Why Play Storytelling Games?

Storytelling can be your parenting secret weapon: When you engage your kids with a story, you get perspective and insight into what is important to them. Maybe they make a story about a dragon that gets excluded or a superhero that gets sick. There’s an opportunity there to listen. Sometimes there’s a cloaked metaphor, and sometimes there’s just a playful processing. Through storytelling games we can give space to our kids to express themselves and share what’s going on. Also, let’s face it, it is a fun way to pass the time…

I love storytelling games because they can…

  • Energize the simplest of routines 
  • Support bonding and connection
  • Build social-emotional learning
  • Boost executive function skills
  • Encourage creativity in unexpected way

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel…some days I even need sunglasses! But regardless of how much things may be coming back to “normal”, that languishing feeling can still abound.  To help combat the pandemic-induced brain fog, I turn to storytelling games.

two actor kids playing a storytelling game
Child’s Play NY actors in a storytelling game Photo by JDZ Photography


Playing storytelling games gives kids 

  • Space to develop their voice
  • Tools to make then replicate the games and make their own stories independently
  • Bonding time with you and/or their sibling

Playing storytelling games gives parents

  • An opportunity to listen to what matters to them
  • A way to scaffold learning and practice executive function skills
  • An organic way to present topics that might be challenging to raise outside of play
siblings in a storytelling game
Photo by JDZ Photography

Recipe for A Story

Lose your inhibitions about storytelling – just start and let your kids pick up the rest. 

Here’s a basic recipe for stories: 

Stories have 

  1. Characters
  2. Setting 
  3. Conflict
  4. Resolution

So, to make an original story – name a character or two, decide on a location, create a problem. Just so you know, mine never start with the solution. In other words, you don’t need it all figured out before you start.  The story often will tell itself, and many of these games rely on collaboration, so you never should feel like you have to be the next J.K. Rowling! Let go and trust that some kind of resolve will happen! Starting is everything.

Storytelling Games to Play Anywhere 

parent and child playing a storytelling game as they walk

It can feel overwhelming to think that you have to find more time to play. Guess what? It is there. The possibilities for storytelling exist…when you are in line at the store, or walking to school. How about waiting for the playdate at the playground or at the dinner table? There are opportunities to inject these games into the most enervating moments to add that spark and whimsy that we are craving as we crawl our way through the pandemic. Visit Child’s Play NY on insta for more on games to play anywhere! 

One Word Story

Tell a story one word at a time. Each player can only say one word at a time. Go around and try to tell one cohesive story. It is challenging and inevitably funny! This is a playful way to practice impulse control and also just good silly fun! To learn more about the mindfulness benefits of this game and get more tips on how to play read: One Word Story.

Fortunately, Unfortunately

In this game, players build on a single story adding in peaks and valleys into the narrative. They alternate the way they start their contribution with either the word, “Fortunately” or “Unfortunately”. I like to start neutrally, with “Once upon a time” and then build in the alternating words from there.  You’ll get automatic drama from those transition words. Try playing with three (or more!) kids so that players don’t get stuck with just one word. You can decide ahead of time how many contributions you’ll get so that the story has an endpoint (“We’ll do 5 turns and then you make one up on your own”). This scaffolding is super helpful – I speak from experience – so that the game has a conclusion and you have an out!

storytelling circle

Sound Story 

Tell a simple story – add in sounds (like environment noises or exclamations) and then strip away all the words and just leave the sound. See if you can boil it down to 5 essential sounds, which you make while you tell the story. Then tell the story using only sounds!


Story Clap 

Take turns telling a story, clapping your way from one player to the next. Remember the story recipe (location+characters+conflict). Draw inspiration from books you read. Making a prequel or a sequel to your favorite story is also an awesome place to start. 


Storytelling Games to Get Through Parenting Challenges 

Sometimes you can circumvent challenging parenting moments by creating a joyful distraction of a story. Here’s when I like to use story and character:

When asking your kid to step out of their comfort zone. 

Anytime that you are asking kids to do something hard, storytelling comes in handy. When my son, at age 5, and I were on a challenging hike, he was at the brink of tears, not knowing how much longer was left and feeling like he couldn’t keep going. I decided that was the time to tell him the story of The Wizard of Oz. We finished that hike, no problem. 

Literature abounds with examples of characters that do hard things. For ages 3-5, using characters from books, and literally ‘becoming’ them in the story of what you are doing, can be incredibly helpful. Whether The Little Engine That Could or Bumblebee Girl, you can find a character that your child relates to and imagine as if you were them, doing the task at hand. It is essentially storytelling on the go, a sequel to what they know, and a character that can inspire them in the moment. 

four kids on a playdate reading a story for a storytelling game

Nail Trimming and Teeth-Brushing

I like to tell a story in sections, during these most mundane – but necessary of parentally supervised hygiene tasks. I recommend Chompers, a story podcast expressly for teeth-brushing! When nail-trimming too, I ask my son to pick a location and a character and I start in with the clippers and the story. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. The point is a little bit of distraction and connection in an otherwise annoying task. Each finger could be its own new character coming into the setting. Alternatively, you can ask them to add onto the story with every other finger like the game Story Clap! 

At the Dinner Table 

Tell a quick story about the dinosaur that ate the tree…and then your kid becomes the dino, and the broccoli is eaten…maybe! I love to use games like Magic Stew to inspire bravery at the table. 

Storytelling at Bedtime

But of course! However obvious it seems to tell a story at bedtime – it can certainly be draining on you. Additionally, too much kid-involvement has the opposite effect on relaxation – so my suggestion here is to keep it simple. Setting limits is important. I really rely on the simple iPhone timer. Set it for the length of time you want to tell the story, knowing that you can always pick up with the “next installment” the next night. Once you know the parameters, ask for input: location, characters, what’s the problem. Then, get cooking on the classic story recipe and let inspiration do the rest!

Tools and Props to Help Storytelling

While the motto of my company is “Acting on Imagination” I do like some tangible things when it comes to story-building. 

Puppet Problems

Bring out a stuffie or a puppet that has some sort of issue that needs resolving. In real time kids can talk to (or as) the puppet and generate a story about what its issue is: a lion who lost its roast, a mailman who can’t read…then they can take an active role in problem solving.


Story Cards

Kids pick three cards from the deck. Make it like a magic trick that they can pull from anywhere.  Don’t show your cards to anyone! Ask yourself, do these cards tell a story I’m excited about?  If not, trade one, two or three back! (This little bit of agency can really help kids feel empowered and unstick any reluctance.) 

story cards help with storytelling game
Photo by Aubrey Hardwick

To help anchor the story with a narrative sequence, kids can think simply: 

  • Who is the story about? (protagonist?)
  • What happens to them that’s exciting? (dramatic conflict?)
  • How does it end? (resolution?)


Besides being simply fun, this game helps with story structure, character development and boosts literacy skills. Best of all, parents have a scaffold for the game (take three cards, give any number back, make a story) that can be repeated a few times, and then kids can play it on their own!  


Kids can take their story to the next level by acting it out, recording it as a voice memo or movie, or drawing another card for the next adventure.


Story Prompts 

from Storymatic

This deck of cards – comes in a kid version – and you can mash-up character, location and scenario to help generate any kind of story you like!


Favorite Storytelling App

I love Game Words Generator – it is a go-to app on my phone! Happily, there’s so many characters and scenarios to inspire a story at the drop of a hat. 


Let me know what are your favorite storytelling games! Join us for classes at Child’s Play NY where we make stories together!