Parallel play teaching

I drew today… well, it was a collage really, (but it could have been drawing if that is what the children had been doing when I arrived at their table) and I wished afterwards that I could have  recorded it , because I think that the value of a teacher creating art alongside children is that one can scaffold their learning dispositions (rather than their learning content) by how one models and shares one’s thinking processes.

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I have watched teachers who can do a quick cartoon of a dog or some such, Disney style… and they are just doing a party trick which they have practised… they are not modelling creativity, playfulness, problem solving, or resourcefulness or self talk or any such stuff. They are just performing, entertaining. I don’t like this style of drawing in front of children. It definitely suggests there is a right way. And apparently this is supposed to be the biggest hazard  of drawing in front of children: should we therefore not sing, dance, garden, write, cook, sew, go on the trampolines, read, etc  in front of children? Should we not do any activity that requires a modicum of creativity and decision making? I don’t agree but I do believe that the WAY you do something in front of a child will powerfully influence the degree to which you empower or disempower children’s learning dispositions.

If you had been a fly on the wall that morning in this kindergarten, you might have heard any number of sentences from me like the following..it began as follows…and of course there were pauses and other conversations and other people’s voices, but hopefully you will get the idea!

“Oooh, I like what you have done with the little squares. I want to try that.. how did you make them curve? (tries it)Oh look, they are a different colour on the other side…I thought I had a pattern but I didn’t…

What could I use for eyes? Hmm, maybe not that..  that doesn’t do what I want, and it’s hard to cut…oh look,. I could cut circles out of this crepe paper.. where are the scissors? You are having trouble with those scissors? Try another pair ! sometimes it’s the scissors, not you , that are the problem…. some scissors are rubbish!

I need a mouth… what did you use? Oh look I can move it and here it looks like she is a bit crazy, and here it makes her look happy… or even upside down!! Now she looks pretty sad about something! I’ll put it so she is smiling! ”

Oh, her head is so big, there’ s not much room for her body. Rats. Maybe I could do a different mouth, higher up… ? or move her neck?

Now something thin for arms? Hmm,  sticks, straws? Maybe straws, maybe I should fix the other sellotape holder so we can both reach it… there we go…

Now fingers.. little bits of pink wool! oh but they don’t stay where I want them… wait! I could use a glue stick.. oh, you don’t have any? Do you know where I can find some? Right, I’m back.that’s better..now they stay in place and THEN I can stick them down properly with sellotape..

Oh lordy, she needs clothes.. what, you think she looks like a witch?  Oh because of her big round scary eyes? You’re going to make a scary witch? (children are coming and going) I’d like to see how you make your witch  look scary… they have warts on their noses? oh, yes, there’s the witch in “Room on the broom”, isn’t there? does she have a wart on her nose? Well, mine is a happy witch.. see, she has a feather in her hat… (sings yankee doodle) I wonder what colour I should  make her hair.. what colour do you call  your hair, Charlotte? Red…maybe this crayon? do you think this crayon looks close to your hair colour? Maybe I should add a little brown? I think I ‘ll make the ends a bit curly so it looks more like hair… yes, you do have curly hair, Martha… maybe I mean ‘wavy’?… yes, that sounds better/ more like what I mean ..wavy.. yes, that looks good… I like that!

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Back to the eyes… see how, if you look in my eyes, there is a big round part? And in the middle is a little black circle? I think my eyes look scary cos they don’t have the middle bit.. the pupil… (cuts two tiny paper pupils and tries them out in different positions.. surprised, eye rolling dismissal, looking left , looking right, looking catatonic.. looking angry) … I think this position makes her look friendly… there we go.. now  a dress.. oh, she could have an orange dress to match her fiery coloured hair.. I’ll scrumple it so that it looks more like cloth.. oh nice.. and I’ll scrumple the waist so it’s a skirt… oh now she needs boots! Dancing boots!! She is getting happier and happier.. how do you make boots… that looks weird… what do boots look like? Maybe I will draw it first and then cut it out… I’ll draw it on the back… oh, that’s better! Nice green dancing boots…

What! Your scary witch is threatening mine? Because I haven’t got a broom stick? You’ve got a red broomstick.. and what’s that yellow part on your picture?…. A wand!! Oh lordy.. a wand..I don’t have one!  What!? You’re turning me into a frog! No, I’m a happy go lucky witch… I don’t want to be a frog.. you’re going to change me back? What, now I’m a kangaroo? (Starts to sing, because the words  have a very bouncy rhythm)

 

I’m a  happy go lucky kangaroo                                                                                                                                             I eat frogs                                                                                                                                                                              Why don’t you?

