Shaping the Moral Imagination Through Story and Free Play & a new Storyformed Podcast


I’m excited to bring you another episode of the Storyformed podcast! We’ll go back to posting At Home with Sally & Friends podcasts again next week, and we have a separate Storyformed podcast in the works for the future! Kristen had a little trip to celebrate her anniversary and so Holly and I conspired with Sarah for this week. 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of developing a moral imagination in children. What does this mean?

Russell Kirk says the moral imagination is “an enduring source of inspiration that elevates us to first principles as it guides us upwards towards virtue and wisdom and redemption.”  

As parents, we are a part of helping our children develop their moral imagination. 

I believe one part of helping our children to develop a moral imagination is by reading them great stories with characters who see themselves as part of a larger story. In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children didn’t merely wander around Narnia, going here and there as they pleased, or for only their own pleasure. They quickly learned they were kings and queens who were needed to bring about life and order in a kingdom where darkness and fear had reigned for years. When our children read this story and others like it, they have the opportunity to imagine themselves as children who have a special and unique calling. If they can imagine themselves as a Lucy or a Peter in their own life, then maybe they can be brave in the midst of their own life and all its challenges.

What our children spend decades imagining may just come to bear witness in their lives as adults. Afterall, it takes having an imagination for any of us to have faith in God. If we can’t imagine God creating the world or God spitting the Red Sea for the Israelites, then our faith can become only ideas rattling around in our brain rather than a faith we are daily living out. 

It has been a joy this week to watch my two oldest talk about the books they’re writing. After years of reading biographies about writers and poets like C.S. Lewis, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Emily Dickinson, and the great William Shakespeare, and watching my husband and I work on various writing projects, they’ve caught the writing bug. They believe they can write books, in part because they’ve caught a vision by reading the stories of these writers’ lives. They have no illusion that these writers' lives were not filled with challenges and difficulties, but they’ve also seen their perseverance, and fortitude in the midst of hardship. And so, my girls believe God can use them to bring forth stories into the world that carry a message of hope. 

You may be a doctor or an engineer or a farmer. Or you may have other family members who influence your home who plant seeds of ideas of what your children could become one day. In the reading of Farmer Boy or a biography about Jonas Salk (vaccine developer), your children have the opportunity to see not only you, as their parent, living out these vocations, but to also have the space to ponder how the characters of these books make choices. In Farmer Boy, Almanzo and his siblings are helping with summer planting and fall harvesting and wood chopping in winter. In this part of American history, life is challenging, yet Almanzo learns how to deal with all that comes his way. As your children read these stories, they can envision themselves as children who can be involved in helping in the family even if it means taking out the trash or unloading the dishwasher. 

Children also have the opportunity to develop a moral imagination through free play. As they read great stories, the characters and plot lines are likely to seep into their everyday life. In our home, my kids have a huge dress up tub where they can find a myriad of costumes to dress up in. Once they’ve imagined their character, retrieved an appropriate costume, they’re off to find props to play act the story in their heads. If the weather is warm, this usually means the free play is taking place behind our home in the trees of the foothills. As you might ‘imagine’ this is an opportunity for me to let go of my desire for the entry way to stay clean as they track props, costumes, snacks and the like in an out of the house. 

Their is no so-called productivity in their play. They aren't learning something the world sees as useful, or anything skill-related that they can put on their resume some day. But they are experiencing a wonder about their world and “learning to see with the inward eye, forming an interior self,” as Sarah Clarkson says, which will produce their identity and a belief they can contribute in God’s great story.

I pray the Lord will lead in you giving you a vision to develop a moral imagination in your children. As we present ourselves to the Lord, He can show us a path even when it seems no one has traveled it before. 



BOOKS FROM TODAY’S SHOW - STORYFORMED EPISODE #3 - Shaping the Moral Imagination Through Story & Free Play




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What Makes a Great Story & a New Storyformed Podcast

As I am taking a break, traveling with my sweet girls, I am struck with their sense of purpose, their grasp of the meaning of their lives and how to invest them as young adults, and their love for God.

Of course, each of our children must respond to God from their own heart, but I think that my children were drawn to Him through the understanding of the opportunity we each have to play our part in the story of God. Unless we attach our children to the sense of God's call in their lives, their lives will not be drawn to the eternal, the kingdom principles God wants us to live for, the citizenship that we have in heaven with Him. We cannot focus our children's eyes on this world and its values, but we must look beyond to God's purposes.

