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Many Moons Ago...

Greg Bottrill shares a simple yet powerful game, “Many Moons Ago”, which stimulates children’s sense of creativity, storytelling, and imagination, while helping to empower their sense of self and their own agency.

Moon character emoji set. Vector illustration
Moon character emoji set. Vector illustration

Last month, I wrote an article for That Nursery Life exploring the concept of the Possibility Tree, a simple way of sprinkling added make-believe and wonder over childhood. For me, there are two magic worlds: of children and of story. When we bring the two together their magic is amplified a hundred times over. It’s why it’s so important to shape a culture within our settings where story and play are highly valued, because when they are, the potential for childhood to flourish and bloom becomes so more accentuated: magic begets magic.

So with this in mind, I’d love to share a ‘game’ that we can play with children as we immerse in the adventure of the day. Like all my thinking around education, the concept is simple and rooted in what childhood wants and deserves. It is also aimed at shifting the balance of ‘power’ back towards children, showing them that story belongs to them as much as it does to the Adult World. It is important to enable children to see that they are storytellers, not just of make-believe but also of their own lives. It is why I am so passionate about play – play is childhood’s way of telling its own story.

Often when we think of play, we imagine what is observable – the running, jumping, building, dressing up, drawing etc. We know however that play can also play an important role in the ‘unseen’ spaces of the mind. Creating a culture where children realise that they can play with stories, adapt them, dream alternative characters, endings and settings can enable both them and the adults to see that story is a playground, that the imaginative word is not set in stone and that we can be creative and play-full with ideas and mental imagery. This is what I refer to as ‘story dreaming’ and the Possibility Tree was an example of this and here is another version that can show children the joy of story. This joy is critical if we are to enable children to see that story belongs to them – that they can take a story in their hands and tell it in their own way, their own words and dreams.

The game in question is called ‘Many Moons Ago’ and is something that I ‘pop-up’ in the ebb and flow of play, though now and again it can be great to play with all the children on the carpet at home time for example. It is a simple game because simplicity is what childhood looks for so that it can access it and adapt it to its own purpose. It is also centred around the idea of adults being part of the play as much as children – again, the concept of co-adventure and co-play, both adult and children on a journey together in equal value to the other. When we pop-up ‘Many Moons Ago’, children lean in with their curiosity to listen and absorb – they anticipate a sprinkle of magic because, as we are co-players, they are familiar with our play-fullness.

‘Many Moons Ago’ is in effect a story starter though it is a story that will only last for two sentences! It is this short because ‘Many Moons Ago’ has been created to draw on children’s creativity and desire for make-believe and nonsense. Childhood wants nonsense as much as it wants sense, as though the two hold hands for children to explore and ‘Many Moons Ago’ has nonsense threading through it – where there is nonsense there is possibility. Where there is possibility, there is play.

The joy of Many Moons Ago is that the two lines of the story bring it all to an abrupt halt. Childhood is left wanting to know what’s next. We begin telling a story and then either fall silent or just walk away. I can guarantee that children will want to know what happens next. It’s here you could continue or even better ask them! Have a look at the examples below:

“Many Moons ago there lived an enormous tiger who always wore a tiny green hat. One day he went to the shop and bought a bicycle…”

“Many Moons ago there lived a piece of stinky cheese who liked to sing songs about knives and forks. One day she went for a walk in the woods and met a gigantic frog…”

“Many Moons ago there was a teeny tiny mouse who lived in a chocolate boot. One day she found an old skateboard and went zooming down the hiil towards a gigantic puddle…”

“Many Moons ago there was a tree who was always lying down fast asleep rather than standing up. One day, a thunderstorm came and woke it up…”

Once upon a time... written on an old typewriter
Once upon a time... written on an old typewriter

I can pretty much promise you that childhood will lean in when you come to the abrupt halt. It will want to know what happens next. It will need an explanation. It wants some kind of resolution to what you have started since if you have a culture with books and tales at its heart, your children will be familiar with the story patterns and they know they don’t just end so abruptly! Take a look at the opportunities for building confidence, story, language, imagination and chat too. ‘Many Moons Ago’ is teeming with them, just like it does in that other magical world – the wonderful world of play.