Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Story Sacks: an approach to sharing and enjoying books

Sarah Dray, Placement Officer

The ‘Snuggle up with a story’ blog by Katie Crouch highlighted the power of books. Children have a natural love of stories with their inquisitive minds and endless questions. Where ever I worked in a nursery, the book corner was always my favourite spot– cosying up with the children to read a story, making the characters come to life and using the time to engage and ignite children’s imagination, confidence and language; story sharing was always quality time. It was wonderful to observe the quiet, shy children slowly build confidence and become involved with the story that we shared. At nursery or home, any time of day can be filled with a story, the book shelf should be stacked to the brim with books about wild beasts, dancing giraffes, lions that loved, ketchup that went on my cornflakes, dinosaurs and machinery – everything and anything that captures children’s imagination. It is important to remember (and there is plenty of research (Van Bergen et al. 2017) to remind us) that children need to be surrounded with books to be able to appreciate literature – just like us!

Sharing stories with very young children is not just an opportunity to spend special quality time together, it can actually make a difference to their future. The Rose Report (2006) highlighted the importance of children’s positive attitudes to literacy from the earliest stage and engaging children’s interest in pre reading. The report went on to state how regularly sharing and enjoying favourite books with trusted adults, parents and carers, practitioners or teachers is at the heart of this.  This is reinforced by Flouri and Buchanan (2004), cited in Clark and Rumbold (2006), that parental involvement in a child’s literacy has been reported as more powerful than any other background variables such as social class, family size or parents’ education. This was explored recently by the Hutton et al. (2017) longitudinal study on children’s brain activity during story time with their mothers from low socio-economic backgrounds. Findings from the same report suggested that encouraging children to participate actively during shared reading may help them to develop neural infrastructure to process verbally what they hear or read which may enhance comprehension because of a greater interaction between adult and child.

The Department for Education report (2012) suggests that reading for pleasure leads to increased attainment, highlighting that children who read more are also better readers. If children enjoy reading they will have a higher attainment, if they have a higher attainment then they will enjoy reading. Data also shows that being a better reader will influence how frequently a child reads; again, this could link to the child’s enjoyment and intrinsic feelings they may get from reading. When children do not enjoy reading during their early years they are unlikely to enjoy it when they are older and therefore the emphasis of making reading engaging and fun has to be an area to focus on. One approach that I always found successful for many children in my nursery settings or at home was the surprise of a story sack.

A number of years ago I attended a workshop with author, Neil Griffiths. Neil’s energy and enthusiasm when talking about how practitioners and parents can support children’s love of books by using story sacks, really captured my attention and imagination. A story sack is a simple resource that can engage and stimulate children’s interest in sharing books with an adult. My garage never looked the same after that workshop! I needed no excuse to be creative…. out came my sewing machine and some fabric and my first story sack was made, influenced by the children’s favourite story ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle. The sack was made a bit like a pillowcase using green material to match the illustration of the caterpillar. With the children’s story book already on my bookshelf I purchased a non -fiction book of the life cycle of the caterpillar. A non-fiction book on the characters or subject allows the children to make connections. We all know that Winnie the Pooh is a small yellow bear that loves to eat honey but a young child may not know what an actual bear looks like (I’m not sure about anyone else but I have never seen a yellow bear!). Supporting the story with a factual book helps the child to make sense of the world.

Next came props or puppets, and in this case I made simple finger puppets so the children have opportunity to join in with the story, making the experience very tactile, visual and interactive. Research by Harris and Smith (2017) reiterates how using puppets to retell stories supports the child to build narratives and to help re-enact the story line citing Dunn and Dunn (1978) on how puppetry nurtures children into becoming confident and motivated young readers.  In his workshop, Neil Griffiths also recommended including relevant language games and artefacts. To support the children’s learning further and throughout the years, I have included number games or puzzles in my story telling. These are always great to bring out during the latter weeks of sharing the story – extending the children’s learning through their interests. These can also very often be made, not necessarily brought; a time to get creative again!

Story sacks can be a great resource and I always look forward to the summer term when I can bring them out of storage and share with the Norland students to inspire and remind them of the importance of their role to ignite children’s lifelong love of books. The students get the opportunity to make a story sack in their sewing lessons during the summer term of their first year which gives them plenty of time to collect the resources and share the stories with children in their future placements or during the holidays.  It is always wonderful to hear how they were able to engage children’s interests whether on a rainy day or on a long flight or just on a sunny afternoon in the garden.


Clark, C., and Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure a research overview. The National Literacy Trust. [Online]. Available at (Accessed 25th February 2018).

Department for Education. (2012). Research evidence on reading for pleasure Education standards research team. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 25th February 2018).

Harris, P. and Smith, L. (2017) Using puppets as story props for read-alouds: addressing reading/learning styles. Reading Improvement, Spring 2017, Vol. 54 Issue 1, p6-8. 3p.

Hutton, J.S., Phelan, K., Horowitz-Kraus, T., Dudley, J., Altaye, M., Dewitt, T., Holland, S, K. (2017) Shared Reading Quality and Brain Activation during Story Listening in Preschool Age Children. The Journal of Pediatrics, December 2017, Vol.191, pp.204-211.e1.

Rose, J. (2006) Independent Review of the teaching of reading, Final Report. Department of Education. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 19th February 2018).

Van Bergen, E., Van Zuijen, T,. Bishop,D., Jong, P,. (2016) Why are Home Literacy Environment and Children’s Reading Skills Associated? What Parental Skills Reveal. Research Quarterly, April 2017, Vol. 52 (2), pp.147- 160.


  1. Thanks for the informative article.This is one of the best resources I have found in quite some time.Nicely written and great info.I really cannot thank you enough for sharing.

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  2. This is beautifully written. Such a lovely idea. Thank you. Anne