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The Magical Art of Storytelling

Learn how to make storytelling accessible to children who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind by bringing stories to life!

Hanging apples on a My interest in bringing storytelling to life grew out of a growing interest in Waldorf-inspired education.  While story boxes have been around in our field for many years, I wanted to try to create a full multi-sensory experience to bring stories to life for young children who are blind and visually impaired.  Using multi-sensory props to tell a story helps children to develop a deeper understanding of the meaning and concepts in it, while also giving children a chance to retell the story or act it out.

The Importance of Storytelling

  • Story telling helps to develop the following skills:


    • Language and oral comprehension
    • Sequencing and memory
    • Listening skills
    • Focus and attention
    • Creativity, imagination, and visualization
  • Prompts discussion about:


    • Character, virtue, and ethics
    • Emotional conflicts and empathy
    • Awareness of feelings
    • Culture, values, differences, and diversity
    • Curiosity – concepts to build broader understanding and connections
  • Storytelling is an aural experience
  • Rooted in history, often culturally relevant, and passed on through generations
  • Today we have an overflowing amount of picture books


    • How can we turn the visual into a non-visual experience?
    • How do we choose the best books for aural storytelling?

Using a Multi-Sensory Approach

  • Hearing: Music, sound effects
  • Olfactory: Adding scents
  • Seeing: Playing with lights and shadows
  • Enhancing the story through tactile experiences


    • Animation
    • Temperature
    • Actions
    • Wind
Apples hanging on a tree
Sliced apple



Through this process, you instill curiosity.  If we can teach our kids to engage in stories, we can teach them to engage in play, e.g. if there is a tree on the table, kids hang apples on the branches. Music and sound effects can be added (these are available on an iPad). Stories can be animated with multi-sensory experiences, such as spritzing with water when it rains.


Language, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

  • Listen to it!
  • Watch it!
  • Experience it!
  • Sing it!

The Elf and the Doormouse

By Oliver Herford, 1863

Under a toadstool crept a wee Elif,   Elf with toadstool and mini umbrellas
Out of the rain to shelter himself.
Under the toadstool, sound asleep,
Sat a big Doormouse all up in a heap.
Trembled the wee Elf, frightened and yet
Fearing to fly away, lest he get wet.
To the next shelter — maybe a mile!
Sudden the wee Elf smile a wee smile. 
Tugged till the toadstool toppled in two, 
Holding it over him, gaily he flew.
Soon he was safe home, dry as could be, 
Soon woke the Doormouse — “Good gracious me!”
“Where is my toadstool?” loud he lamented?
— and that’s how umbrellas first were invented.

Great Storytelling Books

  • Good-Night,Owl by Pat Hutchins   Cover of Bear Has a Story to Tell
  • If You Give A Mouse A Cookie
  • The Very Grumpy Day
  • Happy Go Duckly
  • Rabbit’s Gift
  • Time to Sleep
  • Bear Has a Story to Tell
  • Hedgehugs
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee
  • Found
  • Tops & Bottoms
  • Hedgie’s Surprise
  • Penguin’s Big Adventure

Examples of Multi-Sensory Stories

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead is the story of a bear who walks through the forest talking to his animal friends who are preparing for winter.  They are all too busy to listen to his story.

Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming has a similar plot in which the animals in the forest are preparing for winter.  The props in the photos below could be used for either story.

Having stuffed animals as well as a real log allows children to follow along with the actions described in the story.  This can be augmented with other things found in the forest, such as pine cones, leaves, twigs, moss, etc.  With these props, children can practice positional concepts, such as going over, under, behind the log.  They can go quickly and slowly, practice “hiding” and more.   A bowl of snow or crushed ice can enhance the multi-sensory experience when discussing the winter.  Children can really experience the concept of “cold” and perhaps better understand the need to hibernate or fly to a warmer climate for the winter.  Acting out a story helps children to be able to retell it.

Stuffed animals and log
Bowl of snow



Hedgehugs by Steve Wilson with illustrations by Lucy Tapper tells the story of two hedgehogs who are the best of friends, but who are unable to do one thing:  hug each other!  

The miniature toy hedgehogs in the photos below can be used to help children understand about the texture and salient features of hedgehogs and why it would be difficult for them to hug.  They can use miniature toy hedgehogs to retell and act out the story, as well as to better understand concepts that are described in the book.

Two hedgehogs
Two hedgehogs inside socks


Tips and Procedures for Using this Approach


  • Choose books that allow for a multi-sensory experience
  • Practice telling the story ahead of time
  • Use an animated and appropriate storytelling voice
  • Try to use different voices for the different characters (e.g, slow deep voice for the turtle, high fast pictch for the rabbit)
  • Practice pacing
  • Include strategic moments to pause and allow the effects to take place
  • Don’t feel like you need to read it verbatim and take poetic license

Before Telling the Story

  • Allow time to explore the items ahead of time
  • Pre-teach vocabulary using multiple items that represent the same thing including realia, when possible
  • Ask students to predict what is going to happen in the story
  • Allow the student time to ask as many questions as they can about the objects, their prediction
  • Encourage students to relate to the objects telling about

During Storytelling

  • Involve others, such as paraprofessionals, to “work” the special effects (e.g. sounds, lights, smells), small groups are great!
  • As you tell the story, include moments to pause
  • Refrain from asking questions during the story and encourage your students to listen to the whole story

After Storytelling

  • Allow the student to ask as many questions as needed
  • Allow the student/s to act out parts of the story and animate the objects
  • Allow time for the students to “play” with the objects outside of story time
  • Retell the story several times

Transfer the storytelling role to student

  • Allow student to be a character in the story and animate the character
  • Work in small groups to have each child animate a character
  • Allow student to play the scent or sound machines
  • Eventually have the student retell the story

Deepening Comprehension

Reaching higher order thinking skills

  • Compare and contrast


    • Tell me about a similar character like _____.
    • Tell me about a similar experience as _____.
    • How are ______ and _____ the same?
    • How are ______ and _____ different?
    • How are you different than ______?
  • Make personal connections


    • Did you ever feel the same as ______?
    • Did you ever ______, like _______?
    • Have you ever _______?
    • How are you like _______?
  • Identify the main idea


    • What do you think the main idea is about?
    • What do you think the author’s message is?
  • Practice making inferences


    • Why do you think ______ happened?
    • What do you think caused _______?


Collage of storytelling

Student making orange juice with a teacher using a juicing machine.
Activity and strategy

Non-Visual Multi-Sensory Experiences for Students with Multiple Disabilities

brown bear book

Celebrating Bill Martin’s Books

caterpillar book butterfly

Updating Popular APH Books