A mountain of stories

“We know of course that there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

-Arundhati Roy, Sydney Peace Prize 2004[1]

everything out of home copy

I am currently sifting through a mountain of children’s paintings, drawings, collages and writing, transcripts of dictated stories, play-scripts, conversations, anecdotes and photographs of children’s play. I accumulated this collection when I was teaching at Yarralea Children’s Centre in Alphington, Victoria, on and off, between 1984 and 2006.

For the past nine years I have also been encircled in the life stories of my grandchildren, Rory, Otto and Fraser – ‘the brothers’.

Packing for the Journey – a spaciousness for sharing children’s voices over a timespan of thirty years.

 

Pirates – part 2

I do not ask the children to stop thinking about play. Our contract reads more like this: if you will keep trying to explain yourselves I will keep trying to help you think about the problems you need to solve.

Vivian Gussin Paley (1981) Wally’s Stories

 The pirates nudging each other

When Richard told me his next story Ned was sitting next to him.
‘I’m going to do a play,’ said Richard.
‘There’s only two people. Ned, do you want to be in my play?”
Ned didn’t answer.
‘Ned, do you want to be in my play?’
Silence
‘Ned, do you want to be in my play?’
Nothing.
‘Ned, do you want to be in my play?’
‘Maybe’. Continue reading

Pirates – Prologue

Put your play into formal narratives, and I will help you and your
classmates listen to one another. In this way, you will build a literature
of images and themes, of beginnings and endings, of references and allusions.
You must invent your own literature if you are to connect your ideas to the ideas of others.”

Paley,V. G. (1990). The Boy who Would Be a Helicopter

 Playing Pirates

Nearly every day Ned, Richard, George and Adam played pirates Sometimes they all played together, but often broke off into pairs. One day Ned and Richard made the climbing frame into their ship.

George and Adam made their ship from loose parts –tyres, ladders, steering wheel, blocks, carpet, reels, pipes, wheelbarrow… and more.

ready-to-go

The ground around was the sea, filled with sharks and crocodiles.

When Ned and Richard played together, it was Ned who always wanted to be the captain. But, that day, when Richard said, quite politely, ‘Walk the plank Ned’, things began to change. Ned stamped his foot, got red in the face, and stormed off to the cubby house.
I’m the captain, Richard!’ he shouted.
He couldn’t accept Richard’s version of the story, the one where Richard would be the Captain, and he would end up in the water.

I tried to help.
‘There could be two captains’.
‘No! I’m not playing,’ said Ned.
Ned wouldn’t compromise. He stayed by the cubby, watching and scowling. Richard was faced with a choice – let Ned be the captain (again) or, go and play with George and Adam on their pirate ship. He turned his back on Ned and went to join the others on their pirate ship, where when they turned the steering wheel, the electricity went on and off. They needed electricity to search for the treasure.  Adam turned the electricity on. After a few seconds Richard turned it off.

‘Don’t turn the electricity off!’ said George.
‘Yes’, said Adam. ‘We’ve reached the treasure.’
The three of them jumped off the ship and went to search for treasure. Richard looked over at Ned who was still watching from the cubby house. Could persuade Ned to come back?

‘You’re turn, Ned!’
‘No!  I’m the Captain’.
‘We’re playing workers now’, said Richard
‘No!’ said Ned, ‘We’re playing pirates.’

A few moments later, Ned past the boys looking for treasure.

‘Come on, Richard,’ he said. ‘Let’s go and be workers.’
Richard glanced up at him.
‘Richard, let’s do work.’
‘What sort of work?’
‘We’re working, trying if there’s no gaps in the ship.’

Richard stood still, then turned away from Ned and went on looking for treasure.

Ned and Richard didn’t work it out that day. In the free flow of the pirate dramas, these disagreements continued. Real-life dilemmas seeped into their imaginary storyplay as they tried to work out the twists and turns of social relationships.

Pirates – Part 1

Nudging Ned

a-sams-drawing

For many weeks Ned and Richard were playing pirates together. The day Richard said, quite politely, ‘Walk the plank, Ned’, things changed. Ned stamped his foot, got red in the face, and stormed off to the cubby house, shouting. ‘I’m the captain, Richard!’.

Ned refused to be in Richard’s story – the one where Richard was the captain. I had been watching this drama unfolding, aware that Ned always assumed the role of captain, and that Richard was getting a bit sick of being the pirate who always ended up in the shark-infested water.

I couldn’t help them work it out that day. I tried to help them find other ways to tell their stories.
‘You could paint or draw a picture about your pirate story.’
‘I can’t paint a pirate.’
‘You could each tell me the story that you’re thinking about, and I could write it down, and we could act it out at mat time.’

Richard was the first one to tell me a story.

‘There’s only Ned and Richard. There’s only two people. It’s about Ned and Richard. Ned and Richard fight with the swords and I’m the goodie and Ned is the baddie. There was a sea and I pushed him into the sea and I made him walk the plank.’

At mat time, Richard asked Ned to be the pirate who walked the plank. Ned shook his head, ‘No’, so Richard chose someone else. Ned wasn’t ready to take on that role – not in dramatic storyplay, and not as a character in Richard’s story. He as watched another child acted his part – a baddie being pushed into the sea. Continue reading

Storyplaying, Storytelling, Storyacting (SPSTSA)

a-on-the-journey-copyNudging and Narrating

I am no longer teaching but my whole philosophy and way of teaching was built around shared story telling in all of its forms – storyplay, art (drawing, painting collage, making), story writing/dictating, storyacting, music, song, movement dance, and all of the ideas and emotions that the children themselves brought up throughout a day, a week, a month, a year. To establish a group culture we used the children’s own ideas and experiences as a starting point, so that from the beginning the children and adults together created their own curriculum. It was a ‘thinking-on-your-feet/nudging and narrating’ process for the children and the adults. It was fluid, challenging and allowed ideas to be explored over a day, weeks, months and even over a year. With this way of learning/teaching I needed to have resources and/or knowledge, or ways of finding out, at my fingertips. I learned to listen, to interpret underlying meaning. I also needed to keep in mind my learning/teaching intentions for myself and those of the children. I learned a way of responding to issues as they arose – for me this meant getting into the habit of not jumping in, but waiting, watching, listening, nudging before questioning,