Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Simple Story Extensions for Preschoolers

Preschool aged children are learning all the time from their experiences at home, at school and out in the world. As they are trying to make sense of their world, preschool children are sorting new information in several different ways. One way is when they experience something new and they mesh this information into existing knowledge to form a deeper understanding. Another way that young children process new information is that they change their existing knowledge to accommodate the new knowledge thereby creating a new understanding. The more connections that young children make about their world, the deeper and more meaningful their understanding.

So what does this mean in regards to reading stories? When children spend time listening to stories, they are taking in all the new knowledge and they are making connections and changes to what they already know. And this all by itself is wonderful, but what if you, as a caregiver, could provide experiences to make this meaning and knowledge even deeper for the children by offering simple story extensions to build on the children’s understanding of the new information?

And what, you might be wondering, is a story extension? A story extension occurs when you’ve shared a story or book together and then afterwards you naturally infuse related activities into your day-to-day routine. These activities might include songs, fingerplays, poems, additional related books, crafts, storytelling, authoring books, reader’s theater, cooking, pretend play – the sky is the limit!

While it might appear overwhelming, creating story extensions is actually an easy task to accomplish. You need a little creativity, a little time, and a few supplies. Here are some tips to get you started and some sample ideas – remember that you can’t go wrong in being creative. Also, these are opportunities to have fun as well as spend quality time with your children!

Tips for Story Extensions
1. If you’ve never planned a story extension before, start simple and pick just one extending activity.

2. Choose favorite books to extend that way you’ll probably have your child’s attention automatically if you’re referencing a book that is already loved.

3. Integrate the story extensions into your everyday moments such as breakfast time, bath time, craft time, etc. You don’t need to carve out specific “story extension time”. In fact, it’s more meaningful and authentic if you mesh into your regular activities.

4. The sky truly is the limit – you can get as creative as you want and it never hurts to try a new idea. If it doesn’t work, then you can stop and try something different later.

5. Talk about the story and the book – help explicitly draw the connection between the extending activity and the story that was shared earlier.

Story Extension Samples

1. Cooking: After you read a gingerbread story like Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett, plan on baking gingerbread cookies with your little ones on the same day. While you’re in the kitchen working through the recipe together you can talk about the story. You can make some wondering statements such as “I wonder what would happen if our cookies jumped up off of our cookie sheet. I wonder where they would go!”. As simple as that, you have made a story extension and created an opportunity for deeper meaning.

More stories that lend themselves well to cooking extensions: Who Ate All the Cookie Dough? by Karen Beaumont, If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff, and The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson.

2. Songs: If you’ve read a book about a car such as My Car by Byron Barton, then you might want to follow up by singing some songs about driving cars like Drive My Car by Laurie Berkner or Drivin’ in My Car by Ralph’s World.

See my previous blog post about matching songs to books for more ideas!

3. More Songs: Of course, you don’t have to have songs on CD to extend a story with song. You can use readily known songs such as “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” after reading From Head to Toe by Eric Carle.

Some more books and songs: And the Train Goes by William Bee with I've Been Working on the Railroad, Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming with Old MacDonald had a Farm, and School Bus by Donald Crews with The Wheels on the Bus.

4. Even More Songs: You can also always make up your own song. Take a familiar tune such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm and you can change it to anything you need. For example, “Our Friend, Molly, Had a Snow Day” might be a song you sing after reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The verses of the song would be anything to do with a snow filled day.

5. Storytelling: You can retell the story in your own way using props from around the house. For example, in Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins, a farmer is growing alarmed because apples are being eaten from his tree by the animals. To retell this story, cut out ten red paper circles for the apples and gather up a group of animal toys. Sit down with your child and start retelling the rhythmic story, acting it out with the toy animals. Have your child move the animals to eat the “apples” from the tree. A terrific and simple story extension.

Some more stories that lend themselves to storytelling: Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, The Napping House by Audrey Wood, and I Went Walking by Sue Williams.

6. Arts and Crafts: Creating art is a natural way to extend a story. For example, you could read a butterfly book such as Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert. Then you could make caterpillars out of egg cartons and butterflies with construction paper and glitter glue all the while talking about the life cycle of the butterfly.

More stories that lend themselves to arts and crafts: Blue Goose by Nancy Tafuri, Dog's Colorful Day by Emma Dodd, and Not a Box by Antionette Portis.

7. Pretend Play: The story Below by Nina Crews shows a boy who loses a toy beneath a staircase and brave effort he enacts to save it. You could act out this story and create your own accidents and rescues with your own toys. Pretend play offers an infinite number of ways to extend stories.

More stories that lend themselves well to pretend play: We're Going on a Lion Hunt by Margery Cuyler, Machines at Work by Byron Barton, and Red Truck by Kersten Hamliton.

Extending a story provides children with the opportunity to expand their understanding and to construct deeper meaning about their world. Getting started in story extensions is quite simple if you take it one story and one extension at a time. Have fun and get creative – you never know where a story can take you!


  1. Have you ever noticed how some of the best ideas are also the simplest and easiest to implement? I love how you've shown us that a little thought and preparation can really add to and enrich a literature experience. Thanks, Valerie!

  2. Picture books can be springboards to so many other forms of learning. Thank you for sharing so many great ideas!

    The best part of this process is that the more you extend the learning, the more natural the process will become. You'll start to help your child to connect the dots wherever you go!

  3. I love that you included specific examples here! I'm a huge advocate of "growing beyond the book" and I will definitely be adding these ideas to my list!! Thank you!

  4. A really wonderful post! Like Tif said, it's great you've included specific examples. I'd add that the inspiration for our "extensions" generally come from the kids - they read a book with me and tell me that they'd like to make a house like the one in the book, or dress up like so and so, so I don't often have to scratch my brain to come up with ideas!

  5. Some great ideas!


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