Oi! Give me back my diamond!

Creative collaborative storytelling.

What a strange circuitous route creativity takes! On the Kapiti Coast I heard a story called The Sultan and the Magic Rooster from a woman who works with people with special learning needs from the UK and then I learnt it, and added opportunities for more and more participation by the children. Making bee sounds, sucking up water sounds, putting out fire sounds… and the indignant chorus line, “Oi! Give me back my diamond”.

I did it first at a library story telling session and made a table top puppet for the rooster, with a papier mache head on a  hard cardboard cone.

Then I told it (propless) to a group of kindergarten children and during the day, I made a picture of a rooster at the art table and made it into a book cover.

My plan was to draw or paint all the other pictures but of course there was no time. However, I worked out how many pages there needed to be, and at appropriate intervals I had a full page with the words of

“Oi! Give me back my diamond!”.

 

Because there were no images and no words, the children were inspired to help me tell it, and I dutifully turned the blank pages as the plot  unfurled. Then I would come across the chorus, and they would all bellow it out joyously! And so the story was retold, and the blank book serendipitously became another part of my storytelling repertoire.

So many things constellate to create new ideas and the process of creativity becomes increasingly fascinating, as one thing triggers another and cross fertilisation happens. This is my idea of what will happen when storytelling becomes part of a centre’s culture. So then, that rooster can be in five different stories and bring his storylines, strategies and experiences into a variety of contexts, weaving a rich tapestry of complex neural  pathways.

A further development was that I made another book with an image of a cat in a garden on the front but no words inside. A child said,” It can’t be a story. There are no words”, and so I took it to mat time, and asked three children to come up with me, and tell me the story of the cat in the garden.

They did a wonderful job, and then another three children told  a second story, using the same provocation of the cat sitting amidst the flowers. What is remarkable is that each story had both a  happy and a sad ending.  Before work the next day, I quickly drew the two stories and the four endings into the book and ‘read’ their story to/ with  them,  which had now  become a book, but still without words. Which they listened to with great attentiveness.

This evolved at another centre soon afterwards, when I read them the children’s two  cat stories and invited them to  create a story too. I then produced a few random ‘cover’ title pages to choose between, and they chose the car image. So I invited another  three children to tell us what happened in the story. The plot unravelled about a cat and a bunny who went for a picnic, were chased by a giant bear and tried three different strategies for escaping from him before remembering they had a car they could escape in!

Then I was on outside duty and started to do some drawings for their story, and of course, they all leapt in. I could have drawn a story board of required images which would have been good for them to work out what was needed but would also have suggested a ‘right way’ of drawing an image.

There was no time, there was a howling gale and everything, paint, paper,pencils, felts,  brushes, small lids of paint with bunched up tissues with which  to smear a sky or some grass in, so that it could be rubbed ‘dry’ and be safely stacked … all had to be held down with hammers and lumps of wood, but nonetheless, half a dozen children or more, contributed images, announcing what they planned to draw. I occasionally said “We still need a picture of when…….” One image was of a horse which I asked politely if I could turn it into a bear cos I was one short. And a younger child’s image conveniently became an image of panic and fear, whilst her other circular spiral image made a very good hole to trap the bear in.

Then I sewed the whole book together, made myself a copy, and read it to them at mat time.  I think such a story is such an empowering experience, introducing a playfulness, flexibility, creativity and collaborative creativity, along with a strong sense of agency. They were so engaged, and I was happy as Larry with a project to work on, rather than drifting vaguely. I am very taken with the concept of a ‘planted adult’, meaning that I stay still and they swirl around me, but I am predictably and inspirationally engaged in their midst.  I like to think.

The two stories above were more about the bones of a story and less about the flesh. We filled those in when we drew it, in a way. When a child has drawn some images and I am writing the words that tell the story alongside the image, I like to think I ask questions a bit like those lovely guys in the Flight of the Conchords. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca4ty7tz9x0  Listen to how they interact with the children. They are genuinely interested in learning from the children. They ask questions to which they do not know the answers. They accept whatever they children offer and do not block their ideas. The result? simply magical. i like to think that when i ask children to tell me their story when they create a book or some such that i also play the pa rt of ‘naive enquirer’ as well as these dudes!

