Crafts to inspire Imaginative Play – Ideas from StoryHug Family Workshops

Simple craft activities can be a way of inspiring new stories and encouraging creativity in play. Sometimes a way in is needed to great ideas, an indirect unconscious pathway into the secret nooks of the imagination, to stories quietly waiting to be found and brought into the open.

Unique wonderful worlds can arise from cardboard and glue and Lego and any small toys – worlds that once initiated will be intricately put together for hours, played with for days, weeks…

A favourite material at StoryHug workshops is safe, cheap, incredibly tactile SALT DOUGH!Making with our hands: holding, breaking, cutting, choosing, colouring-in even the most simple creations can bring about the magic of inspiration, a sudden burst of vision, a new story idea to coax into shape.


In the workshops I asked the children to make items for our puppet show later – here it was: ‘something nice to eat’! The instructions provided a focus which inspired a vast array of fantastical creations, for creativity really does thrive on restrictions and constraints (as discussed in this intriguing Ted Talk here).

Later, for the puppet show, I had a rapt and delighted audience when the children’s creations made their appearance on the tabletop puppet stage, and even helped to appease a hungry tiger!

Salt dough is so soft and pliant and mouldable, it warms in your hands… it appeals also to older children who linger longer, making more detailed creations…

And grown-ups too can play… salt dough is perfect for making quick and simple items for doll houses and props for Woodland Puppet shows, such as bowls and vases:

Salt dough beads (when hard) can be strung to form magical necklaces…

…for a puppet show perhaps (here two woodland characters make a necklace for a doll princess!), or they can be used when dressing up by children…

Of course Fairy Babies can be made of salt dough too!

The dolls are made in advance, and left plain and unpainted so that the children can colour in faces, hair and clothes with felt-tip pens. The cradles are made from egg-boxes and covered by the children with torn strips of bright tissue paper glued on with PVA glue which dries harder and makes the cradles feel more solid – or glue stick for less mess! Then we add pastel-coloured cotton wool balls for soft bedding:

Making people is the best beginning for making new worlds: homemade dolls always feel more alive than bought ones!

Plain wooden PEG DOLLS bought from a craft shop can be coloured in with felt tips and given felt clothes attached with a glue such as Copydex glue:

…and given homes of boxes decorated in origami papers and scraps of fabric:

Miniature houses are always of interest – and, it seems the more handmade and (ahem) quirky they are, the more they inspire children to enter into the lives of inhabitants.

This is a cardboard house I made for a simple wooden doll I carved, with a few items of ‘rustic’ dolls house furniture found on eBay:

‘People’, of course, come in all shapes and sizes… these were made with scrunched up newspaper , old socks and furry fabric and buttons by my eight-year old assistant:

All combinations of materials can be used:

Here Plasticine and conkers:

FELT is easy to sew into simple little people with wool hair and minimal expressive features:

Even in 2D making ‘people’ can result in the most intricate characters:

CARDBOARD puppets can be drawn simply and quickly in pen old packaging or onto white printer paper then stuck on, or traced out of books, and coloured-in with felt-tips. The puppets will come alive in stories when stuck with glue stick onto wooden lolly sticks or coffee stirrers…

Cardboard puppets can also be collaged with leaves and petals and grasses…

Collaging with natural materials leads to highly original responses as new characters are defined by the unique shapes and colours of the leaves and petals.

For the Grimms’ tale of Jorinda and Joringel we made birds to hang on a string tied around the trees in a woodland corner:

Responding to the organic natural forms of plant materials can lead to intriguing drawings: here are fabulous elves and fairies and strange sweet magical tree-people made by children who stood silent for a while, then wandered around a community garden finding their plant sources, glued them onto cardboard with total concentration then started to draw…

Here we collaged scrap cardboard to make masks:

Using the art we make in imaginative play and the making of stories brings a deepening engagement to the story circle at the end of the workshop where we make up a story together spontaneously before I perform a short table top puppet play with the same story elements.  Here, with the beautiful masks, we recreated a Palace Ball where a thief finds himself transformed by his own goodness and finds love with a wise princess. Throughout the telling of the story, my (mostly) involved and highly attentive audience held on to those masks, listening with new understanding!


Ena & Tib Puppet Shows in Grow Mayow Community Garden this Summer!


Ena and Tib, the two little children who live in the woods in their little wooden house,  have been updated for our puppet plays this summer, made up as proper table top puppets with weighted bases so they do not fall over (as much)!

Here are some photos of how I put them together if you fancy making characters for your own productions:


The bodies were filled at the base with dried lentils and topped up with natural wool stuffing. The head is a ball of wool stuffing with stretch fabric held tightly together with a rubber band then sewn into place. The hair and eyes and mouth were stitched in wool.story hug ena and tibs

Making up stories becomes so much easier when you make your own characters, choosing colours, shapes of hat, decorations, clothes, all lead you further into the possibilities of the doll you are shaping – every scrap, every toy left lying around the house can lead to a new idea forming…

The newly stable Ena and Tib will be appearing at the lovely Grow Mayow Community Garden Project in two new stories I have been thinking of for some time! We will make props together for the puppet show, which you can then carry on playing with at home! Hope to see you there!





Fairy Babies


Last week we made fairy babies!

The babies were made from salt dough (see this post for recipe) and dried fully – in the oven for an hour then left for a couple of days on a radiator.

The children (with a little help from the adults!) drew in faces and coloured in clothes with felt-tips.


The cradles were made from egg-boxes covered in tissue paper and lots of glue-stick which dries very hard.

A coloured cotton wool ball was added for each baby to snuggle into!


It was very sweet to see the great care and tenderness with which the babies were handled and carried around the woods.


