Friday, March 27, 2015

Shadows Play Into Stories

The In Light experience in downtown Richmond provided the Forest Room children and families with some observations to ponder. Luna was excited that she saw bubbles that were moving up and down on the walls of the building. These were  projections of colored bubbles creating shadows. With this new interest in mind our focus in the light studio shifted  to ways to create shadows. How could we get the children to notice their shadows? What would the shadows mean to them? How would they use their shadows?

The children had been fascinated with a disco ball casting colors around the light studio.  I chose to turn off the disco ball and see what the children would do with the light of the overhead projector and the light table aglow with a few scattered beads and colored stones. As they moved about, would they see their shadows? It took a while for them to notice. They ran back and forth, changing the patterns of beads and stones from one light source to the other. They were truly in the moment and concentrated on the materials. I noticed they played together, talking to each other as they also  began  to weave stories each day. Blocks were added to the light studio and some of the children built, but they rarely noticed the shadows the buildings made. When I pointed point out how tall a tower looked on the wall they would look with surprise. Each day they they seemed to notice their shadows a little more.

One day a group of girls sat on a bench in a row facing the wall.  We started talking about our shadows and I thought that maybe beginning a story would help them see how our shadows could interact.

I chose to start the story with the black bunny because they walk past this image painted on the basement wall on their way to the light studio each day.  It often seems to be on their minds.

I began with, "The black bunny came hopping over to Augusta's house and asked, "Do you have anything for me to eat?" and Augusta answered, "Yes," and handed my shadow bunny some food. The black bunny visited Alice and then Zoe. Each responded in much the same way.  Several days later we were eating snack and the pictures of the story hung nearby. The story evolved from the children like this:

                                                      In the light of the moon....

                                                There was a black rabbit. He was jumping away
                                                because he was scared.  He jumped over the fence
                                                and met Augusta. "Do you have any plums?" he
                                                asked. Augusta offered him some plums.

                                                 Then he hopped over to Alice's House. "Do
                                                 you have any plums?" he asked her. She said "Yes!"
                                                 and gave the rabbit some too.

                                                He hopped off merrily to Zoe's house and asked,
                                                "Do you have any plums?" "Yes!" said Zoe and
                                                she opened her mouth.
Zoe's twist of humor at the end made everybody laugh. The story had taken on new meaning for them.

 It was happenstance that these girls were eating snack at the same time but the documentation was intentional; it drew them in and sparked their desire to tell the story again.  Augusta still asks her friends to play the black rabbit game in the light studio. Not only do the children now notice their shadows interacting, they wanted to relive the story and make it their own.  The shadows came to play as part of the story!

What does this mean for this group of children? These children are two years old and turning three. They are learning language and ways of connecting with each other through play. They scaffold each other through their imaginations and ways of interacting. They are able to enrich each other's use of language and are able to take on different perspectives through play which translates into their story. They share their humor and their patience as they give each other turns to share their part of the story. We didn't know what would happen when we began to help the children notice their shadows but stories have sprung forth and there are more to come.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The star that went to the sky

The star that went to the sky...

One day John showed a star in our morning meeting that he had created out of "melty" beads in the classroom. John had carefully arranged many tiny beads on a star-shaped template, which the teacher then ironed, resulting in a solid object that John strung onto a necklace. He was very proud of his star.

Jeremy saw the star and exclaimed, "Now it can go live in the sky!"

Seeing this comment as a foundation for a great story, I invited several children, including Jeremy and John, to write a story about a star going to live in the sky.

Here is the story that unfolded:

It started as a circle. 

And then it slowly started to melt...and it started to grow a circle... and it has points! 

It exploded into stardust!
Stars are made out of stardust!

It went all the way down to the bottom of the sky.

The star saw a man sinking into a river.
He saved his life!

The man bravely hugged the side of the river.
The star lifted him out.
The man was too heavy and he dropped him into the river!
The man lifted himself up.
The star made him into a constellation in the sky...because that's where people go from the river.

He's mad at the star.
He wanted to stay in his house with his family.

The end.
(By John, Jeremy, Logan, Pierce, and Tucker)

I love the complexity of this story: the authors begin their narrative with a creation story about the star, then add a human element with the man in danger in the river. The story concludes with the man feeling angry about being taken away from Earth (but perhaps the star was happy to have him in the sky?) Everyone was satisfied with the conclusion: after all, not all stories end happily. In fact, the authors utilize similar mechanics found in Greek or Roman mythology- a plot which includes human struggle, supernatural intervention, and a conflicted, bittersweet ending. Maybe ancient myths are actually stories invented by children, and amended by adults (because let's be honest, some myths have very grown-up themes!) It's not hard to tap into a child's deep understanding of the human condition; it's present and ready to be shared. We just have to take the time to listen.