I took a dictation about a party. it was for the King. I asked if the queen would have been there too., Her answer was that the Queen was allowed to come. So I wrote that. (Meaning that instead of . adding ‘for the king and the queen’…i wrote,’ The Queen was allowed to come’. It conveys a complexity of relationship that good stories always have) She told me that she wore a purple dress. i wrote that. When i asked if there was any more she could tell me about her appearance, she explained that she had gentle shoes on. Gentle shoes, I said, what are they?”They are not high heels, because these people are fairies and not ginormous”. The result was splendid, just like the stunning song about feeling inside and ‘stuff like that’. So the final part of this trilogy was last week when I redid the story of the Rooster with a magic tummy  http://caloundrastorytime.blogspot.co.nz/2006/10/turkish-sultan.html  at another kindergarten.

Day one, I told it with their help. Day two, they helped me to tell it, and I used the book and they bellowed the chorus, and learnt the meaning and gesture for ‘indignation’, captured by the word ‘Oi!” in my opinion. Even by this point, one parent had commented that this was the longest story that her daughter had ever regaled her with at home. Other parents commented similarly over the following days. There is something, I believe, about the fact that I did not need a book that made the children appreciate that neither did they.

Day three, I had made small table top puppets out of wedges of wood during Day two, and they were quite simple figures. No glue gun, so I had to wall staple the hair on.  That night, I embellished them quite a lot and was very pleased with them. I adjusted that courtiers who gave advice so that there were three of them.

And then at mat time, I set it out with different heights and fabrics and walked the story through. Oh, and I had also adapted a tissue box, a shoe box, and a cardboard cylinder into a bee hive, an oven and a well. They children helped me to decorate and create them.

 

Day four, we did it as a dramatised live version. I sewed up loops of different coloured wide ribbon while stuck in traffic jams on the way to work, so they could be worn like netball player sashes. Purple for the sultan, gold for the rooster, green for the old lady, and yellow , blue and red for the three courtiers who think up the three ways to get rid of the rooster.  There were also three sarongs to create the ‘traps’. Blue for the well, red for the fire and yellow for the beehive. A few blocks for height for castles and window sills.  In the moment, it suddenly became obvious that the rooster could actually stuff the blue water up his jersey until he spat it out in the oven to put out the red fire cloth. AND we found a way to put the rooster down the sultan’s baggy pants.  A bowl of ‘treasure’ of plastic diamond looking shapes were also always incorporated into each telling of the story.

The children finally knew the story so well, having  seen it, heard it, read it, small-worlded it, and now played  it, and also retold it at home. It was so marvellous to see how far the story had travelled over the four days. And what a great sense of ownership and interest had developed in the children. And how many children felt empowered to extend their oral literacy at home, and tell their parents stories as well. I am  not sure about the moral but certainly there was a message that greed does  not end well.

P.S as you can see there is a video. If I knew how to upload it, I would. In the meantime, I have permission to share it at my workshops so I look forward to being invited to provide a workshop for up and coming storytellers.

The four A’s of intuitive storytelling and the volcano seed.

David Sewell writes about the four A’s of intuitive storytelling and I am beginning more and more to understand what he is talking about. He refers to Attention, Affection, Approach and Allow. At the recent workshop on empathy and toddlers, we finished with a story… and I produced a basket of random props .

Together we selected some characters which we were drawn to… mostly ones that I was drawn to but the other women also contributed, and they also helped name the characters. I threw my scarf over my knees and announced that it was a mountain with a volcano at the top and the bottom was the river, on the banks of which lived our main protagonists.

 

There was a girl who was named (Leonie?) and she had a pet chicken and they liked to row on the river in their boat and talk about the important things of life. The mother stood on one of the banks with an empty cooking pot.

Having chosen the characters, one now has to invest them with significance and detail, such as names, strengths, challenges and favourite activities. One can also find oneself drawn to explain the key idea of the story and respond with affection and acceptance to whatever arises most prominently in one’s vision or in one’s imagination ( or which a child offers as an idea).

There were two more characters or items that drew our affectionate attention and which we accepted with confidence and conviction. There was a lion who lived at the top of the volcano and who guarded a chest with something within.

The plot of the story was that the volcano kept erupting and destroying the crops of the people who lived below. I told the listeners that the contents of the chest were reputed to have great magical powers and asked if they knew what it could do? Someone suggested that it meant you could live for ever ( and I apologise for not accepting or attending to it appropriately!). Instead I said ‘How ghastly’, and they immediately changed it to ‘You would always have enough to eat’, which was a great offer since we had already established that currently they did not. (Also stories seem to work best when you stay as much within the realm of the reasonable….. castles made of jelly, although fun, usually end you up in a great deal of bother and tricky detail which, although clever, tends to lose the children, or overexcite them).

So now the scene is set, the characters are named, the dilemma is articulated: hunger… and the goal has been identified: to try and get to the chest.

