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)
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!
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.
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!
It is autumn and I have a three week stint of work at a Rudolf Steiner kindergarten, where stories are often told and retold over a period of weeks. And of course some people find that weird and even though I used to work in a Steiner school, it certainly felt like a challenge. And this is the story of how I rose to the challenge and my observations about how it nourished or did not nourish the children, and my part in that.
So, it is autumn and I need a story and I discover that they have never heard the story of the little red house with no windows and no doors, but with a star inside. I have read a few versions of it, and parts I liked and parts I did not, and I decided to change the gender. I mostly do , simply because there is a severe imbalance in heroes and heroines and the use of he, rather than she, for a random number of animals to boot. I also made Molly the youngest in her family, with three sisters and three brothers, who barely figure but it does make her mother a very busy woman.
Here is a link to a written version, adapted by an0ther woman, that had bits I liked and here is a link to a video where a man tells this story in a living farm context and I was greatly inspired by his telling. He had no props but his telling engaged and held me. Oral storytelling is a very organic process. There is no ‘right’ version.
My first step was to read the story again, and then watch and listen to the video a few times. Then I ran through the whole thing in my head, or out loud in the bath, or when I told my daughter the plot. And adjusted and changed the story to suit me and my temperament and the context.
One of my beliefs is that when teachers use oral storytelling , they greatly support the children’s oral literacy and my experience of the children’s play afterwards and their almost word perfect replay made me wish I had focused more on various details, such as the verbs used to describe the playful dance of the wind with the leaf, for example.
The children regurgitated every verb and interesting word into their play, and I realised I had not paid enough attention to remembering them all, and replaying them.
It was almost time to tell the story but the visual landscape in my head was a mess so I drew it, story boarded it, a process recommended by Sue Hollingsworth and Ashley Ramundsen in their book . I sat with the children while they were drawing and without saying what i was doing, I simply drew it over two sides of one page, and I discovered/ created a world wherein the girl could travel and meet the characters and finally the wind but also find herself close to home by the end.
I told it, and the children were completely absorbed. I was quite pleased with myself. I could ‘see’ the landscape in my head and gesture with my arms with confidence even though I was not looking at anything in particular.
I wanted to incorporate the idea of being bored and the mother’s response.
“I’m bored, Mum. Come and play with me”.
“I have too many jobs to do, and it’s ok to be bored. That’s when one gets the good ideas’. And the girl goes off and finds a good idea (Room to embellish here with something creative or playful one has seen these actual children doing. Like turning the apple crates into a stage and singing to the ducks, springs to mind! )
Days two and three progressed without incident but on day four, when I said (for the fourth time) that Granny was very wise and knew a lot of things, (and here I had to improvise because I had not worked on it enough). In a mainstream interactive, collaborative and more ‘awake’ context, I might have asked the children what they thought she might know and be good at. But, off the top of my head, I said she knew how to make toffee apples and popcorn. ( In retrospect, I could have said that she could shear a sheep, clean and card the wool, dye it, spin it and then knit it into gorgeous jerseys for Molly and Jack. Given that I ended up doing some wet felting and making hats for their dolls with them, with carded wool..this would have been a much better skill with which to have endowed Granny…..one that had nothing to do with stereotyped grannies and a focus on sugar!)
And on day four, someone was feeling obstreperous and was disturbed somehow and he could not resist muttering resentfully that making popcorn was easy ( and I have to agree with him)!
All this time I was thinking about the two other processes I had not undertaken and which I always teach as being important steps in preparing for a story. Tut tut me! Both concepts are well described in the “The Storyteller’s Way” and relate to the four temperaments and the five senses. The temperaments idea is described in this post about Olga. If you consciously ensure that your story has some aspect that will appeal to each of the four temperaments, you will be likely to present something for all the chidlren and temperaments. And in this story, the playful cheeky wind definitely appeals to the choleric (and sanguine). I could see out of the corner of my eye, that one boy really looked forward to this part with joyful anticipation and smiled broadly in appreciation while I described the actions of the wind when it repeatedly danced and whisked the leaf out of Molly’s reach.
Shouting to the wind from the top of the hill would also appeal to the choleric temperament, along with Jack’s feisty and dismissive rejection of the likelihood of a house without a door! The melancholic child might be moved to sympathy for the bored child who can’t get her mother’s attention (?) and the phlegmatic temperament might be nourished by the easy going Granny who sits and knits and doesn’t get fussed and makes great food. And so on.
