Friday, June 1, 2012

Learning sequencing skills through the Arts

I want to tell you about a project that started with a child's need to understand the concept of sequence. There are eight hundred ways to teach this concept but this one involves many children, puppetry, storytelling, and art.

Older preschoolers love stories and understand so much about what is going on in them, even though they don't all communicate what they know. If you ask a child about a story you will hear an episodic account, and if you ask for a story you will get something like a dream or a joke. Perhaps a combination of both! If a child does have a story to tell it will include elements of other stories and loved elements of their own lives. You might hear a beginning, middle and end, or you might not! (Joke: "Here's my story: 'Once upon a time...THE END!!'" Insert gales of laughter here!)

Sue wanted to do Three Bears,  and puppets. I wanted to do the children's own versions of Three Bears, and a book of all of those versions with illustrations. We ended up with both.

Sue has a rap she does of the story of the Three Bears. All of our children adore this and it was a good place to start because music cements learning in many different centers of the brain.  The children enjoyed several good versions of the story in book form, especially Byron Barton's simple picture book which we placed in the library for morning reads with departing parents. Repeating the story allowed the children to internalize its structure. I gave a short lesson in Morning Meeting on how every story has a "who, what, when, and where". I explained that each of them could write their own version of the story of the three bears and that all they had to do was change the who, the what, etc. and voila! They would have their own story. I wanted to teach beginning, middle and end, but wasn't satisfied with any of the methods I saw online.

I woke up the following morning with an image in my head for teaching story structure--the head of a horse was the beginning, the middle was the middle of the story and then end...well, as Sue said, the end was the "horse's ass"! I drew a large horse in the meeting area for the children and continued to take story dictations. The array of stories, with characters ranging from three chickens to three elephants, and interlopers ranging from vampire bats to pigs, was staggering. Few outside of early education know how four and fives can generate so many versions of an old fairy tale that everyone knows.

Sue, meanwhile, was asking children to choose which of their characters they would like to represent as puppets. These were made from scratch out of materials brought from home. We used no models or lessons in how to create the puppets. In keeping with our Reggio philosophy, we provided materials and consultations. No two puppets were alike, and each was a recycler's dream! Baby food containers, plastic bottles, paper towel tubes and even beer bottle caps became torsos, legs, arms, and eyes. Our idea was to ask each small group to write a story including each puppet, thereby asking the children to attempt to leap their characters from their own stories to the group story. After this the puppet show would commence, creating one of two culminating projects. The other would be an illustrated book of the children's parodies of the Three Bears. I asked each child to create a drawing with markers of a scene from their story. This helped with the sequencing objective because I needed to communicate to each child that they needn't draw the whole story, but just one part of it. With coaching they rose to the occasion eagerly!

In the end we had a colorful book of Three Bear parodies for our library, and a hilarious puppet show in school. My group's story was totally collaborative, and I worked to help them achieve their own goals, making some conciliatory suggestions when no one wanted their character to be "the bad guy".  In the course of the creative process situations from several stories the children had studied appeared in this work. Perhaps you will notice them, having read my blog about other lessons. Here is my group's story using their "Three Bears" characters:

"Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a house in the woods with his pets: A panda, a bear, and a chicken. They lived all together in a tree house. A hungry wolf came by and started sniffing around their tree so they lowered a rope to catch him by his tail. "Got him," the man said. "He'll never eat us, now", said the others. The wolf said, "If you let me down, I won't eat you and I'll be your friend!" So they let him go and made friends with him. They decided to go to the beach. While they were there they met a duck who gave them a tour of the beach. They saw surfboards and went surfing. A little fish jumped onto their surfboard and started gasping for air. They all shoved him back into the water. "Thank you, " he said. Then the man, panda, bear, chicken and wolf went home to their tree house. The fish and duck made friends and played on the beach. The End."

My group created a story with a beginning, middle, and end that included characters, settings, and structure. Learning through the arts, being immersed in an environment of literacy and creativity, they easily used their learning to create something new. How good is that?