This is the first story I told for my 100 day storytelling challenge: to tell 100 stories in 100 days in hopefully 100 different ways. This story uses my thumbs for the two starring characters and it is a wonderful story to tell as a beginner storyteller. You can just watch your thumbs with an interested and focused face and ignore the audience!! Also if you are fascinated by your thumbs, your listeners will be too. We are all hardwired to experience limbic resonance through our mirror neurons and so the most important thing probably is that you enjoy yourself…. especially your mistakes. Children get so bored of experts! Have a go, invite the children to join you in the hand and arm gestures and you will be sweet. Next time, you can take Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle somewhere that you and the children really want to go. (Storytelling tip: I always keep Mrs Waggle on my left hand, and Mrs Wiggle on the right. That way, they read alphabetically from left to right, and I don’t get muddled!)
I returned to work in a kindergarten where I had not been since autumn. When I was there in April I had created, in a tall vase, a display of vibrant red autumnal leaves from an ornamental grape vine. When I returned in August, with spring in the air, I was disappointed to find the dried grape vine leaves just where I had left them. I was stewing crabbily and judgmentally on my disappointment when I noticed something green among the dusty leaves. I was stunned to see a burst of new life, a fat green bud with tiny grape-looking flowers in its centre.
It seemed such a salutary life lesson in some way for myself that I was moved to create a story about a crabby old woman and the change of seasons. So I did. I started by creating the verses which give a story a structure and a rhythm and repetition. They changed as the days passed but finally stabilised. This is the story…
And these are some of the principles that I took notice of when I was creating it. I wanted to include rhythmical memorable lines that I could repeat each day. This way the children would be able to look forward to the accurately repeated lines each day, and I would not have to learn the entire story word for word.
I incorporated animals and events that were real and alive for me. I chose a pattern of three for the times in which the old woman intended to cut down the tree, and included three animals all of which are familiar to the children, I referred to seasonal changes with which the children are familiar. I tried to use interesting verbs and adjectives to give the story life, and I also tried to include some words which the children don’t hear often.
What else did I do? I recorded myself telling it to see how long it took to tell. I told it out loud to myself in the bath in the morning in the days leading up to the telling. I attempted to keep the pace slow and old woman-ish and slightly dreamy. During the telling I used my hands and body to demonstrate the physicality of the cat and the dog and the ants… When the cat was purring in the old lady’s lap, I stroked the imaginary circular shape of the sleeping, purring cat. When the dog leapt over the fence, I used my arm to indicate how he leapt. When the ants bit the old lady’s leg, I pretended my hand was scurrying around the back of my shin before the old woman slapped her own leg, etc, etc.
I thought about the temperaments... the phlegmatic sleepy, snug cat, the choleric Digalot the dog digging and chasing and refusing to come when called. I appealed to the empathy of the listeners when Suzy, the old dog, died in her sleep, and again, as they heard each animal respond to the threat of the axe chopping down the tree, and the urgency with which they knew they needed to act to save the grapevine. And the sanguines love all the adjectives and descriptive words which are in the verses and in the descriptions of the behaviour of the animals…the cholerics also got a moment of adrenaline when the captain or grandfather of the ants called on the swiftest, most agile and most courageous of the ants to go into action and fight for the life of the grapevine.
I included references to the senses... the taste of grape jelly, and the sweet raisins,… the smell of …no I did not include smell… the feel of Greysmoke’s warm fur, the cold winter chill of a winter’s day, the warm relaxation induced by the sun’s rays, the sound of purring like a miniature well-oiled tractor, the sound of the old woman trying to whistle, the scuffing sound of Digalot digging For the sense of sight,… the juicy purple grapes, the green bud unfurling, the daffodil bulb that looked like an onion,… so I did include the senses but not deliberately. If I had thought of them, I might have consciously included a few more… like the texture and taste and smell of well chewed old slippers!… or the texture, smell and feel of the sun-warmed corrugated iron, and so on….
I like the fact that I spoke openly about the fact that pets die and that it is very sad. It felt good to name it, and also soften it with the acquisition of the puppy. One other detail I liked was to include a compassionate view of the new young puppy who never sat when asked to sit, never came when whistled for, etc etc. We have a new child in the class who is intensely like Digalot in this regard, and it felt good to say that the puppy was young and that he was learning and that he did not mean to be naughty. It was simply that he was indeed a young puppy. And to hold the child in my consciousness and even, occasionally, in my gaze, while I described Digalot’s behaviour.
