27 April, 2022 | Posted by Marguerita Magennis

#DEARForDyslexia - STEAM Education Bringing Reading to Life with Interactive Storytelling

STEAM Learning with Interactive Storytelling DEAR for Dyslexia

At Portobello Institute we value and promote STEAM learning when working to promote language and literacy with children in early education, and even earlier if you are a parent supporting your child at home. 

It is vital to introduce the concept of language at a very young age, and this can be done through everyday interactions, communication, etc.; but what about reading, and encouraging children to engage with books and words as early as possible?

I can hear all the skeptics out there claiming that we should not be introducing children to reading at this early age, and I agree the idea of the three R's is a dated and unsuccessful concept that results in rote learning, where children can recite the Alphabet song, with no idea what a letter, word or symbol is.

However, introducing the concept of language and symbols, books, and reading, is somewhat different.

So that is why at Portobello we decided to engage with DEAR for Dyslexia in our Montessori school, to try something new to support and highlight the value and importance of introducing the key concepts of language, reading and storytelling to children as early as possible.

Based on Vivian Paley’s storytelling curriculum, and interactive storying, we decided to combine Paley’s concepts with those of STEAM; more specifically the A in STEAM (The Arts), bringing drama, role play, and interactive storying into our storytime activities throughout the months of March and April, while highlighting the value to be gained from including young children at an early age to storytelling and books.

Watch the video of the interactive storytelling session at Portobello Montessori School below, where Natasha Murphy guides the children through The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The children and their parents/guardians have consented to the filming and sharing of this footage.


Again here, I can hear parents and practitioners saying, we read to our children – storytime before bedtime, storytime during circle time, encouraging children to develop an awareness of books; but this idea of interactive storying and role play is so much more, it allows the child to listen to words, enabling them to demonstrate and gain a full, true understanding of the book, the story, bringing the characters to life, and embedding the concept of the meaning which is held between the pages of these books. 

That is where the true value comes from because at this stage the child has grasped the concept that books, and the symbols within, share so much more when you can engage in this interactive way, by yourself, rather than relying on someone to read to you.  

This strategy has proven to be very successful in engaging children with books and reading, helping to hold their attention, and encouraging children who might otherwise have wandered off to choose something else, to remain and become involved in the storytelling experience.   

Very often for children as they move through school, reading becomes a daunting, high stake, and stressful chore; something they feel needs to be mastered if they are to succeed academically. 

Failure at an early age can result in a lack of self-esteem, low confidence, and even a feeling of being inferior. 

FREE WEBINAR: The Aistear Framework, underpinning STEAM in Early Education; The Irish and US perspectives

Often the child will lose interest in education, withdraw, or even leave school at the earliest opportunity, and rather than engaging with books and reading which would help to develop their literacy skills, they shun opportunities to read for fear of failure and sometimes even ridicule.  

At Portobello we wanted to highlight the importance of introducing the concept of language through role-play and interactive storying, to demonstrate how even though the young child cannot read the words, we can still begin that very important process of engaging with symbolic representation (Bruner). 

By encouraging the child to explore the story with you in their own words, they begin to understand that these marks and symbols hold meaning and share some wonderful tales and experiences.

They learn about bears hibernating, and caterpillars changing into butterflies, but all the time they are learning new words, concepts, and language and exploring these emerging themes through interactive, imaginative role-play (Paley). 

This idea of interactive storying helps the children (it works with older children and adults also), develop a sense of understanding about the book, the story, and the full meaning and experience behind it, which is something that reading a story to them, sometimes doesn’t fully portray. 

Encouraging children to be active agents (Piaget) in their own learning experience, reinforces emerging concepts, and helps the child to gain a fuller, clearer understanding of what the words mean, making the entire experience of storytime and reading much more enjoyable, particularly for those who perhaps display delays with language development. 

By eliminating the fear element, the child is more likely to try this again, and as a result improve their ability to recognise words, extend their vocabulary, and become more comfortable reading.  

Throughout the process, the children demonstrated their ability to be innovative and creative, and using the arts they made their own props, created butterfly wings, and found suitable clothing to use as a costume for the caterpillar. 

Not only were children using their imaginations, but they were reinforcing the concept of the story as they worked collaboratively (Vygotsky), solved problems together, and drew creative representations of the fruit the hungry caterpillar ate throughout his journey before he turned into the beautiful butterfly.   

Through the incorporation of STEAM, and interactive storying, the children developed a sense of what this story was about, but more than this, the children were involved, they enjoyed the story, gained an understanding of the symbols, that these words hold meaning, portray a story which they could be involved with; and all the time, they were learning about books, reading and developing new vocabulary, language and communication skills.  

Read more: LEGO® Therapy: Supporting the Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Early Education

Watch: Dr Geraldine French on Supporting Language and Literacy Development in Early Childhood Portobello Institute Webinar

About the Author

Marguerita Magennis Ph.D. MA. BA Hons, Course Coordinator Masters in Early Childhood Studies & Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute. Read more on Dr M's Thought's blog here.

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