So we have worked with the first three A’s that David Sewell mentions. We had attended to various options, been affectionate and accepting of them ( apart from living forever!) and we have approached… we are now right in the thick of the story, in a boat on the river, poised for the plot to unfold. This is what he calls allowing. He also says that Aboriginal people believe that stories are like sorts of ghosts who want to be ‘told’ and if you don’t tell it, they have to wander off until they can find someone willing to ‘tell ‘ them.

So, it transpired that Leonie, the girl, and Cluck, the chicken, decided to explore the volcano and have an adventure. As they approached the peak of the mountain, they talked about trying to get into the chest. They got scared, they reassured each other, and empathised with each other’s nervousness. It turned out that Chuck had a plan which she explained to Leonie ( and to me, because until that second I did not know either!). It would have been truer to the archetypal story if they had met a fifth character who  needed some sort of help that Leonie and Chuck could provide and then that character might have endowed Chuck with the brilliant idea… you know the principle of the wise helper who ‘tests’  your  humanity and offers an unexpected gift in exchange? )

 

She would fly over the lion and lay an egg mid air… (this is the story now telling itself… I simply opened my mouth as Cluck, and that is what she said! I was all admiration! She pointed out, with my help, that laying an egg in midair is very hard because you can’t push against the ground with your feet while you push the egg out).

She flew off to distract the lion with this scheme and achieved great aim and once again, I was surprised by the story because the lion immediately transformed into a big wuss and lay on his side, and whined for his mother, “Mum, mum, there’s egg in my hair , oh yukky yukky’.

This was handy as it gave Leonie time to rush in and extract the treasure. It was a round red felted ball.. They ran off down the mountain, and I have no idea what will happen next… the story is telling itself and it did again.

Leonie (me) failed to have a good grip with her little china hands and dropped the ball which rolled over my knee and fell into the river.

Suddenly I could see where the story wanted to go… the red ball hit the water with a resounding ‘hissss’ as its fiery heat was extinguished.  And do you know what this meant? Yes, the women listeners did… it was the seed heart of the volcano which had been extinguished and it would never erupt again, and the crops were never ruined again and they always had enough to eat! I mean how tidy is that for an ending!!? Brilliant in my view… and it was absolutely to do with allowing.,.. if I had tried too hard, I would probably have gotten myself into a knot and a stuck place…. but instead it fell into place.. ..literally. And of course, they made friends with the lion who came and lived with them and told wonderful scary bedtime stories to Leonie and Chuck, about the volcano that was no more. (You can see my hand trying to get the ( now deceased ) ball out of sight!!)

Post script: in many ways, I suppose this is called improvisation, and/but it is a very mysterious process. I took part in a storytelling improv weekly class last year and it is similar. It has to do with playfulness, trust and a willingness to take risks… but as David Sewell illuminates, ultimately the biggest challenge ( or the most important part) is possibly ‘allowing’. We want to maintain control, we are self-conscious and so we lose the juice of the whole affair. Do you also see how this style of story telling is so very similar to what children do when they play with their toys ? And how, if they have loose parts to play with, they happily improvise and include them in the plot, and use all the wonderful language, ideas, concepts, knowledge, working theories, and cultural capital that they have in their hearts, minds and imaginations as they are going along, never worrying about how it will all turn out…!! in the same  way that they play in the sandpit or do a painting… which is why their  paintings are often so brilliant!!

One of the key maxims of the improv class was that ‘gold was discovered,  not invented’, meaning you don’t have to bust your gut making up stuff…it just allow it to unravel and let it be discovered. If the Aboriginal people are right, it is dead keen to be discovered!

Here is the link on which you can find long articles on the first two A’s and the third two are also there if you dig around!  I got a bit tired just putting up this article! boy, it’s a mission. First you have to compress your photos and then you find they are too small and fuzzy but it is too late, cos your photographer has gone home!! and you can’t take more! http://thewonderofchildhood.com/2011/02/sparkle-stories/   and this link takes you to two longer articles about the two A’s… http://thewonderofchildhood.com/tag/storytelling-in-waldorf/

13½ possible ways to play with/tell a known story – or – ’13½ ways to use your hands’.

13½ possible ways to play with a known story and bring it alive with the children, without using a book or a CD. A graduated series of steps towards building confidence and simply practising. Everything is hard until it’s easy… learning to walk, putting on your own clothes, becoming bilingual as a three year old… practise, practise, practise. Skill is secondary, ability to live with occasional ‘failure’ is imperative!

