How to use anthropomorphism to release children's creativity

Jessica McDermott, art facilitator, suggests a novel approach to starting stories


The showing or attributing human characteristics to something non-human like an animal or object.

Many stories use anthropomorphism, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, Charlotte’s Web and Winnie-the-Pooh are just four examples. This activity explicitly seeks to develop three creative habits - being inquisitive, developing imagination and working in collaboration - through the use of anthropomorphism in storytelling and is suitable for key stage 2 or key stage 3.

Start by focusing on the children’s experiences

  • Do you have any pets? Do you think they have similar emotions or behave in a similar way to you, and can you give any examples?
  • What about your toys or other objects? Do you ever imagine that they have human thoughts?

Discuss the subject further in groups.

Introduce the idea of anthropomorphism

Reflect on stories with anthropomorphism such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, Charlotte’s Web and Winnie-the-Pooh.

You could show this image of waves depicted as horses to take this line of inquiry further.

1910 lithograph of Neptune’s Horses by Walter Crane
1910 lithograph of Neptune’s Horses by Walter Crane

Encourage curiosity

  • Why do you think the Romans thought of the sea as a God in human form?
  • Why do people enjoy watching Disney animations with talking animals?
  • Why do you think we like to imagine that some animals think and behave like humans?

Discuss these questions in groups and then as a class.

Use photographs to release your imagination

What would you do if an object suddenly came to life?

To explore this, work in small groups and choose a few objects to photograph as though they have come to life. Below are a few hints and tips to get you started...

  • Try to avoid objects/toys that already have faces - perhaps a stapler, a banana or a balloon.
  • You can add eyes with pen or stick on arms or leave them as they are.
  • Think about what activities they could be doing: Could the stapler be eating a sandwich? Is the banana reading a book?

Present the photographs to the class. Can the class guess what is happening in each picture?

Discuss which of the objects look most ‘alive’ and ask the class why they think that is.

Follow on activity

Use one or more of the images to write a story about your object considering the points below:

  • Is your object already alive or do they come to life in the story?
  • Do they have a name? A job? A family?
  • Can everybody see that they are alive or just one person?
  • What sort of adventure might they go on?

Other resources

These film clips could also be helpful support:

The trailer for the 1956 short film The Red Balloon

The trailer for Toy Story 4

Jessica McDermott is a photographer and art facilitator. Within her own practice she uses a mix of costumes and props to create performative portraits. As a facilitator, she designs workshops and resources that give young people the tools to explore photography creatively and produce their own imaginative stories. Follow Jessica on Twitter.

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