Storytelling in Toddlers: And Then…

A toddler’s use of the phrase “and then” for telling stories and recounting events is an important language development milestone. The details in stories or of an event can seemingly go on and on and on, much to a busy parent or caregiver’s dismay at times. It can be hard to find the right moment to interrupt the stream of consciousness that flows from a toddler’s mouth as they talk about what happened in a story or real life!

The important piece to remember when a toddler tells, or re-tells, a story or the details of what happened in an event is that he uses “and” and “and then” to sequence events/details. It’s not crucial that the content or ideas don’t “make sense.” It’s not important that the events are happening a bit out of sequence as he tells them, or that he needs assistance in recounting the details. But, the fact that he is beginning to use language to express a sequence is very important as a school readiness and life skill.

As a preschooler (3-5 years old), a child will begin to tell more sophisticated stories or recount events more accurately. He will begin to use more sophisticated sequencing vocabulary such as “first, next/then, last” or concepts such as “after/before” and “while.” He will keep events in the order in which they occurred. Ideas and content will be expressed precisely and descriptively, so that his listener has a clear picture of what happened in a story or during an event.

For now, 40-month old Sam only has “and ” as well as “and then” at his disposal. With me and his 6-year old sister guiding him through the process of telling what happened to his dad on his motorcycle, Sam continues to build school readiness skills not only for oral language (e.g., telling a story back, telling a friend what he did at the park, explaining to a neighborhood friend how to play a new game that has steps or a sequence to it, etc.) but also for written language (e.g., when he is asked to write a story to describe a picture he has drawn, etc.).

The following is a list of activities/ideas to build sequencing and storytelling skills in infants and toddlers:

1) Ask questions such as “And then what happened?”

2) Provide cues such as “And then…,” “So….” and “After that…”

3) Use sequencing vocabulary (i.e., first, next, then, last, after, before, while, during, at that time, at the beginning, at the end, before he knew it, etc.) when you tell a story, re-tell a story, recount and event

4) Read books daily that have a clear beginning, middle and end (versus picture books, books about vehicles performing certain jobs, etc.)

5) Use objects or figures to tell or re-tell a story. Then encourage the child to “put them in order” for how objects/figures appeared or how events happened in the story (e.g., first the dog chased the cat, then the dog chased the rat, then…, etc.)

6) Line up 3 toys or figures that are coming towards a child who is sitting at the table. Ask him which one will get to him first, next or last. Provide assistance for younger children.

7) Talk about the sequence of events to a child (e.g., First we’re going to the park, then to the post office and last to the grocery store.)

8) Review your day with a child (e.g., First I went to work, then I came home and now it’s time for us to make dinner.)

9) Review steps a child takes to complete an activity (e.g., First you got your socks, then your shoes and last you got your jacket) or to play (e.g., First the you fed the baby her bottle, then you put her to sleep and now she’s waking up)

10) Ask questions such as “What should we do first/next/last?” or “What do we need to do first/next/last?” frequently.


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