Play with a Purpose!

By Karen Chace, Sharing the Fire 2016 Workshop Presenter

Headshot Karen Chace“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

From the moment my students stepped into the room for the after school storytelling program, ‘after school’ being the operative words, I was already at a disadvantage. By then they had been sitting at their desks for almost five hours, with only 20 minutes for recess, barely any time at all to add movement and play to their day. How could I keep them motivated through 13 weeks of class, especially for those students who return year after year? I quickly learned that play and movement were two key ingredients.

While I began to create different worksheets to help them sequence and visualize their folktales, I knew it was equally important to get them on their feet, let their bodies feel the stories. Sometimes it was a combination of both. One of my newest creations, Exaggeration Station, was a perfect marriage of the two. The objective is to encourage them to play with the elements of their story.

I prepared a worksheet for the students to complete before the game, which mirrored the nine poster boards placed around the room; this gave them a chance to think through their choices. Since we were in the school library I used the book stands for the poster boards, placing them on the shelves at eye level. They were organized in a pattern that wove them up and down the aisles so the children could easily move through the game. We immediately followed up with Walk the Talk, another movement activity, and they quickly incorporated what they discovered while playing Exaggeration Station.

More than once I’ve reconfigured a childhood game into a new classroom activity. Sometimes inspiration struck in an instant in the most unexpected places. One day I was working with my third grade storytelling troupe. We were using the school hallway for a version of The Virginia Reel. Rather than standing still and facing each other, they were paired up, walking side by side, one teller sharing their tale with their partner. As they were executing the activity I suddenly noticed two girls reach out to hold hands. Immediately, the memory of an old schoolyard game popped into my head and a brand new activity, Red Rover, Red Rover Send Story Right Over, was born.

Another day we began by completing the written exercise, Language Ladders. Immediately after finishing their worksheets I cued up the music and we began to “Dialogue and Dance!” Merging the tactile exercise of writing, then quickly moving to an interactive game utilizing their new story dialogue, reinforced and stimulated their work.

Introducing play into our day also brought some unexpected magic into the classroom, reaching beyond the enchantment found in fairy tales. The friendly competition, laughter, encouragement, and sometimes silliness, built comradery, forged friendships, and made our storytelling team strong. After fourteen years of teaching, I still continue to think about new ways to bring movement into my classroom so we can play with a purpose!

Want to add some more play to your day and learn all about these fun activities and more? Register for Karen Chace’s workshop, Story Play, at Sharing the Fire on Saturday, April 2 at 3:30. Learn creative written and interactive exercises based on her award winning book, Story by Story: Creating a Student Storytelling Troupe.

Learn more about Karen and her work at .

What games do you play with your storytelling students? Leave a comment.


Play with a Purpose! — 7 Comments

  1. Thanks so much, Karen! You have great skill in finding ways to open doors for students – to make connections to story, to understand a story’s relationship to them (the students) and to the audience, and to bring out the best student performances by instilling self-confidence,commitment and teamwork. And … all this while making the process fun! I think anyone could learn from this workshop, even those who do not work with children. I know I could benefit from playing more in my story-making and telling!

  2. He played beautifully being forced then when wickets were
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  3. Long before I became a member of NSN (even before NAPPS) I learned of the importance of story to healing. Our son, injured at birth, had plastic surgery on his leg to repair what an errant IV solution had destroyed when he was only hours old. At age 3 he was playing with a little buddy and the Lone Ranger was having a dickens of a time staying on Silver. Every time the Lone Ranger fell off Silver, my son would say, “He needs surgery.” Finally, his friend said, “What does ‘surgery’ mean?”) Our son responded: “It means you get better.”

    His wisdom propelled me toward greater healing.

    • Hi Cathy,

      Such a wonderful, personal story. Your son was wise beyond his years. However, I think you meant to post this on another blog as mine does not deal with healing. I thank you for your time and comments on behalf of my colleague. 🙂


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