1. Jim Weiss has the first and most simple ½  step. Take a story book that you already know and read every second page but use your own words to ‘read’  the one in between. http://vimeopro.com/user13058727/greathall/video/48033909 from 4 minutes in, he covers the element of connection and respect, the neuroscience of storytelling. At 11.33 he tells you how to read every second page and paraphrase every second page. At 13.00 he talks about working with children who had never been read to or knew stories. At 15.00 he tells a story from Sherlock Holmes. (pretty good). In this image he is being the hare in ‘The tortoise and the hare’.

 

 

 

2. Take a story you already know and add gestures. Make up your own or ask the children for ideas and then tell it more than once so that the children can anticipate and join in with the story. Here is the story of Cucaracha, which is suitable for very young children who are very comfortable with copying gesture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpcHgob2i5A you can do this with any simple story. They love to join in and anticipate.

This Australian woman has created gestures to go with a short poem she has learned. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/telling_stories_mook_mook_owl_video.html

A very simple thing to do… and gives the children a change from the perpetual old and rather ‘tired’ favourites like Five little ducks or Head shoulders knees and toes.

 

.Louise Coigley, who is a speech and language therapist, also talks about rhythm and gesture. Brilliantly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVvMQR6jTYc

 

 

 

 

3. Take a story you already know and act it out. Here is a family having a great deal of fun acting out the story of the three little pigs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo2LDDbwlRg

Children playing out the three little pigs at a childcare centre.

4. Take a simple known story and support the children to take part by making the gestures and singing the chorus as the story progresses. Here is a storyteller telling the story of the Hare and the Tortoise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_032nPgwdM This is a performance but the basic building blocks are the same.

 

 

 

 

This chap also teaches the children how to do their part. He also does a running commentary sharing with us how he does what he does…the importance of eye contact, the use of names and so on. It is true that it is not a well known story! one must adapt! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJU5L3ZYODU

5. Take a simple story or a simple verse and learn how to tell it with sign language. Try ‘Baa baa black sheep’ or ‘ Goldilocks and the three bears’ or ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ePOq_S04p8

and check out the animation, vitality and generosity of this story teller doing the three little pigs.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw8u29Fa1Ag

and then there are these gorgeous young brothers (3 years and 17 months) who are bilingual in spoken language and ASL Here they are reading/telling a book together . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fha8ZsdxupI

And a child telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood in sign language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDFxr6dMJUE Amazing.

6. Take a story you all know and paint it.

The three little pigs.

Mr Gumpy’s Outing.

7. Take a well known story and create a string game around it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQkJpTVIyeA. This one is a classic and marvellous rendition of the famous story of Jack and the Beanstalk  and his goal in this instance is to entertain rather than teach but it would make a great springboard for teaching simple string figures like the witches hat. Or the story of the annoying  mosquito which is easy to learn.

8. Take a known story and try to recall the sequence with the children, such as Going on a Bear Hunt. Maybe have the images of the story shrunk to a smaller size and then glued onto stones and put the stones in the right order.

9. Take a well known story and find the appropriate table top puppets to act it out. Use fabric of different colours to suggest a river, a mountain, a lake or snow and ice. Leave the props available for the children to tell the story, or their variation of it!

10. Take a well known story and find the appropriate animals and act it out in the garden and take photos and make your own story book for the children, with the children.

11. Tell a well known story and encourage staff to ‘act it out’/ be ‘in role’  in front of the children in the course of the day and stay in role (on dress up days!) The children were delighted, aghast and initially stunned when Cruella Deville told Cinderella she had to tidy the resource room instead of have lunch! problem solving indeed! moral dilemmas abouding! social justice issues……but fun!!

Cinderellla and the two ugly sisters and a handsome prince! They actually came as Maleficent and Cruella Deville but they were perfect as Cinderella’s sisters. Not planned but it would be great to choose a story to share. Jack and the Beanstalk, Frozen…… not many with a lot of females actually??

12. Take a well known story and tell it out with playdough. No photos of the children because of privacy issues (in many of the photos on this post).

Jack and the beanstalk.

13.Take a well known story and create our own story books about it or create a puppet set. 

The list is absolutely infinite but my patience with computer technology is not!! so 13½ is where I am stopping. It certainly gives you a taste of the infinite possibilities for incorporating stories into one’s practice. This post does not even start to address the creative possibilities for collaborating and improvising new stories with the children. Or for supporting children to create and record and retell their own stories.

I hope this has been useful!

14. p.s how ironic! I did  not include a storytelling mat as another way to tell a story. Here is an image of the mat I made for ‘Going on a Bear hunt’, complete with house and bed and all the landscapes. About a metre diameter.

 

Temperaments, princesses and seasons.