Join Holly as she leads our discussion and podcast today and be encouraged in your own journey on the story-formed life.

As mothers, we all desire for our children to see themselves as unique humans who have a story to live and tell in God’s great narrative. As we read them great stories with a clear good vs evil theme, we’re helping them to see how they might choose good in their world.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

How do we help our children to be drawn into a beautiful story rather than being lured away into a private world of screens, which are so prevalent in our society? It’s easy to give them a lecture and explain the benefits of reading over watching a screen or playing a video game, but as we might imagine it comes back to modeling. 

If we desire our children to love reading, we must love it first, and allow them to see us reading consistently. No amount of telling them the wonders and riches that come from great books will matter to them if they don’t see us loving the process of learning and growing. What we are excited about, talking about, and living out will be what they will also be excited about! As we prepare a feast of great literature before them in our homes, they will grow to love books. How could they not?

As Jesus asked his disciples to follow Him, so we are asking the same of our children every day. We want them to follow us we pray, as we learn to love one another, and as we discover the traces of the Great Story in books. 

In developing a daily habit of reading aloud to your kids, even if it's just ten minutes a day, you’re leading them to know reading as a normal part of life. Even if your children are small, asking them one or a few questions about the picture book you just read, is causing their mind to expand and grow. Their minds are like spongy fertile soil in which you have the opportunity to plant, water, and cultivate every day. 

So, how do we know what a great story is? We want to give them the very best stories written just as we want to feed them the most nutritious food. 

Here is some criteria in determining a great story:

  • it includes an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;
  • it stimulates the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;
  • it is often a timeless classic, fairy tale, or chapter book;
  • it includes characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart;   
  • it presents good as good and evil as evil;
  • it hints in some way at the Great Story of God's redemption in Christ.

Beautifully-written stories can shape the imaginations of our children. A good story is a gift to our children— a gift that enables them to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.

You know your children better than anyone, and you are the one God is holding responsible to shepherd their hearts. Young children don’t have a filter to decipher what is good for their eyes to see and their ears to hear.

I wish I could say I never had any more regrets about what I've allowed my children to listen to or watch. A terrible mom-moment for me came when we allowed our eight year old daughter to listen to an audio version of this book. Sadly for me and terrifying for her, she woke up that night and ran through the halls in her sleep with her eyes bulging from her head and screaming in terror. I was quite distraught, to say the least, by this sight and felt horrible for allowing her to listen. Hindsight is 20 /20! 

But making some regrettable decisions has caused me to be more prayerful. Sometimes what a booklist might say is age appropriate for a child, may not be true for your particular child. Don't ignore what you sense the Lord is leading you to or away from for your children. Pray that the Lord will give you as their mother, a sense of what you should put before them to be part of the process of shaping and molding them in this season. 

Read on!

Books and links from today’s show - Storyformed Episode #2 - What MAKES a Great Story


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Lighting a Fire Through Sparking Imagination: Storyformed & A New Podcast

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”

- Victor Hugo

Sitting at a creaky, beloved table in my Austrian apartment, I looked around at the people who had come for lunch: a diplomat and his wife from South Africa; a player in the Vienna Philharmonic and his opera-singer wife; a refugee professor from Iraq; and a businessman and his wife who worked in Russia.

The conversation flew from one subject to another, laughter accompanied a wide range of stories shared, somber quiet breathed strong as our refugee friend shared his story of escaping without a passport under barbed wire, running hard from his would be captors.

Hunger to know more, to understand countries, art, literature, geography, history, political philosophies bubbled up in my heart. I experienced a new longing to become educated, I wanted to learn more, I wanted to understand more. Realizing in that moment that I was hungry for a deep education took me by surprise. I had my college degree and could speak a portion of several languages and was becoming exposed to some of the greatest ideas ever spoken or written, but I realized that I had not had a broad, deep education in my life. I had the feeling that my knowledge was shallow and I wanted to drink more deeply from history, literature, all the things that were interesting that I had never been taught.

Idealism overtook me when I had children and I collected hundreds, thousands of books. They grew piled high in book baskets in every room, filled shelves in all of our bedroom. We read every day, listened to stories in the car, and shared the drama of stories that captured our imagination.