Whatever I did, it certainly held the attention of the children for four days in a row, and one child even asked ‘Is this story about you?” ( The cat was once mine, the dog that died belonged to a friend of mine…. and my mother was forgetful but never that bad!) I made a felted house for the children to play with and which I used to introduce the story and occasionally I referred to it, tracing the journey Greysmoke took to get to the roof, and the place where Digalot hid the old woman’s slippers so that he could chew them in peace! and so on and so forth. The hanging was left out for the children to play with and populated with other puppets who were available..I did not have a dog but the kangaroo looked very doggy like or foxy ( as one child commented) if you ignored the joey in her pouch! so we made do!!
It felt like a very healing thing to do to tell a story that somehow made bigger sense of my smaller, rather petty response to the continued presence of the grapevine. And it was a pleasure each day to reach the point in the story when the old woman sees the wonder of returning spring. Each day it felt alive and powerful and special. On the very first day, no one else in the room had spotted this little miracle so they were all delighted to run over and see it for themselves when the story ended and also to experience the wonderful miracle of the seasons…. and fancy the old woman forgetting all about the cycle of the seasons, and isn’t it wonderful that indeed the seasonal wheel is turning back towards the warmth of summer and fresh growth.
And then I made another house in a toadstool, with more windows and space! i have embroidered it a little, and added a door knocker and ‘apples’. I like this one a lot too! And will happily make something similar for you, and you could give me the specifications that you would like!
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”.
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
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.
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.
As Vivian Gussin Paley says: “The teacher asks questions about the intentions of the storyteller and the actors. Does the boy say something when he’s looking for the dog? How about when he finds the dog? It is an open-ended dialogue, and only the author and the actors know the answers. This makes it extremely interesting and creative for the children and teacher. In most other situations, the teacher knows the answers to the questions.”
I think Paley’s quote sums up a lot about the value of oral storytelling. The child is not regurgitating to order, he/she is not being tested for recall accuracy; instead the child is firmly, playfully, indisputably in the driving seat. And I see it to be a wonderful and invaluable thing. And for many children in the 21st century who do not have ( as I did) the luxury of being free unsupervised agents (often outside ) for the best part of the day, this freedom in the realm of imaginative storytelling is a super important modern day urban equivalent. I suspect.
(This learning story includes both made up and known stories but even the latter were revealed to be devoid of ‘right answers’!)
It is also the child’s domain, as storytelling is second cousin to the dramatic play which occurs all day in the sandpit, the dress up area, the home corner, the art corner etc. It is in the realm of storytelling and dramatic play that children are at their most creative, most imaginative and most empowered. In both mediums, one has to work with whatever materials are to hand, one has to accommodate one’s peers and collaborate and find solutions.
Today I played with Alex. First we were in the sandpit cooking and coping with a wild wolf in our midst. Then he brought me story books to read, then we shared lunch at the same table, and finally we spent about an hour at the playdough table creating stories together with other children.
First, in the sandpit, Alex told me the whole plot of Little Red Riding Hood and I wrote it all down. By the time we got to the end, it was apparent that three or four children all had different ideas about how the story went. Did the grandmother really hide under the bed while the wolf was pretending to be her? Did the woodsman open the door with his axe? And was the wolf tied up or killed? No one had the final word but it was great material for complex dialogue and lots of language! And fun.
Then, after lunch, I found myself at the play dough table and spontaneously told the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, which Alex listened to with complete and total absorption. This was followed by the Three little Pigs and finally the Billy Goats Gruff. The ability of the children to follow each nuance of the plot ( all the while accompanied by quickly squidged play dough to represent the different key characters) with steady focus was quite wonderful to me. And afterwards they all told their own stories, sort of side by side, and simultaneously, with a great deal of imagination, fluidity and flexibility, incorporating what ever the others had made!
Alex mainly had a football team but they had to get into a boat when a river suddenly flowed past and it turned out that it was a policeman’s football team, and there was a wonderful moment when I thought Alex said that it was not a safe, or was it that it was not a cave, and then I twigged. He had in fact clearly said that it was not a ‘save’ and I had missed the soccer meaning!! But Alex was admirably patient and determined to be understood and I got it eventually!