I used to be a witch,                                                                                                                                                                  I’m not anymore                                                                                                                                                            Someone mean came to the door                                                                                                                                     She waved her wand   (what rhymes with wand? Pond! Oh thank you that’s good)                                                  And threw me in the pond                                                                                                                                                And I’m not a happy go lucky witch any more!

 

So what did I do in fact? I like to think that I succeeded in being non-didactic and that I modeled some of the vast potential of the various materials, that I modeled ways to talk to oneself while being creative, that I indicated that I thoroughly valued and respected their way of working because basically I was being rather child-like and playful and whimsical and sanguine myself. I hope I strongly modeled that there is no ‘right way’.

One of the books which they read to the children at this kindergarten also reinforces and affirms the concept of ‘no right way’ and that book is called ‘If Picasso painted a snowman”. Well worth a look.

This next post is about how children learn and it refers to two very different methods of research, both of which came up with the same answer, which is that “direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning”. Check it out. One of them is the work of Alison Gopnik, whose research is repeatedly stunning, It seems to affirm that what I was doing was probably pedagogically going along the right tracks. “Wow! look at this,  I wonder what this does?” When a teacher acts clueless, full of wonder and curiosity and a bit like a fellow child,  the children are much more likely to respond with intelligent, thoughtful, playful explorations of discovery on their own.

And here to the right, is that clueless playful adult, who had a really good time, and really likes her batty witch!

Buster the naughtiest rabbit and more!

I was privileged to be invited to spend a day at a centre, unobtrusively demonstrating ways to  incorporate  story telling into  numerous different areas of the curriculum. Since the one year olds were also a powerful presence in the four year olds’ day, and very interested in everything that was on offer, it meant that painting and carpentry, collage and hot glue guns, and even loose parts, were mostly not available. Even the literacy materials were limited.  Nonetheless with  my trusty clip board and its double pencil attachment, we achieved a great deal. Much of what we did is revealed through the content of this learning story, written for a pretty articulate four year old, Harry. I was also very happy with my mat time storytelling. The little ones remained intrigued and interested, and having been promised access to all the props once it was over, were able to restrain themselves.

Story making with Harry

Harry, I had some wonderful moments with you today.   What a proficient storyteller and ‘reader’ you already are.  I met you at the play dough table and I fashioned five small ducks and one bigger one. You recognised the story and counted them to check on my numbers! I often ask children what those five little ducks might have been doing when they did not respond to their mother’s urgent quack quack quacking! And you had no trouble telling me the five reasons you thought of! And all different! (so lovely for stories to vary the mood of the dramatic moments).  And we created it all in playdough, moulding all the features needed to identify the different reasons for their not coming when called!

You cnose ‘stuck in  mud’, ‘busy cooking pies’, ‘playing soccer’, ‘playing hide and seek’, and ‘hiding under a blanket’! And then we drew the pictures of these events… together. You gave me a helpful reminder of how soccer balls look with those black geometric shapes in the pattern….here is our artistic rendition of the drama as it unfolded !!

Then you told me a long story about rabbits and dinosaurs. I asked  open ended questions at intervals just as one does with a friend when they tell you stories at a cafe… Such as ‘so how did the dinosaur and the rabbit feel about what Buster did?” You declined to answer that question but you were happy to clarify a number of other points about what happened next. I asked whether Buster ever said ‘Sorry’ and you said he never did. I asked if I should write that down in the story and you nodded and so I did. I wrote it as you told it, and like with many children, I had to ask you to pause while I wrote it down, word for word, repeating what you said aloud… partly so you could see the words appearing in real time and partly so you could correct me if I recorded it incorrectly!                                                                                                                                      Buster the naughtiest rabbit, who wanted to take over the world!!  (Dan dan daran!)

Once upon a time, there was a bunny and a dinosaur. They lived in a meadow where there was  meat and carrots to eat. Then Buster, the naughtiest rabbit, chewed all the carrots in town, (clarification needed… “Did he leave tooth marks in them all or did he eat them all up?” The latter apparently) till there was none left and  he took all the pies and burnt them all in the oven.

The dinosaur put Buster in jail. Buster was very sad because he wanted to take over the world. The rabbit and the dinosaur moved to another meadow with more food.

