Storymaking play – making readers, writers and thinkers
One Monday morning, at the making table, Euan stuck a cork on the end of an icypole stick and said, ‘My dad smokes a pipe.’ When his friends saw what he had made, they all wanted one. They perched corks very carefully on one end of icypole sticks and attached them with lots of sticky tape. ‘My Dad, and Grandpa, and Great Grandpa smoke a pipe!’ said Fred. When I talked to Fred’s Mum later, she said that none of them smoke – let alone a pipe. You can put anyone you know in your own story, and you can decide what they are going to do.
The pipe-making started again as soon as they arrived on Tuesday morning. ‘Janet look at this’, said Simon, laughing. He was holding a pipe up to a Teddy bear’s mouth. I’m sure he was thinking, Isn’t that funny – a teddy bear smoking! But I couldn’t help giving in to my own uneasiness about the children pretending to smoke and said, ‘I think we need a NO SMOKING sign up in here’. After a few minutes Simon came back to where I was working with some other children and said, ‘Janet, are you going to make that sign that says NO SMOKING?’ So I did.
When the others saw Simon sticking his sign on the wall they stopped playing with their pipes and started making their own signs. They came up with a basic set of rules. NO PULLING HAIR . NO PUSHING . YOU CAN’T PUNCH PEOPLE . NO SNATCHING . NO POKING IN THE EYE . NO STEPPING ON DRAWINGS . MAKE SURE THE LADDERS ARE SAFE – this in response to my suggestion that there are too many ‘No’ signs. NO GOING INTO JANET’S OFFICE WHEN JANET SAYS NO . NO LOOKING IN THE CUPBOARD IF JANET SAYS NO (you never know what might jump out and catch you!). These were the children’s concise ex
planations of how control was maintained on a day-to-day basis at kindergarten. I didn’t think there’d been much of this going on. (Well maybe, some snatching, and a bit of pushing and shoving that threatened to go a bit too far). I did think there were too many NO signs. ‘What about a sign that says “be friends”?’ I said. Deafening silence! I wrote it anyway, and I pushed my idea a bit: ‘Does this sound OK? Just, BE FRIENDS’? Rachel added, ‘To each other’. Yes. That made it just right. I tried again. What about this one: ‘BE FAIR’? Again, no-one took any notice of me, so I set my plan aside to help the children make their signs. They told me the signs they wanted, I wrote them, and they stuck them up on the walls, and the doors, and the furniture – places where they would be easy to see, and to point out to each other. Rachel made an announcement – a simple declaration.
Lucas was playing with the blocks, and at first he wasn’t interested in making signs. He picked up two pieces of wavy wood, held the ends together and said, ‘Look Janet I’ve made some pincers’. I asked him if he wanted a rubber band to join them together, and Jorge asked if he could have one of those things like Lucas has. So, in anticipation, I brought a handful of rubber bands for the group of children who had moved into the block corner. The pincers became mousetraps, which, of course could be dangerous if you didn’t know where they were. We needed more signs.
LOOK OUT FOR THE MOUSETRAPS.
Meanwhile, Michael had drawn a picture of a gun. ‘Can you write NO GUNS’, he said. Why does he want a No Guns sign? Earlier in the day he made an elaborate cardboard Power Ranger gun so he could be the Red one in a game he was playing with his friends. When his Mum picked him up, he described its powers to her in minute detail. On the other hand, he wanted a NO GUNS sign.
Within an hour or two he had considered two aspects of an issue that profoundly disturbs adults – the use of guns and violence in children’s play. We warn children about the dangers of real
guns. We worry about the terrible effects on children witnessing violent solutions to problems in our world. We pressure them not to play games that include weapons, fighting and killing, but however hard we try, they find a way. Michael, through make-believe / storymaking play began to make a distinction between the make-believe world where he could safely imagine himself as a fighting Power Ranger, and the real world in which laws are made to restrict the use of guns.
At mat time I told the children a story.
‘This is a story about a man who wrote a sign. I heard this story from my husband’s brother’s wife’s Uncle Otto. It is the story about an old man, called Peter, who lived in a hut, hidden among trees, in a place called Purvis Gully. Old Peter grew a small garden around his hut and one day a stray cow got in and ate his garden down. Old Peter took a large sheet of iron and with a paint brush, in very large letters, he wrote PLEASE MRS COW KEEP OUT! Do you think Mrs Cow took any notice of that sign?’
This article originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Children’s Book Council Australia (Victoria). It is an edited version of an article that appeared in Clearing House (date…?, published by FKA Children’s Services