Kids love their toys. Do you remember wondering what your toys did while you were asleep? Famous creators have wondered that too -- stories like Corduroy, Pinocchio, The Velveteen Rabbit, or Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite riff on this theme. Your kids might also be aware of movies like Toy Story, or Jim Henson's Secret Life of Toys.
Why not tap into that fascination and encourage your child to take photos of his toys? Use those photos to spark some writing OR plan your story first, and work out what pictures you need to accompany the story.
Here are some ideas for children's writing that use photos of toys as their focus:
Make an Alphabet, Counting, or Simple Book
For an alphabet book, try to find toys that start with each letter of the alphabet, and write the names underneath the photos you take. "A" might have a picture of a plastic ant, with "ant" typed below. "B" could be a bicycle, etc.
For a counting book, choose the numbers you want to practice, and take photos of that many toys. It's probably best not to decide on "bicycle" for 12, or you may have trouble assembling so many bikes. Like creating any book, planning first pays off. Say you decide to make numbers 1-10, the first page might have "1" and a picture of one teddy bear. "2" could be two Barbies. Add some fun by using alliteration, and you could have "one wonderful wagon, two tiny teddies," etc. (Good luck with explaining that "one" starts with a "w" sound!)
For a simple book, you can just take random photos of toys, and write/type underneath the name of the toy, or whatever your youngster wants to dictate -- or write herself.
Make a Caption Book
Caption books are one degree more complicated than alphabet books, but are still an easy way to involve kids in a writing activity. Basically, it's about creating a simple sentence for each photo. You don't need a sequence of events or a narrative, but narrative will add an extra degree of complexity. Once you have your photo, ask your child to tell you about it and record what he says as your caption. If you want whole sentences, you might need to model them for him, e.g. "This is my Transformer, Optimus Prime." "I like my teddy. His name is Ben."
If your child wants to write a whole story, it might be best to create the story first, work out which sentences will go on which page, then decide on the photos you want to accompany them. The creation process might start with acting the story out by using the toys, moving them around the way kids do naturally when playing, then evolve to recorded sentences. One way to do this if your child is comfortable with it, would be to video his play. If digital storytelling really interests your older child, you might want to introduce him to the concept of story-boarding as preparation, and use a template to organize scenes.
Here's an example of the sort of simple narrative your child might come up with, plus the pictures you might help him decide on, and photograph.
One day, Teddy went for a walk in the garden (pic here of Teddy walking). He met a fluffy pink bird (pic here of Teddy meeting the bird). "Hello, Bird," said Teddy. "What are you doing?" "I'm looking for my friend, Gorilla," said the bird. "I can't find him anywhere" (pic here of baffled bird). "Don't be sad -- I'll help you look for him," said Teddy (pic of Teddy peering under bushes). "Grrrr!" "What was that?" (pic of Teddy looking worried). Teddy and Bird got such a fright they fell over (pic of two, stunned). Can you see Gorilla hiding in the bushes? (Final pic Gorilla in his disguise.)
Once I had images to match the story above, I uploaded them to PhotoPeach, a free online slideshow maker. There I matched my photos to my captions, and chose music as backing. Then I previewed and made some changes. Total time taken, from finding toys, writing the story, deciding on the pictures I needed, photographing the toys, and creating the book on PhotoPeach was about an hour. Check out my little "book," Monkey Business.
Of course, you don't need to use PhotoPeach. You could add captions to photos using an image editor, then print them out and pop them into a clear plastic binder for protection and ease of re-reading. However you decide to carry out this project with your kids, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing they're not just having fun with their toys, but learning as well!