After reading A Storyteller’s Way,I decided to challenge my habitual, default ways of  ‘assembling’  stories. About six months ago, I used this wonderful image from Olga Levichko as a provocation for how to embellish and bring a story to life, but in such a way that it could appeal to all four temperaments. The temperaments are something Rudolf Steiner used as a lens with which to appreciate ways to approach different children, and to meet their needs. The concept of the four temperaments originated in ancient Greece and can be read about here on Wikipedia. They  include choleric ( stroppy feisty leaders), sanguine (funloving, easygoing, butterfly nature, easily delighted and change focus frequently) melancholic,( inward, sensitive, prone to perfectionism, and a bit moody) and phlegmatic ( self- sufficient, peaceful, observers who prefer stability and are kind).

Obviously no child fits one  temperament exclusively. Most children have a great deal of sanguinity and as we mature, it is  hoped that we will eventually have an even balance of all four temperaments. I was delighted this evening to take a simple online test and discover that they ‘diagnosed’ me as the one temperament which I usually fail to have even a whisker of (phlegmatic! getting older must help!)

The personality types can also be summarised as  the desire to undertake a task in a ‘fun way’ (sanguine) or in ‘my way’ (choleric),  or the ‘right way’ (melancholic) or ‘ the easy way’ ( phlegmatic). Equally, I realised, one could compare them to the seasons, or rather, the effect seasons have on us. Spring brings  all that good  humour and friendliness out in us, and then summer sees us getting things done and making impulsive strong gestures  and plans, and autumn brings with it a certain melancholic awareness of loss and the imminence of winter blues, whereas once we arrive in winter, it is a great opportunity to sit back,  hibernate, take it easy, eat a bit more and take a break from the busyness of the year.

So, Ashley Ramsden and Sue Hollingsworth brought their anthroposophical understandings to the business of storytelling. Each group of children will have a mixture of all the temperaments and it is possible, and a good idea, to choose and tell stories which will appeal to all four temperaments. And  within one story, one can be sure to include a bit of the sort of thing which lights each particular fire.

So, here are my four attempts to begin a story, related to the picture above, in ways that would inspire the four different temperaments. Check them out. What do you think?

So temperament one , choleric, might like a story which starts like this: ‘It was a cold, snowy night but the animals still needed to be fed. Olga grabbed her coat and her big blanket and her boots and stomped out into the deep drifts of snow. ‘Dog’ she bellowed heartily into the swirling mists, ‘Get over here at once, you rascal!’

For a sanguine child, who likes details so they can really sink into the story,” The sun had long sunk below the horizon and the moonlight sparkled on the crisp snow like a thousand beautiful tiny diamonds. An owl hooted in the distant dark of the forest and Olga pulled her warm coat closer around her ears and snuggled into its cosy furry collar.

For a melancholic child, maybe ‘ It was so dark outside and her father and mother were not yet back from the village and someone needed to get the sheep into the pen.She wanted to help and she could hear the bleating of the baby lambs and she could just imagine her favourite, Wagtail, and how scared he would be out in the open and of course, there were the wolves.

And the phlegmatic. Actually Olga looks somewhat phlegmatic doesn’t she… she does not look at all melancholic..but of course these elements can be brought in through other ways.. a snarling wolf would satisfy a choleric’s hunger for action and vigour, and the shivering cat trapped in the snow in the dark and in need of rescuer would appeal to the sympathies of a melancholic child ( melancholic had a different definition for ancient Greek doctors from what it means now – another post maybe.

So, finally. phlegmatic. It was warm and cosy in the cabin with the flames of the fire fitfully flickering and Olga felt deliciously drowsy after her meal of borscht and freshly baked bread, She rested on the sofa and stroked the snoozing cat and gazed out the window at the snow which swirled around the house, wrapping it in a coat of wintry white.

(Sorry, Olga, the choleric is about to get their turn again! , but at least there was a bit for phlegmatic Olga – it’s all about balance.

What I realise, when I set myself a little exercise like this, is how I ( and probably everyone else who isn’t consciously trying) will tend to invariably tell (and choose) the same sort of story with the same combination of emotional moods and variations on similar action/stillness ratios). Keeping the four temperaments in mind helps to keep the tone, mood and speed, varied and richer.

Cholerics like action/ verbs…. sanguine like details/ adjectives, melancholics often use more nouns and words that describe emotional states and moods, while phlegmatics like alliteration, repetition and lingering a little longer before moving on (that’s a fairly cursory summary but you get the drift….ha, a pun to end on! )

And four images that sort of  manage to link the season, the temperament, the mood and the energy….. not sure, but some super great photos there from Kirsty Mitchell ( autumn ) and Margarita Kareva (winter).