Now that all four of my children have become writers, love learning, seek to inspire and teach others, I can breathe easier and know that I gave them what I hoped--a love for God, a passion for messages and a desire to invest this truth and love into their own worlds. And I believe that this mysterious process came about by cultivating in my children a storyformed heart--a heart that was inspired by heroic acts, by understanding true life historical stories, by being exposed to the best writers who ever lived and by grasping the truth and vitality of scripture.

This next few weeks, I am speaking at a leadership development conference in London as well as a Mum Heart conference for women from all over the UK and Europe. And then I will spoil myself by spending glorious days with my true kindred spirits, Sarah and Joy, my beloved best friends and daughters.

So, Sarah, a friend Holly Packiam, and I decided that we want to sprinkle my blog and podcasts with ideas from our own lives about the best books, about filling souls with inspiration through story and by giving you exposure to some of our own favorite stories and books. We hope you will share yours with us. 

I hope our podcast will inspire you--it was so much fun it made me want to have kids all over again.


Holly Packiam

We are incredibly excited to bring you a brand new podcast called Storyformed! Storyformed, founded by Sarah Clarkson, is here to celebrate the soul-forming power of imagination, good books, and beauty in the life of a child. We believe in the power of great stories to change lives -  so here’s to many more podcasts to come!

As you might imagine in our current culture, reading is on the decline. But many of us long to give our children the gift of a storyformed life. I talk to so many moms who say, “I was never read to as a child,” or “I have no idea what to read to my child.” “How could I possibly give them a gift of a storyformed life when I haven’t received it myself?” 

When children are born into a family, they accept their surroundings, their life as normal. Let me fill you in on a secret - your children don’t realize what you don’t know. Phew…..I’m so grateful for this! My kids, who are now between four and twelve, don't known that I’m reading many of the greatest books ever written for the first time. Any insight or wisdom I’m gaining, I’m gaining right along with them. I have to admit, I am a bit grieved that I missed out so many incredible books, even life-giving picture books when I was a child. But, all is not lost. I can receive the gift of these beautiful stories right along with them. 

Children accept the world they’re given. Children don’t know what you don’t know. I never knew my mom didn’t feel adequate. The reading life isn’t fine art or gourmet food. We are all people of words. We are all people of language. We are formed by words whether we read or not.” Sarah Clarkson

If you have the desire to give your child a feast of books, start with a children’s Bible. A couple favorites of mine are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. As you read Bible stories to your children, continue to add other books to your library, little by little, and before you know it - you may realize you have books in all corners of your home. 

When I didn’t know what to read to our children besides the Bible, I trusted some brilliant sources, one called, Honey for the Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. Sarah Clarkson also wrote a great guide highlighting what was read to her as a child called Read for the Heart. These two books still sit on my bedside table - both marked up as I make library lists from them so I know what to check out next. I also have a little system to help me remember what child has read which book so I can go back through and make sure each child has had the opportunity to read each suggestion.

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” C.S. Lewis

A storyformed life is a true to gift to a child. What role do great books play in shaping a child's perception of self, life, and even God? 

In Sarah Clarkson’s book - Caught Up in a Story, she gives us a vision for how great books can be a parent's best ally in shaping a child to love what is beautiful, pursue what is good, and grasp what is true. Sarah draws upon her own storyformed childhood and her reading of great literature while exploring and celebrating the soul-forming power of story to help children imagine, and live, a great story of their own.

I see how stories can be such a formational part of this vision of helping my kids to live out their own unique story within the grand narrative. But when we’re home with kids day in and day out, sometimes its hard to make the time to sit down and read with our kids. 

Take heart dear mommas, as we continue to gain a vision for reading -  whatever that may look like for you - inspiration to keep you moving forward will likely follow if we merely present ourselves to the Lord. It’s not in our own strength, but in the working of the Holy Spirit through us, we can commit and follow through with His plans for us. Whether you’re reading great Bible stories or timeless fiction, whether you’ve been reading your whole life or just getting started, be encouraged that the Lord will lead you.

“Every person is called to be storyformed, to live out a great narrative for the Lord”. Sarah Clarkson 

If you would like to keep up with Sarah and hear more from her, please follow her on 

Please leave us a comment and let us know if you’d like to hear more Storyformed episodes like this one!

BOOKS FROM TODAY'S SHOW- Storyformed Episode #1


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