Meanwhile Buster escaped and went to the new meadow and ate all the vegetables, and all the carrots, and all the meat and all the pies from inside the rabbit and the dinosaur’s house. 

The dinosaur and the rabbit drank all the water in the pond so that Buster could not have any.

Buster gave up wanting to take over the world. He never said sorry and he went back to his own home and enjoyed a story from a book.       The end.

 

If time had allowed it would have been great to have made a book… and to have given you the opportunity to illustrate it! Later just before lunch, I drew a story with Harrison about a wolf traversing a landscape (photo to the left).          This  narrative used lots of prepositions and had some interesting features. Harry, you  watched and then wanted to create a similar ‘map’ and so you did, walking and talking me through and round, and past and over various things..  mainly a swimming pool!             I named a couple of items… pool, wolf and home and  you asked me to go back and label everything on Harrison’s map… so I did.  

I believe it is very valuable for written literacy, especially in these pencil-less days of digital literacy, to write in front of children, speaking the equivalent as one goes.  I can imagine there  must be a tiny frisson of delight,(rather like  a  mini version of Helen Keller’s experience when she finally linked the sign for ‘water’ to the experience of cold water being pumped onto the palm of her hand), to  have first hand ‘proof’ that spoken words can be represented by written squiggles.. although Harry, you have obviously grasped this concept well and truly!!

I wish that I had had more time to listen to you reading to the other non-sleeping children after lunch time: you are clearly a proficient and much appreciated story teller! When I shared my  props for ‘The three little pigs’ during a quiet afternoon lull, you and Alex eagerly adopted and adapted the various props and were busy as beavers, retelling the story with each other.

Then, of course, there were two  storytelling mat times, and you were an  observant and engaged audience member. We had two  more different versions of ‘Five little ducks’ ( one in a hand made ‘book’ and one acted out with props and five little rubber ducks). You seemed to engage with both of these and it was lovely for you to be able to experience the endless flexibility and potential  for any story to be embellished and played with and made ‘one’s own’. 

 

 

You and Alex really liked the rabbit and the cheetah who played hide and seek and Rabbit hid behind you. Harry, at mat time and although Cheetah did not cheat, he found his good friend the rabbit, and they had a hug!

 

Another exciting development after lunch was creating a sort of version of The Billy Goats Gruff and you were an eager participant again, offering ideas, and images, and adding requests.         

 

 

It was a collaborative playful event,  ad-libbing and improvising at all stages!  I have a clip board with two pencils attached so that I can record and draw and so on, while a child can also add features and details.. and Harry, you  drew a ‘barge’ which had no horns, and only one eye and a ‘crest’.  These creatures needed to be moved around the page… either that or re-drawn on a new page …but we went for the delightfully creative process of ripping them out and re-attaching them with sellotape until it was time to move them back to place. Here are two images… one as it was ‘before’ ripping and the other after ripping… the troll had to go up and down… and the ‘barge’ was better at fighting than  my billy goat, apparently! (Of course!)
I had drawn a fish, but you asked for a shark, and then when the troll fell in the water, the shark needed to open its mouth! I enjoyed this primitive version of ‘stopmotion’!! and clearly you did  too, Harry!

My contribution to the story was changing the animals who crossed the bridge… a mouse, a cat  and a bird.. all of whom rightly claimed that were all skin and bones ,  or all feathers, which would get stuck in the troll’s  teeth!

Thank you for making my day a vivid and animated experience, Harry, and thank you for all your collaborative storytelling. We playdoughed a story, we drew a story, we ripped a story,, we visited a well known  nursery rhyme story in four different media, we  re- enacted a story, you invented and dictated a story, you read stories to the other children, and you took characters from a told story and re told it yourself while adapting materials to make new props, as you did  for the little gingerbread man and his house who both appeared out of my bag at some point!

It was a rich day for me, and it seemed as though you were appreciating it too, Harry! Thank you.

(Recorded by Evelyn, a  visiting ‘story-teller’. But then, who isn’t a storyteller!!?  July 13th 2017)

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Matariki story for early childhood centres

This is a short post because I have to confess that it is absurd that I am offering an all day experience focused around Matariki ( as well as a half day option) and yet there is no mention whatsoever of it on my website!! Flipping artists! so impractical!  So here comes the mention!

I have worked in early childhood for over ten years and while Matariki has gained in popularity, it is clear that many teachers are at a loss as to how to honour it. So I decided to create something. When I posted a photo of the wet felted wool hanging that I made for the occasion, the response was close to viral! Fortunately it faded away a bit, and I was left with  some serious bookings by people who sounded like they would really appreciate and value what I am offering.

