book Beautiful Stuff, could be another pathway into vintage loose parts. Great idea! Lisa Burman is just wonderful!

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  3. Love the combo of literacy, loose parts, design, and story telling that these examples offer. Great reminder of the hundred languages of expression and taking literacy beyond it’s more traditional understanding. Greetings to friends in Australia and Canada.

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  4. Hi! I was tickled when I read this post because I incorporate buttons into my preschool. I love how open-ended they are. There are so many wonderful uses for buttons and children prove all the time that just when you think nothing more can be discovered from their use, a child will have a new idea and the process of investigation, questioning, planning and constructing knowledge begins again. Thank you for this blog post.

    Heidi, BA & MIT

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