A sense of agency and storytelling.

    Storytelling is alive and well, and in good hands! 

I had the privilege of working at a  kindergarten today and noticing how a storytelling culture is an accepted part of their daily routines. And how empowering it is for children when adults accompany the children into the domain of storytelling and play. When children tell their own story and when they use their imagination to create their own plot and narrative, this can be a wonderfully empowering thing. One has complete ownership and a sense of agency.

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Nikau palms…what can you do with them? A rich resource indeed!

What indeed? Cots. caves, guitars, masks, funnels, trolleys, roofs, art…. a long list. So here they are! First some images and then some

An interior of the Nikau Palm Grove at Kohaihai – Kahurangi National Park, West Coast, New Zealand








.So there they are … glorious and lush and frequently dropping these magnificent bowls.

And Maori used them for medicine but especially for roofing. I was going to have a  nikau  roof for my first  house and I received lessons from marvellous women in Kennedy Bay. The fronds have a pleated groove down the centre like a little drain, so if you place them the right way up, once woven, they naturally guide any water down off the roof. Check out this website for more details of building strategies.http://www.mangatowai.maori.nz/WharenikauA.html


Some young people doing the Duke  of Edinburgh award  followed a similar principle to make this beautiful roof.



It did not endure the weather because they did not do what the Maori people did, which is to create the delicious patterns that you see from the inside underneath and then stack heaps more fronds on top,,,and replace them annually or so. It makes it look rather scruffy but then it works and it is still beautiful from underneath.  See the other link above.

What else can you make? this woman learned how to weave table decorations and hangi covers and got to learn how to make fire and all sorts on a wonderful day in Pakuranga.


But then there are the true and whacky artists like Julian Rosenberg who creates gorgeous and functional musical instruments using the dried nikau bowl as the sounding chamber. They are all different shapes and they all play beautifully.


And James Harcourt who creates masks out of the nikau frond and does delicious artwork on them. This is his website link.



or you can simply paint on them….or make a bronze art work out of the shape….

And then there are my ideas!!  A cradle, a cave, a home, a bowl, a go kart, a funnel…. and there are no doubt many more! You will see one drying upside down on my stove because it rained and when I finally decided to take photos, it had reverted in shape somewhat. You have to wedge them open while they dry and once dried, they hold their shape with vigorous determination! The cave I cut part of the front away… dead easy while damp, very hard when dry… much more brittle. Good luck.



Do trolls wear silk or wool?

Walking around the house in search of appropriate fabric to dress a troll, I notice that I instinctively make a face a bit  like a mean troll. There must be some subliminal belief in sympathetic magic. And it does seem to help although if I keep doing it while cutting, gluing and painting,  I start to get sore shoulders from hunching meanly and threateningly over my work!! Maybe it’s time to make some fairies and lighten up!!




I am trying to  make a troll for the Three Billy Goats Gruff. It’s not easy. I made one in three minutes for a storytelling session last year, using a base that was intended to be a giant for Jack and the Beanstalk, and just tied some clothes onto him and gave him hair. But the four year olds all actually gasped when I pulled him out from under a cloth.(He was too big to fit under the bridge!). So he is probably too mean , too big and not good enough. Here he is. He does stand well though, to his credit!


And here is another ‘troll’ whom I found on a Gisborne beach but is also a tad big and a tad scary but what an amazing piece of driftwood! And how extraordinary that he works from BOTH sides. I drew in an eyebrow and darkened one eyeball. And he is not free standing.


Once again my problem was how to make a free standing puppet/character who would be resilient for play, the right size and aesthetically pleasing in some way. Felt seems too soft, cone figures too wide to fit under bridge, and so on and so forth. Then I found this statue at the shop called Habitat for Humanity in Henderson and bought  her for a dollar!

I don’t know what the central column is but all her clothes and wraps are made with paper. Shiny strongish paper which can be shaped into lovely flowing lines. She is carrying a ceramic pitcher, holding it with two ropes, you can just see it over her right shoulder. She is far too tall but she gave me a great reminder.




And I remembered a character I made two years ago with a group of children after a long session of                   collaborative splooshing and gooping with PVA , paint and ‘stuff’ on  a large piece of slightly shiny paper sellotaped to the table. When we had finished ‘exploring its scientific properties’ , we  had to tidy it up so we started rolling and scrunching. One child made a ball with it, and it all stuck together because it was so soggy-ish, but not TOO soggy (it became a very dangerous ball once it dried!) And I suddenly saw the possibility of squooshing a large piece into a doll. So quick, so perfect and so so so sturdy! She just needs a painted face and a little fabric scarf and she would be a great character in multiple stories.






And so I started shaping the body of a troll onto a base                                                                                          made out of two Yakult plastic bottles, and papier mache pulp and then painted pinkish on the head. I made the arms out of twists of paper which I attached to the body in the same way you apply a bandage to a finger so that it stays on. Well, something like that. You need lots of strength and thickness around the armpit joint cos that is where the pressure will be applied. In this photo the troll has his arms out but I realised the bridge would have to be very big to accommodate such a gesture, so I reshaped them, before drying, into a sort of ‘put your fists up’ posture. They took a few nights on the heater to get dry and hard and strong but they sure are. And what does a troll look like?  well, that is a hard question to answer! Sort of hunched posture and very large hands and ideally a big nose?

