Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why write down a child's story?

Pehaps my most favorite technique to encourage literacy is to write down a child's thoughts verbatim, especially as they start to create stories.

When my son Keith was about four years old, we stumbled across the delightful book Wolf Story by William McCleery, written in 1947. In this humorous book, a father lays down with his son, to tell a story before he goes to sleep. As the father tries to create the tale, the son keeps interrupting, insisting on new ideas to include, and the father and son go back and forth, arguing and creating. My husband Tony read this book countless times to our sons. As a result, we started to create our own family "bedtime stories" - and I, an avid journaler, recorded them. By day, I would often write down these words on a large piece of paper and let my boys draw a picture to accompany the tale. I remember one tale that we read over and over for many months, after my father ("Papa," to my boys) fell from his roof and hurt his back - Keith and Wade (ages 5 and 3 at the time) could not bear to imagine him hurt, so they would begin with the simple facts and then embellish. They finally agreed on:
Papa climbed up the ladder to his roof to clean off the pine needles. He slipped and went flying through the air to the ocean, where he landed on a dolphin who gave him a ride.

I'm convinced their imagination and creative manipulation of the event helped them come to grips with it.

I am enamored with Vivian Paley, a long-time proponent of storytelling and dramatic play in the classroom - she patiently records and transcribes children's stories and the children act these out in her classroom. In "The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter," she writes:

"Play and its necessary core of storytelling are the primary realities in the preschool and kindergarten, and they may well be the prototypes for imaginative endeavors throughout our lives."

All my life, I have loved journaling. It comes to me naturally, to record and reflect. Knowing my own penchant for this, I try to follow Vivian Paley's lead in my classroom: as I observe and play with the children, I have a clipboard at the ready to catch their quotes, record their stories, and remember their learning. If you are comfortable writing, this may be a wonderful technique for you to use in your home or classroom. The children are delighted when I read their words back to them and they often insist that words be changed and the whole scene be re-enacted. I think the children receive several important messages from this, including:

- their thoughts matter,
- books and stories are invaluable,
- the written word is exciting,
- problems sometimes get fixed through talking, writing and reflecting, and
- it is fun to work together.

Here's a story written back in January 2001, my first year of teaching, by children ages 3 and 4. I wrote down what I heard, read it back to the children, they acted it out and revised and revised, until they were satisfied with this:

Two Horses and Two Girls: A Lunch Bunch Tale by Sophia, Katherine, Rosemary, and Kendall

There are two baby girl horses and a Mommy girl and a Honey Girl and we lost our father. It is a sad story. We left him at a store and there was a fire and he didn't come out on time.
"I have some fresh hay and some treats," said the Mommy to Honey Girl, "Mommy has a baby in her tummy, I can't go feed the baby horses, Honey...feel the baby kick, feel my tummy."
So they went to the hospital to get the baby out. The two baby horses went to the doctor's with them...well, they went to the vet's. Then they all turned around and went home because they remembered that Honey Girl was a nurse! And Mommy and the baby would be cozy there at home.
Back at home the baby ponies broke out of their barn and they came into the house and made a big mess. "NO! STOP!," yelled Mommy at the horses. "The baby is here, " said Honey Girl. She was trying to take care of the baby, who was not crying. And she helped the baby! "Mother, she's alright now," and Honey Girl handed the baby to her Mom, "but I am not a nurse or a doctor."
And because the ponies got into the house, Mommy and Honey Girl decided to sell them. Honey Girl brought a friend over to buy the ponies. She explained, "Look at this house, it is a mess! I know that your house is already a mess, so you should have the ponies!" And then Honey Girl and Mommy dressed the ponies up in new clothes and gave them to the friend.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Maureen! One of your current parents passed along this post and how the memories came flooding back! Kendall and Rosemary were quite the storytellers and pretenders. ("Let's be sister kitties!") Looking back now I see myself oh-so pregnant with Lucy and Kendall had a new little sister as well. It was also the year of 9/11 and anxiety was running high in the community. Those sister kitties had some serious feelings to express! I find the house cleaning component to be particularly amusing as this continues to be a struggle with my now tween. Rosemary is going to pass this post along to Kendall--they are still in touch--and they still call each other sister kitties.