What am I offering? It changes from day to day, just like the best  laid plans in day care and ECE. One starts somewhere and one lets it evolve. weaving together the curiosities and wonderment of both oneself and the children! And what a wonderful journey can eventuate.
Well, right now, I am  not with children, so it is my desires to be a stage director and script writer and playwright that are taking centre stage! I started with the wall hanging… and thought  this would be good to trial with the children, (first trial run tomorrow at a friend’s centre!…watch this space, maybe a photo will be added) and then I wanted to make the puppet show, and have been busy and obsessed with creating the faces of Papatuanuku and Tawhirimatea and learning about facial mokos and protocols for men and women, and also learning how to sculpt a face so that it looks like a man or a  woman…. sussed that now!

And then what about older women? how does one make them  look for real? and finding gorgeous images of women who are so wise and so rich and so wrinkled, and their eyes are  so bright, (including Whina Cooper) and I want to make Papatuanuku into a figure of joy and wisdom and laughter! and it has been such a pleasure. I started by building onto old papier mache heads that were just waiting for their moment of glory and built onto them with paper clay!

Next is the painting and then the cloaks..and maybe they  need hands!?

And then I saw a post by a woman who also offers Matariki  puppet shows and she has music. I started with the ukulele but this is not the time to suddenly start practising again  so I am using songs the children already know and creating words that fit for Papatuanuku and Tawhirimatea and Tamanuitera! and using the tunes of  Frere Jacques, Ma is White, and You are my sunshine! so at least the teachers will be able to bellow along with confidence if I have them written up large to read from!

I make these up while I am driving. I was going to an interview where I felt vulnerable and somewhat under attack but I made up songs for the God of “Storms as I drove there and suddenly realised that I felt a whole lot  more confident and even somewhat cocky! To the tune of Frere Jacques… try it, it feels good!

Tawhirimatea! Tawhirimatea

Don’t mess with  me!  don’t mess with me!

I’m as mad as mad can be, I’m as mad as  mad can be.

I’m the god of storms. I’m the god of storms!

Nice, eh? And of course it is important that the children get a chance to participate with hand gestures ,etc. So we can do rain gestures, then lightning gestures (think Spider man, plus sound effects) and thunder… (stamping feet!)

And so it goes on. I have yet to create the landscape so that it works for  the puppet people who will be waiting for Matariki to show itself on the dawn horizon, and I will have a Nana explaining why they are sitting on a cold hillside with an unopened hangi, and what the stars are called, and how Ururangi, the littlest, comes first because she loves her Kuia, her granny, Papatuanuku, and to curl up in her lap and laugh and hear her stories…and so on.

storytelling threads oral literacy

And what else? I have to make cloaks, and will use those gorgeous quilting fabrics which have such lovely Maori designs and motifs…..but I have my doubts about making  the cloaks join at the neck, King Arthur style, because Maori cloaks were usually worn with one side off the shoulder, and that is tricky cos my puppets don’t have shoulders! Let alone arms. Yet!

And so it continues to  unfold, and the other thing I have  offered, am offering , is a chance for some of the children to sit with me and make simple standing puppets for a story, and for teachers who are watching to see how simply they too can populate a plot. Alternatively I have thought of gathering  story dictations from the children, and doing a mat time with them in which we ‘do’ their stories a la Vivian Gussin Paley style.

It all remains fairly malleable and open to suggestion and requests from centres and the degree to which children are used to an improvised story telling culture. For some, it is old hat, and for others, it is too weird to contemplate or participate in.

So, there you go, in brief, and vaguely, this is what I am planning and offering. This week is a week of practice runs and then it is all go, including two full day visits to two centres in Hamilton. Thank you for believing in me, guys!

And there is of course that gorgeous song off the Te Papa website, which is really where I began, and also the story they have there about the different roles played by the six sisters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLoDXwHpX6oI

I love the way the six sisters have begun to acquire character and personal qualities, so I feel I know them better and can speak for them, as the story unfolds. Often I will retell the story while I lie in the bath (my  happy place) and new twists and relationships will reveal themselves between the characters. The struggles between the God of storms and the Sun are not dissimilar to those faced by anyone in a power struggle or situation of conflict. There are skills to be learned and the art of ‘impulse control’…. he is a little hot headed and impulsive that God of Storms, Tawhirimatea!

 

 

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