Here he is lying under the bridge which is being  made to fit him.

Next time I will make enough room on top of the bridge for both the troll and the goat to stand up there! For now, the troll has to stand beside it, on the bank of the ‘river’.




And now the question relating to the title! Does a troll wear silk or a                                                                   felted wool patchwork sort of coat? and do they have beards and how do you make a scary face? with regards to the latter, be aware that felt pen is a bad way to start because you are stuck with it. I am using my watercolour paints and have tried a number of times. But not happy. He looks too cute. How does one do mean eyes…slitty looks asleep, round looks surprised, …..great discussion material to have with children?!






So how does the other one look in wool. Better really  because it was a thicker fabric and I used the hot glue gun instead of the PVA. And I used a number of small bits which looked scruffier and better than a well tailored outfit. Also I didn’t hem his jacket sleeves because he is a troll and it doesn’t matter if he looks unkempt, which saves time! In fact, I used the water colour paints to daub  him with a bit of  mud here and there!




I think that is enough for now. I need to go back   to actually creating things for the Titirangi Market tomorrow  ( last Sunday of every month). I will keep you  posted as to how I resolved his  hair, the facial expression and whether or  not he has a beard!


And as for silk or wool, I think next time I will experiment with leather. I have some nice soft earthy coloured bits. Probably the rougher ‘suede’ underside. Mmmm, yes, I think that could look good. And do trolls wear  hats?

Jack and his beans at the play dough table.

I can’t get past what wonderful opportunities stories are for language extension,  and in this context, fine motor skills, not to mention a familiarity with pattern, sequence, and  numeracy, etc . Like any new activity, story ad-libbing  takes time to become part of daily culture and expectation. After a few weeks of exposure to the possibilities of recreating  stories while at the carpentry table, play dough table or sandpit, the children increasingly join in, make suggestions and generally take over! Which is, of course, the goal.

In the meantime I get to have quite a lot of fun being the primary narrator and maker. There are so many opportunities to ask children to support: to remember the next bit, to make another eight coins for the giant or to make the cupboard behind which Jack can hide, or to invite powerful vocal participation for the Fee Fi Fo Fum bit. ( One girl leapt to her feet in absolute delight, crying out,”That’s what my Dad says to me!”)

So here are the images, and I hope that you as the reader feel encouraged to go for it too. Children do not expect perfection. If you say, ‘and this is the chicken which lays golden eggs’, then they accept that that is what it is, mostly. If they don’t accept it, then pause and maybe someone else can offer a more acceptable hen!

This beast ( on the right) is admittedly the hardest character to create but  it’s just one egg like shape with another egg like shape for the head, four more for the legs… more conversation possibilities here about what else does a cow  have? horns, tail, etc……

And so the story begins with Jack (in the middle) taking the cow to market to sell and trading her for five magic beans. Numeracy! ( if  you need justification!)



This is Jack in bed with no supper, an irate mother and five beans thrown out the window. One long sausage wrapped around her back gave me the hands on hips posture I hoped for.





And what do you know! in the morning , the beans had germinated and sprouted and continued to grow. Much rapid sausage rolling and leaves attached.

At this point you have probably realised that I was far too busy narrating and rolling to be taking photos.  So these are post action mock ups! And with no danger of including photos of children for whom I have no website permission. At the time it was very lively, with about six or seven children involved and participating and listening intently.





And here is that mystery person at the top of the bean stalk with words to share with Jack, who was amazed to discover that she knew his  name!







This is the part I really rather like and that is to be modelling ingenious ways to overcome the lack of ‘correct’ props and to improvise. I regard this as a sorry lack in our current consumer society; one can buy every thing and one does not have to exercise ingenuity and imagination. So here are some plastic tongs doing an admirable job of being an imposing castle door for Jack to see as  he walks along the road to the front door!    It was a bean stalk and transformed ( by obligingly lying down) into a road!








Here is the Giant’s wife with a large table (mug) and Jack     can just be seen on the other side of the table.. And now come the footsteps!! And the Fee Fo Fi Fum….







Giant and Giant’s wife and golden chicken on the table after dinner and Jack is hiding behind the cupboard.

The idea of having a playdough base for the castle was by chance but it did make it possible to stand up ‘people’.




This is the bag and the ten golden coins which Jack will also run off with once the Giant is asleep. And then the harp which sings and can call out to its master when Jack runs off with it. And in the last photo the Giant is chasing Jack down the road, with the harp calling out. Alas, there is no photo of the Giant lying collapsed in a crumpled heap beside the chopped down bean stalk. One girl suggested that an ambulance would be needed. I told her that no, actually the Giant was dead because he was so heavy and he had fallen such a long way down. Should I have accepted the more benign change to the storyline? I certainly could have discussed it with all the children, but alas I did not, merely marvelling at what an enormous hole Jack and his mother would have had to dig…opening up more dialogue about being able to employ people to help you when you have that much wealth. The end.