Then there are the senses. And by day four I had managed to make the time and effort to consider which and where and what. I began to emphasise the baking smells and warm bread aroma in Molly’s mother’s kitchen. I emphasised the bird song and the sound of the little stream tinkling and burbling its way under the bridge. Molly also pauses under the hazel nut trees and sees the little nuts ripening in their tiny clusters of little brown nests and on Monday she found one nut, and on Tuesday she found two, and by Wednesday she had found three and left them there to pick up on her way home to give to her three brothers, (sanguines love details!)
And the other senses…. sight (hazels) smell (kitchen), sound ( birds and stream and wind whistling around the hill) touch, (the apple) and taste ( ah, I never did include that one, now I think of it). I could have included it at the beginning when mother could have given her something to eat when she set out on her journey of adventure. Maybe some ripe feijoas….plenty of room for embellishment there with getting juice down her chin and throwing away the skins for the birds who loved to peck out the last bits of feijoa flesh. Or her wondering about the best ways to eat feijoas… just daily experiences which are already part of the children’s lives and when we include these details, the children feel validated and heard. Molly’s story is THEIR story. What IS the best way to eat a feijoa. ( I had watched a girl eat a HUGE orange in such an interesting way…. I wanted to give her a hand, but she was adamant…. and it is in such little ways that children can assert their own independent stance on things. It took her forever and was a perfect job and why not? Where is the advantage of speed in eating something delicious?)
And all the time, an idea is brewing about a farmer. Molly’s Dad is a farmer and so is Jack’s Dad. And I have a rather frail antique tractor that I longed to use as a prop and so I made the farmer. When you make Steiner dolls and ones for puppet plays on the floor, it is so important to have ones that can stand freely without having to lean on trees etc. The net effect seems to be a superfluity of girl figures ( I should be thrilled) and a paucity of male figures, unless they are kings or shepherds or folk heroes who might conceivably wear long gowns. So I had to resuscitate my old Mother Earth, whose skirt had been attacked by moths, and gave her a new beautiful skirt and apron and even a felted hat!! She had become the Granny complete with knitting in process ( two toothpicks poked into a tiny ball of red wool and ‘fixed’ with a tiny dob of hot glue. ( see I already knew that she would be a sheep shearer cum knitter!)
And I had a stand for a farmer but because I was going to give him trousers and shoes!! I had to start from the feet up. I had already made his head, and by the time I had massacred my jeans (the wrong ones, in my haste!!!) and sewn up little shoes, and added his torso and arms, he looked quite odd with his big head and his lovely dancing pumps. I had to make another layer of shoe to ‘man’ him up a bit, and I made him a hat as well to cover his hair which did not quite cover his surgical operations at the back of his head… tugging on the eyes to make them slightly set back in the head, ditto the mouth and so on.
And so he was set and then I found the tractor and good heavens! He was far too big and out of proportion! Nothing lost… the tractor with the little man turned out to be the tractor of Molly’s Dad working away down on the back fields on the farm. While Jack’s Dad’s invisible tractor was broken and Dad was a bit ratty cos he was having trouble fixing it, and did not have much time to chat about a ‘little red house with no windows and no door and it has a star inside”.
Oh, yes , in the days of simply telling, my only props were some gorgeous undersized Gala apples from the Avondale market, and they had stems still, ‘Look, it’s even got a chimney!”….and Mother would reach up onto her shelf and get out her best red knife and cut the apple in two, and revealed the star inside..( scroll exactly half way down for the apple images! and activities) and this happened every day for the apple story… each day, a new apple. How lucky I had thought they were very cute and would look nice on our festival table, and then I realised they were perfect for the story. I love that sort of ‘accidental’ synchronicity. Apparently we are aware of only a tiny percentage of our brain, unaware that it is working overtime linking and connecting and imagining… and then we think we thought it up just then. See Guy Claxton’s book called ‘Hare Brain and Tortoise Mind”. Brilliant.
And so I set up for the story with props on day five… and they were utterly enchanted by the world of Molly set out on the floor with cloths for rivers and fields, and pillows and cushions forming the hills under the cloths, and a leaf for the wind to whistle around…. and the pond and the bridge and hazel nut trees that we had imagined for four days were suddenly all there to be seen.
Like a birthing. And the children were so keen to get their hands on the characters. Which I let them do, bar the tiny hawthorn berries (aka apples in Granny’s tiny basket)!
When the children were able to retell the story after morning tea, and they had access to the props, sometimes they swiftly took roles and played the story out. ‘I’ll be Jack” and “I’m Molly” and then they interact and converse just the way they heard it…’’Don’t be daft. There is no such thing. How could you have a house without a door? How would you get in or out?”
