Keeping an Ear for Stories

From Teacher Susan:

As we keep an attentive ear for children’s stories, we’ll find them everywhere. When we offer children multiple opportunities to explore using a range of materials as we do in a play-positive classroom, children play out the stories that interest them most. When we watch and listen, we’ll learn what children already know, what they’re curious about and what they’re interested to discover. Children’s best learning tool is play and play is rich with story. This is most obvious in dramatic play as children script roles and plot. It is also true in children’s drawings, paintings and other creations. There are stories imbedded in easel share responses, casual conversations, trips to the bathroom, at the snack table and just about everywhere in-between. As we create a classroom climate in which we document stories, we invite more detail, reflection and engagement with these stories and the children who share them. When we invite stories and representations for those stories (drawings, paintings, dictations, and acting them out), we can better know the children in our classroom community and value the stories of their lives.

Here is a story from last week:

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Victor Helps A Baby Wasp

This week the hexi-blocks provided a bridge for Victor to recall and share an important experience of assisting a wasp. Victor sorts out the yellow and orange blocks from the rest of the colored blocks. He shapes these golden pieces together, forming a single structure. I observe, “You used all of the yellow and gold blocks.” I notice Victor’s choice out loud offering a descriptive and open-ended observation, hoping that in doing so, I’ll learn more, possibly inviting a story. Victor reveals the rationale for his deliberate choice, “That’s because I’m making a bee hive.” Victor relays “yellow is the hive” and the “orange is the honey.” Then Victor launches into a story.

“One time in my back yard, I saw a little baby wasp and I actually got my broom and I actually picked it up. It didn’t sting me or anything. I helped it dry its wings off. I didn’t put my finger on its wings. If I did, it would sting me.”

When I tell him this story might be a good one for story theater, Victor smiles. We record Victor’s story, and I read it back to him to make sure we’ve got everything. When I ask Victor’s permission to bring this story to circle time, he agrees with a twinkle in his eye. Sharing the story at circle reinforces Victor’s role as gentle, caretaker of insects –a disposition I’d like to nourish with the entire class. Involving others in acting out the story deepens our engagement with the story, as well as our understanding of what transpired. Lyla plays the baby wasp with flapping wings, Jeff (George) plays the broom and Victor plays himself, the pleased protagonist, and friend to insects.

The next opportunity he gets, Victor recreates the same story with new materials in a new setting. Victor builds “a place for bees” using wooden planks on our play yard platform. Some schools may interrupt Victor’s learning with prescribed, pre-planned lessons. Because we value play as the optimal means to learning at HFP, we offer uninterrupted chunks of time and varied, rich materials for children to explore their stories and their learning. Victor is active, engaged, and invested throughout the morning.

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Finally, Victor’s enthusiasm is captivating. Leo watches and then joins in. A small group comes to see what Victor and Leo are doing and it becomes clear that we can use more building options so others may join the play. We bring over a couple of tree stumps and the balancing beam. Then Hazel and Leo come to the classroom with me to get a few more heavy wooden blocks. I look forward to seeing what building options and interests arise outdoors. And I’ll keep an ear out for more stories, eager to hear the stories that come with each child.

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