Why this blog?

"... Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves ... Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." - Letters to a Young Artist, R. M. Rilke

Rooted in the promise and challenge of growth ...

these are letters from a young teacher.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stories on the spot ...

The following anecdotes are notes I've taken the past few weeks as I've observed my preschoolers at play. With all the literature I'm still reading on how the brain naturally creates stories to explain things, I thought I'd see what examples I could find in real life. It didn't take long ...

David pulls Thomas the Train out of the train bucket and starts driving it on the wooden train tracks.
"Here's little Thomas. Number 1!"
Thomas is clearly too small for the tracks. Suddenly, David flies him off the tracks onto a blue section of the train table.
"Now he's swimming in the pool!"

(David observed a change in his play environment, and changed the action of his toy to fit that change logically.)

Two boys are in a tent. It's unclear whether they mean to exclude Charlie or not. Charlie looks around and picks up two cardboard building blocks, lifts them up over his head, and starts to hit them against the top of the tent.
"It's a stunder storm!" he cries.
The two boys come out of the tent with dinosaur toys.
"We must fight the storm!" and they and Charlie fight by flying their respective toys around in the air. No one is actually hit. The two boys recede again to the tent. Charlie remains outside.
"Drip, drop, drippety drop! It's gonna rain ..."

(Charlie created a purpose for his toys that allowed him to interact with the other children. They responded as David did, adjusting their play to a real change in their environment, so that the new element fit into the story of their previous play.)

Laura is using a dolphin stamp to decorate a piece of paper. She stamps two dolphins so they overlap each other.
"Look!" she says, "Two dolphins ran into each other!"
(She noticed something different, a break in her previous pattern, and then made up an imaginary story to explain how it happened.)
"Wow," I say, "That's interesting. How do you think that happened?"
"They were just swimming along," she starts, "and weren't watching where they were going! That's what happened in my movie at home 'The Day of the Fliers'."
(She extrapolated on the story by applying previous knowledge of / experience with another story to her reasoning in this story. If two dolphins run into each other, she can assume that it happened for similar reasons as she saw elsewhere.)
She continues to stamp the dolphins so they overlap with each other.

Now, I'll fully admit that my brain is full of stories, story-making, and storytelling thoughts these days, so that I, too, am engaging my brain's natural story-making activity to make sense of what observe. However, I hope you begin to see how just about everything a child says in play, every reaction they have to their environment, is an act of this story- and sense-making process. I am privileged to observe this activity every day I am in my preschool. They remind me that it is a process that continues into adulthood. Though, sadly, with as much valuable experience as we gain, our imaginative capacities for believing that a train can swim in a swimming pool or that dinosaurs can fight a "stunder storm" drastically decrease.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

KSER Membership Drive

Oh, let's hope I remember everyone's name!
Top L to R: Kathy, Mary, Eva, Fern, me! (Avery), Willy
Bottom L to R: Naomi, Aarene, Rob, Jim

Welcome to the KSER 90.7FM membership drive, where Global Griot - the Sunday morning storytelling show - hosted a party of all live storytelling this morning. What a fabulous experience to take part in, and what wonderful connections we all made with each other!

We were all appreciative of Global Griot's hosts Aarene, Jim, and Mary, and to the station manager, Bruce, who were so welcoming, with kind words, nourishing treats (ever heard of Cackleberry Casserole?), and hot coffee. There was a lot of talk regarding future collaborations between the Seattle Storytellers Guild and KSER, which I hope will come to fruition soon.

There were so many stories told, from Fern's Irish tale of The Grain of Fionn mac Cumhaill (also known as Finn MacCool), to a Jack tale from Kathy; from Naomi's The Jazzy Bears (take-off on Goldilocks) to Eva's mysterious "Suspect". I was glad that both Rob and I told personal stories, too, because people forget so easily that crafting a story from your own life is just as much the challenge and delight as is developing folktales or other kinds of stories. There are so very many kinds of stories to tell, and it was wonderful to see them all represented by the different tellers present.

I was most inspired by the sense of community that was instantly created in that volunteer room, just outside the on-air booth. Bruce didn't really know what he was in for when he welcomed us and asked us, "What stories will you be reading?" "Um," we answered, hesitantly, "We don't read stories, we tell them. That's why we're called storytellers." Sure enough, after the first few of us had told, he piped up: "Oh, you know, I tell stories, too, about my daughters..." and next thing you knew, he was on the air, telling stories, himself. Ah yes, homo narrans, we are all storytellers ...

A peek into the studio from the volunteer room. Bruce, at the mic, is the station manager, and Maggie, in the green, is an Irish harpist and storyteller who opened up the show for us, but had to leave before the group photo was taken.

About half way through the show I answered a call in the volunteer room (we were also taking pledges, by the way) from a young boy whose first words to me were: "Could you tell the three bears one?" - "You mean, Goldilocks and the Three Bears?" - "Yeah, that one." I later spoke to his grandmother, who said he comes over every Saturday night to stay the night get up Sunday to listen to Global Griot. ... !!! ... So, I asked around, "Who wants to tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears?" - "Someone will!" I was reassured, which I passed on to the boy before we hung up.

Well, then we were all a little stuck. How does that story start, anyway? There are three bears, they leave the house, but why? And then there's Goldilocks, prancing through the forest, but what is she doing? Piece by piece we put it all together and within 10 minutes, Kathy and Naomi were in the studio telling two different versions of the classic story.

Ah, the sweet sense of community! What very different journeys we all had taken to that little building in Everett WA; yet, how warm and welcoming all were toward one another, as if we'd known each other all our lives. Who knows? Maybe we have ... in a storyteller kind of way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dear Charlie ...

Dear Charlie,

You amazed me today. Let me tell you the whole story.

We've been learning about all the German fairy tales this month, and today we spent a lot of time talking about Dornröschen, or Sleeping Beauty. After listening to the story at reading time, all you children went to the tables to decorate a picture of Sleeping Beauty's castle and cover it with the great bush of thorns that grew around it while she was sleeping.

Now, stories are stories, and everyone remembers them differently. One of my favorite things to do as a teacher is watch to see what my students take from the stories they hear, and how that comes out in their art work. Here's what you drew and glued on, and what you told me about it:

"There's the princess [black figure, above] trying to get the prince down. She needs a rope to get one [draws purple line down from black figure]. Here's the water all around. There are two flying pigs to guard the castle [drawn left of castle]. There's a key inside here [purple mark on rose in the castle entryway].
About green bush on the right (the great thorns that grew around Sleeping Beauty's castle):"That's the decoration. When you put strings on it, it looks all pretty. The decoration looks good."

Charlie, what a clear imagination you have! As you were telling me all about your drawing, you knew exactly what everything was, and when you wanted to tell me about something that was missing, you started drawing it as you told me about it.

I really enjoyed hearing what you added to the story, like I do hearing about everything you draw and think about. You have such an active mind, full of detail. Most kids do, and that's why I love taking the time to listen to you tell me about your pictures.

Thank you, Charlie. Hope you had a good time at school today, too.

"So, here's a sandbox [orange circle, bottom]. That's the Sonne [sun] and the Sonne dries up all the puddles. There's a frog [brown, lower left]. There's the chocolate stream and they put it in the wrapper. There are the muddy puddles in a drain that drains a lot of stuff. The Sonne is really hot - so hot, you have to eat ice cream." - Charlie, 4yr 2mo