Having recently shared some of the children's stories here from earlier in the year (and even last year) made me to realize that it's been quite awhile since I last "collected" stories from the kids, so we've been on a storytelling binge these last couple days. I've been swamped with storytellers. Obviously, there was some pent up demand, because just about every child in the 3-5's class has told at least one story these last two days, even some of those who are usually uncomfortable standing in front of the whole group.
I remember why I chose to put the storytelling clipboard aside a couple months ago: all the stories were sounding the same (e.g., "A truck bumped into a house, and then the house bumped into a tree, and then a towel bumped into a pig . . ." and so on), a style of storytelling my English professor father-in-law once described as "one damn thing after another" when discussing a well-known author who he held in low esteem. I know why this technique caught on. The kids, especially the older boys, were having a great time making each other laugh during the read aloud portion of the storytelling. At each coma pause, they would all roar, shriek, and bellow with forced laughter. It had become a game, which is fine as far as that goes, a piece of performance art, if you will, with an easy to follow rhythm and an easily understood audience participation portion. I was hoping to break the pattern, however, by taking an actual break, hopefully expanding their storytelling horizons a bit.
Whether or not it worked is yet to be seen. A few of the guys have gone right back to their ritualistic performance pieces, but our younger children, who are mostly girls, have matured quite a bit in the interim and are now better able to bring their own voices into the play. Many of them are also going for laughs, but they're doing it in a different way and they are introducing new themes and concepts beyond pure silliness. Ava, for instance, has been weaving long stories out of threads from her own real life, but fictionalized and fantasized, almost like dreams. Sasha has been re-inventing princess stories. And Sadie is starting to show a strong narrative sense, telling stories with genuine beginnings, middles, and ends.
The thing that has struck me, however, in this re-launch of our storytelling is how much I've really missed the process of taking their dictation, despite the hand cramps that come from holding my pen improperly. The next time we take a break from storytelling, if there is a next time, I really must replace it with something else that gives me this systematic opportunity to huddle up with the kids, one at a time, and just breath on one another. I know that sounds strange, and I know it guarantees I'll catch whatever bug is floating around the school, but it's been incredible to have those little hands fiddling with the threads that dangle from the holes in the knees of my pants, or being up close enough for them to lose themselves in studying their own reflections in my eyeglasses, or to just feel the moist heat of their breath on my cheek as they get right up close to make sure I understand the words they are saying. What a luxury it is to work in a cooperative, where all our stations are in the capable hands of a loving parent-teacher, freeing me up to spend 5-10 minutes like this with each of the children, snuggled up on some pillow under the loft, or sprawled out on our big blue rug in the middle of the blocks.
Yes, we've done a lot of exciting things these past couple days, I've taken a lot of photos of groups of kids engaged in 3-D "plumbing" play, and pendulum painting, and hammering nails, and playing musical chairs, and building towers to the ceiling, and playing feverishly with marbles. And as a former baseball coach, I do tend to be about the group, the team, and I always will, which is why whatever I find to substitute for storytelling must be systematic, otherwise I'll forget to take these moments in the exciting ebb and flow of our typical day.
The sniffles tickling my nose this morning are a very, very small price to pay for these stories.