On the following Monday I did it again, and I think by this point I had included the temperaments more consciously and the five senses more fully, and the cat began to acquire her own story line and it was just a pleasure. Tuesday was meant to be the last time because my colleague was going to do the Easter story about the Easter hare bringing the ‘good news’ to the children all round the world. Then she asked if maybe I could do an Easter story and segue it into Molly’s apple story. My colleague had read another version of a story about the Hare in a book written by the mother of an old pupil about the challenges of honouring a traditionally spring story while living in the southern hemisphere where Easter happens in the autumn.
I read the story four or five times, and I stayed up late yet again, adjusting a hare I have, but she was wearing a green bow tie and rimless spectacles… so I divested her of those and gave her arms! She was meant to be an egg cosy originally, made in Nepal and irresistible, ditto the cat.
And I worked out the sequence (which I practised briefly) then semi ad-libbed it with the children who were not short of ‘oohs and aah’ when the five eggs appeared and were hidden. We had decorated eggs and done a painting which became an Easter basket and the room became more and more festive. Numeracy and pairing also appeared as the Easter hare tried to calculate whether she had hidden enough for all five characters in Molly’s story…. too bad about Molly’s three older sisters and three older brothers!! They missed out, it seems. None one called me on it! Even though Molly’s Mum got one hidden for her. And Granny. And as soon as I could I wrote down the basic format of what I had told, so that I could repeat it.Easter story 12 4.17 pdf
I wish I could have sat and listened to all their storytelling and heard what they did with it and all the language they used.
I did hear two six year olds say to each other , as two characters, ‘I wonder who lives in that house?” and then’ Let’s knock and find out” which prompted the second girl to consider for a minute and then say, rather practically, “Well, you can’t really knock on someone’s door just to ask who lives there, can you?” And she is right, but I had never thought about it. But it’s true, and lovely example of ‘working theories’ being formed and the massive amount of learning of every shape and size that occurs for children every living minute of the day.
And the older ones longed to recreate and adapt the story and the younger ones naturally gravitated to hear the story told again, by an expert!
I looked up various websites for comments and thoughts about the reasons and benefits of oral storytelling, (especially over days or even weeks), as practised in Waldorf schools. Here are some quotes, some of which I had slightly adjusted…
Yes, a teacher memorizes the story, but once it is committed to memory, it allows an adult the freedom to make the story one’s own, to connect with the children during the telling, and to tell the story with joy.
Through the rich language of well told stories, children are building their vocabularies.
One should try to speak in a moderate tone, thus leaving the child’s imagination free to picture the story to be as scary or as benign as she can handle or imagine. When hearing a story, children can create their own imaginary pictures, just as the teacher has done. These pictures are not materialized or imposed upon the children. The children are free to create what is necessary for them, in their own life and development, and dream in a healthy way into the stories.
You have no doubt heard a child say, “Tell it again!” Sometimes we forget how much children love repetition. It gives them a sense of security, knowing what comes next, and allows them to take in the story more deeply. (I often think of the way we like to hear the same piece of music again and again, and imagine it is similarly satisfying to rehear a story!)
Rather than be bored by hearing the same story “over and over again,” they delight in the repetition. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, recognized the importance of repetition in learning. We hear a story, then go to sleep that night, during which time we process the story in our subconscious. When we review the story the next day, we take it in even more deeply, connecting with the content at a deeper level.
Contemporary science has proven that neural pathways are strengthened and “myelinated” when information and experiences are encountered repeatedly. There is a crucial misunderstanding about what the existence of these rapidly forming neural pathways within this age group signifies. Many people interpret it incorrectly as being a clear mandate to ram in numbers, colours and the alphabet, “while the going is good”. I quite like the metaphor of ‘cortical real estate’, with the number/colour/alphabet crew focused on building one single bungalow in great detail, whereas the long childhood of the Steiner child, as well as the oral storytelling rationale, ensures that the children are establishing the infrastructure for an entire future city, with roads, utilities, phone lines and driveways for an infinite number of future residents all quietly and inevitably falling into place. It’s not dissimilar to the fact that bilingual children already have a mental flexibility in place which makes the idea of ‘other languages and symbolic systems’ quite normal, so that music and maths and computer technology are no big surprises or stumbling blocks… simply another suburb in an already vigorously active mind, alive with neural pathways.
And so that is the end of my tale of improvisation and creativity and playfulness and I am very glad to have had this opportunity, and there is no doubt that the children greatly enjoyed it. Tomorrow I am telling a birthday story for a boy who has heard these stories about Molly’s apple and about the Easter hare hiding eggs. I plan to tell Jack and the Giant Bean stalk and his mother says I am assured of a very positive reception if that little Easter hare could make an appearance. The beauty of oral storytelling and improvisation is the fact that ! easily can!