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By Laura Hamm

Once Upon A Time..,.

Think you know what’s coming next?

Well ask a six year old to finish the line, and here’s the kind of brilliant mad genius reply you might get:

“….there was a plug called Lantern and his mummy and daddy were telephones”

“…the wizard circle were meeting. A new wizard had come of age. His name was Alfrementohw”

“…there was a land of guns, there was a big mountain called Gunny Gunny Gun Gun & at the top was a bullet of paradise”

I know because I’ve been sitting down with kids to build Fabled – a storytelling platform for under-11s that uses technology to help kids create and share their stories. Kids have a lot to say, and not enough spaces to be heard. As a former (and arguably, current) ‘kid with a lot to say’ I’d wanted to tackle this for a while. So I’ve built Fabled. It’s a like a digital notebook that talks back and publishes. But why do it? Well…

Storytelling makes kids smart (and happy too!)

… Because storytelling matters. It matters for all sorts of reasons I’m sure you already know. Stories are how we understand and communicate the world around us. Making up stories makes us kinder, smarter, & stronger. It’s one of the strongest predictors of academic success. In fact, studies have found Nobel Prize winners did more imaginative play as children than their peers. Self-expression is also a vital part of mental and emotional health.

So storytelling is a bit like the ‘work’ of childhood. It’s important for them. But it’s also important for the world. You’d be hard pressed to think of many of the problems we face today that might not be better solved with a bit more imagination. And frankly you only need to pick up a newspaper to feel the world could always use more wonder in it.

Make-believe is also the ‘play’ of childhood. Already my just-turned-3 year old spends most of her day soaked in stories of her own making and others’. But children’s creative space is being squeezed between an increasingly packed curriculum and hyper-busy free time.  And when there is time for creative writing, it’s usually focused on rules, structure, and flashcard vocabulary. It’s not that these things shouldn’t be taught, but you wouldn’t get a kid to love art by teaching them the rules of perspective first!

We are also living in a time when digital has become mainstream for kids entertainment – in the UK for the first time kids are online more than they watch TV.  Nine out of ten kids are now using social media by the age of 12. But for the under-11s in particular, there aren’t enough of the right platforms for them to express themselves. Kids tech tends to talk more than it listens – we keep pushing ‘content’ to the original content-creating ninjas (aka The Kids).

We need a balance – space that is just about story-play. We need to showcase kids’ story doodles, the verbal equivalent of sketches on the fridge-door. A beautiful blank sheet of paper that invites, celebrates, and doesn’t judge. That’s what Fabled is for. My hope for Fabled is that it will be a place for those creative ninjas, an imagination dojo if you will. It’s all their voice, we just turn up the volume.

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Helping kids tell more stories

Enough ranting already. How does the darn thing work? Fabled uses a chat-style approach – automated questions, praise & inspiration – to draw out stories that are published and shared online. It couldn’t be simpler. And the joyful thing I’ve had confirmed for me is how well ‘simple’ works for kids, how little they need to spill their imagination beans.

Wonderfully both the kids and grown-ups who’ve tested it love it. They love the fact of their stories being online, of looking like ‘proper’ stories’. They want to go on it again and again and to share what they’ve done. Parents say they’ve never seen their kids write so much, so quickly, and be so animated and excited about it.

Within two days of using Fabled little boys have gone from wanting to be footballers when they grow up to wanting to be writers. Kids whose parents had tried all the games & tricks they could to get their kids writing, and got nothing more than lists of words rhyming with poop, have been dancing with glee as they compose epic tales online.

I really believe that being a kid is a superpower – a way of seeing the world that grown-ups lose. Kids have the greatest stories never told, so at Fabled, our mission is to hear them.

We haven’t formally launched yet, but we are inviting kids to join us and let us know what they think. We need kid help to become the best home for stories we can be so please do sign up and give us your feedback on www.fabledkids.com.  Together let’s raise the most imaginative generation ever!

Tell your story on fabledkids.com, and follow us on instagram or twitter @fabled_kids.

 

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