Alex, it was such a wonderful experience to hear you talking and explaining and to see how you incorporated threads and images from different stories and different people into your own play, and also your ability to focus and become completely involved. Very exciting too was to see how confident all the children were to squish the play dough into their OWN shapes (not cut outs!) and declare what it was. I am not used to seeing children who trust ( and who are trusted to trust) the skillfulness of their own hands. Great stuff!
In the photo above (not included) he is holding up two fingers to let me know how many sisters he has. He told me that he brings them to his parents because they always prefer to come to him rather than to the parents and so he has to take them to you guys!! Another great story in the making! Thank you, Alex, it was great to meet you. (Recorded by Evelyn. June 2016)
Yesterday at work, some children were unkind to another child with the standard ‘ I don’t want to be your friend’ line, which is hurtful. A standard adult response is ‘We are all friends here’ but we know this to be untrue. However, ‘We all try to be friendly here’ rings a truer bell and can be followed through with more success. After this conversation, a student and I looked through a great basket of books labelled ‘Friendship and feelings’ which was on the centre shelf. We found a few good ones and I wondered about telling the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’, and said I would do it as a prop supported story the next day.
When I got home, I had second thoughts because the original is hugely long. Then I read a comment about it from wikipedia which made me wonder if it were an appropriate story after all.
Bruno Bettelheim observes in The Uses of Enchantment that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment. Not cool.
A third reservation arose when I thought about the word ‘ugly’. This word does not appear to be in the vocabulary of most four and five year olds wherever I have worked, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for introducing such an insidious and cruel form of unkindness. So even the title had to be changed to ‘The Grey duckling’..
To overcome these problems and to make it pertinent to the issue, unkindness to fellow children, I decided to make various changes.
I wanted …
1 to make it shorter
2 to make it about a duckling that was different, bigger and ‘grey’, rather than yellow.And certainly not ‘ugly’.
3. i wanted to make it a girl, but there is a bit where a spiteful chicken says the following line : ‘My advice to you is to either learn to purr or to lay eggs’. I was reluctant to throw away such a line…… so he stayed a boy, but I would like it to have been a girl, because girls are more prone to the exclusion game in my view. I remember doing it myself, and today at work the student recalled a child at her school who was shunned by all because he was always dirty. In retrospect she realises why there were always two white lines running down his cheeks from his eyes, that they were made by the tears which had washed away the dirt. she still remembers his name and his sadness.
4. I wanted to ensure that the duckling was portrayed as proactive, kind, helpful and warm hearted.
Then I googled ‘storytelling to encourage kindness between children’ and found an amazing page in a book about Vygotsky…. it won’t let me cut and paste from the sample pages but the page number is 300 and the link is http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=GUTyDVORhHkC&pg=PA300&lpg=PA300&dq=storytelling+for+preschoolers+who+are+unkind+to+their+friends&source=bl&ots=txcJUJHcvN&sig=BXsw-NU1GPtY9HlG84bbxSWqnjw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Q7JpVLmzFsa7mQXD84CoCw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=storytelling%20for%20preschoolers%20who%20are%20unkind%20to%20their%20friends&f=false
And then I started to edit the story…. but still need to chop it more. i combined the ideas of the wild ducks and the wild geese and had the ducks get shot and fall into the water beside the duckling.
Today at work we had the storytelling squares but the weather was so glorious that they were mostly outside and creating stories is a great rainy afternoon sort of event. But we were drawing and I drew the key picture for the ‘strange grey duckling who was different’. Which was wonderful and makes me want to write another post all about the ethics and dilemmas about drawing for, or in front of children. But it definitely is another post.
I came home for lunch and ended up grabbing a few cloths and objects and taking them back to work on the off-chance that I could try telling the story in the last 15 minute mat time slot. Which I ended up doing. To a silent, attentive and very absorbed audience. It is a complex plot and I used my drawing occasionally to make a point and I used my props and I invented things on the spot that made the ‘duckling’ a kind-hearted animal who never gave up being considerate and kind even when very downtrodden.
I noticed that I felt a catch in my throat when I got to the end and he bows his head and waits for them to attack and instead sees his reflection in the still water.
I forgot to do my musical introduction, so I backtracked and did it after the second picture, and they loved it. So do I!!
The edited story will appear in a later post.