Later all the babies made an appearance on the puppet stage for a grand fairy party!


“…imagination in miniature is natural imagination which appears at all ages in the daydreams of born dreamers… the cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”

Gaston Bachelard in ‘The Poetics of Space’

Making Beads


In our StoryHug Woodland Workshop we made salt-dough beads.




Then, into the woods we went….

…to where some very similar beads had been found by an old elf. With the help of Hedgehog, Squirrel, Little Owl, the Two Tiny Children who live in the woods and all the lovely StoryHug children, the beads were strung into a necklace for a princess!


If you would like to make your own here is the recipe:

For Salt-dough:

2 cups plain flour

1 cup salt

upto 1 cup water


1. Mix flour and salt.

2. Add water gradually.

3. Add food colouring or poster paint to the dough, if you would like it coloured.

4. Bake the beads at 75-100C for 30mins-1hour and leave to finish drying on a radiator. Or simply leave to dry without baking.




Ena and Tib and their House in the Woods – An Interactive Puppet Show

First we made Woodland Creatures… IMG_2676




…then we had a story: ‘In Dacres Wood there lived two tiny children: Ena and Tibs…


…They lived in a little wooden house under the trees. At first, the house had nothing inside:


“Waaa! Where will we sit to eat?” cried Ena.

“Where will we sleep? Waaaa!” cried Tib.

But Old Man Elf had left them a bag full of furniture.’


The bag went around our little circle and one by one, a chair, a table, a bunk bed were brought out and carefully put in place by the children: a bedroom upstairs, a kitchen-diner downstairs – such sureness in these little homemakers, such care as they made a cosy little home for Ena and Tibbs to eat a supper of sausages, eggs and baked beans

I had wondered if involving the audience in arranging props might not be a distraction, instead it seemed to pull them in closer into the reality of the tale. The magic of a dolls house, however simple! The real and the imagined blur so seamlessly.

Soon there was a party attended by the Woodland Creatures:




And the story went on, until a little Gnome baby had been reunited with his lost cradle and finally went to sleep while his Gnome Mama had a nice cup of hot chocolate and sat gazing at the milky white moon as the night grew quiet over Dacres Wood.



The Three Little Pigs – a simple tabletop puppet play

House of Straw

“Straw? But a straw house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.

“Strong takes too long!” cried Big Pig. “And I want to play!”

So she gathered up the straw and built herself a fine house of straw and ran out to play.

House of Sticks

Little Pig looked around and saw sticks fallen everywhere under the trees.

“I’ll build my house from sticks,” she said.

“Sticks? But a stick house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.

“Strong takes too long,” laughed Little Pig. “And I want to play!”

House of Bricks

Tiny Pig walked into town and came back with a pile of bricks. He started to build. Slowly, steadily, the house came up and one sunny day it was finished.


(We didn’t have a wolf but we did have a tiger who came to visit…)

The Three Little Pigs

“Ow!” yelled Tiger. “That pot is too hot, I’ve hurt my bottom!”

He ran back as fast as he could to his home in the deep dark woods, far, far, away and he never came back!



How to make: a Woodland Tabletop Puppet Show

tabletop puppet show

What you will need:

a long stick


hamper, square basket, small suitcase

scarves and shawls in different sizes and colours to include: green (fields, hills, mountains), brown (paths, ground, mountains), blue (rivers, sea)

dolls, soft animals, wooden figures

props: sticks, stones, acorns, pinecones, doll furniture, clothes and accessories as required by your story


1.Find a spot with space for rugs or ideally logs for seating.

a perfect spot

2.Prop or tie the stick across two trees and drape over a blanket to act as a back drop:


Hold the blanket in place with clothes pegs:


3.Create your tabletop using the baskets, hamper or suitcase:

create table top

4.Cover with shawls and scarves:

green shawl

5.Cover characters to be met later in the story so they can be revealed as the story progresses:


6.Arrange your set. Keep it minimal. Place any props in sequence under the scarves or behind the stage so you can reach for them easily.

7.Tell your story… and enjoy!







StoryHug Summer Woodland Workshop No.1

Woodlands are full of possibility…

Dacres Wood
Dacres Wood

In the morning we invented people to inhabit the woods:

IMG_1861 IMG_1863 IMG_1864

…like Baba Yaga in her hut on chicken legs:

Baba Yaga and her Hut in the Woods - (source unknown)
Baba Yaga and her Hut in the Woods – (source unknown)

We made puppets of our people and made a story together:

Once upon a time there was a girl who met a fairy who invited her to a fairy party, but the fairy flew too fast ahead and soon the girl was lost. She walked and walked until she came to a hut… Did she knock on the door? Of course, she did! And was there a fierce old woman inside who might be a witch? Yes, there was!

Several of the children were quite sure that the girl should avoid the hut.

“But she would stay lost in the woods,” I protested.

So, anxiously together we persevered – just as heroes and heroines do in stories, moving deeper into discomfort and danger, probing the unseen and unknowable – and seeing in our watchful fearful progress into the story how to have faith striving to meet challenges and overcoming obstacles to where a place of greater contentment and security awaits.

The storyteller’s daring in exploring the continents of unknown tales gives their child listeners the bravery to face the world. For storytelling takes courage to reach out to the new… uncertainty is always creative.

Horst Kornberger, ‘The Power of Stories’

In the afternoon we made people who changed bodies and changed places – like the Goose Girl and her maid (‘The Goose Girl’, Brothers Grimm) whose story I told later.

IMG_1870 IMG_1868

Legs, heads, bodies were swapped (as in Consequences) and strange new characters emerged



Where would such people live? Of course there were many possibilities…

Dacres Wood Nature Reserve
Dacres Wood Nature Reserve