Some great children’s stories are very simple with a basic story line. These are often popular with toddlers, who tend to enjoy books at face value. There are lots of children’s stories, however, which hint at a deeper level of narrative; a story behind the surface; a greater theme to be explored.

Take Elmer by David McKee, for example. The theme of being different, standing out and initially wanting to be like everyone else but later learning to embrace your uniqueness, is clearly present.

Elmer, a mirror, and It’s Okay to Be Different help to unpack the theme of uniqueness.

Story bags can be a great way of gently encouraging toddlers to look beyond the surface story and begin to talk about feelings or wider experiences, perhaps for the first time. We’ve looked at Handa’s Surprise as a window into the geography and culture of rural Kenya:

The paper weaving activity adds an element of developing fine motor skills.

While The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be used to learn about life cycles, growth, science, nature…

Granny helped out by knitting the caterpillar and butterfly toys!

Children are never too young to start exploring concepts through play and story. In fact, they are often a lot better at it than adults, who tend to think in a more rigid way. The language we use when we unpack a story bag with a toddler will broaden their vocabulary, too, improving their speaking and listening skills.

Putting together a bag like this does take time and effort, and access to the internet to search for ideas does help. It seemed a shame to do all this work for only one or two children to benefit from. So, with a group of friends, we decided to each make a story bag at home and then swap them between ourselves; so our children eventually got to play with 5 or 6 story bags, each made by their friends’ parents!

Why not ask if your local library or Children’s Centre loans out story bags for families to borrow? Or start planning your own as a gift for a toddler’s upcoming birthday? Which story would you choose to ‘unpack’?