Sunday, January 10, 2010

Preschool Poets

One of our favorite activities at Woodland Park involves children telling stories that I transcribe by hand, then read aloud at circle time. If you’re interested in the details of how the process works, click here.

Several people have suggested that I tape record these stories, if only to save myself the hand cramps. Doing the mental experiment of thinking this one through leads me to the conclusion that this would involve hours of extra work on my part. I’m not a lazy man, but just the thought of sitting at my keyboard, doing the secretarial work of getting all those words (and believe me, there would be a lot more words if they didn’t have to pause occasionally) on “paper,” leads me to conclude that those recordings would just collect dust somewhere, making me feel guilty.

Besides, this is about “writing” for an audience, not journaling, free association, or stream-of-conscious rambling. By its very nature, writing is a slower more thoughtful process than simply speaking. I like that the children are compelled to slow down.

Kids often start to race ahead of my ability to write, but when they realize I’m trailing them, they stop while I catch up. I’ve usually heard much of what they’ve said and could probably recreate it if necessary, but when I look up to let them know I’m ready to start writing again, rarely do they use the same words as they did the first time. An editing process takes place during that short interim. Typically, the sentence after a forced pause is more concise, relates more directly to the arc of the story, or reflects a change of mind. When a child is in a particular hurry, I take advantage of pauses to re-read what they’ve dictated up to that point, giving them a clearer picture of where they’ve been in the hopes of helping them figure out where they want to go next.

These pauses create a rhythm to our storytelling process, one that reflects the realities of writing. The more experienced of our storytellers are so accustomed to the pauses that they to do it on their own, speaking a sentence, waiting for me to catch up, then speaking the next sentence. At its most fundamental level, that’s what writing is. We start with words, which we use to create sentences, which we then build one upon another into paragraphs and beyond. At least, this is the process of writing prose.

The process of writing poetry obviously shares a great deal with prose, but tends to be much more focused on rhythm and how the words actually appear on paper. Our preschool writing rhythm is an irregular beat to be sure, forced upon us not only by the limitation of my ability to keep up, but also the reality of a room full of distractions. It’s something that doesn’t show up when I present their work here, so I sometimes like to rearrange their stories as poems as a way to convey this sense of rhythm.

Once there were a bear
And it was cooking food.
And then it bites himself,
But then he didn’t fall down.
He bited two times.
He found a worm to eat.

It’s about a Angry Princess.
And the Angry Princess went along
and it said, “Goo, goo, gaa, gaa.”
And the Angry Dragon came along.
It was a scary pet.
The silly people walked on her head.

A piglet.
A girl came in and get her
and flew away.
Then a lady bug come.
Then a Thomas came.
Then a elephant came and get water on him.
With the trunk.
Then a sheep comed.
Then a vitamin came.
And then a doggy came.
–Charlie B.

There once was a sad kitty cat.
And then the kitty cat bumped
into a wall
and got better.
Then she bumped
into two more walls
and she got hurt again.
Then she walked around and bumped
into a loose head.
And then the cat jumped over the cat.
The cat jumped over the cat.
And the cat wobbled
to the cat.
Then she wobbled
to another cat.
Then she danced
around and wobbled
into another cat.
Then she bumped
into a baby dog.

One time a monster truck was in a race.
Then the monster truck crashed
into a monster truck
and then a monster truck came
and drived a monster truck.
Then another monster truck came
and run into
another monster truck.
And then the jets came and crashed into them.
And then one of the firemen came.
And then a tank shot up the fireman’s truck.
And then three more jets
into all the other jets.
–Finn V.

A dark night.
And then a ghost comed.
And then a broke the handle.
And then a dragon comed
and farted.
And then a bad skeleton comed.


Anonymous said...

While I agree that tape recording would be easier, I think it you would lose more than you would gain. Now the kids are able to watch you form their spoken words into the written word. I really need to start doing this with my kids.

Deborah Stewart said...

You are such a master at identifying what really matters through the story telling process. To add to your thoughts, I think just the time that your students get to spend one-on-one with you helping them to put their thoughts on paper is also very rewarding for them and you.

Those poems just touch my heart - thanks for continuing to share such wonderful stories and prose from the minds of young children. I love it!

Deborah Stewart said...

Oh yes, on a side note. One thing I do like to do each year is interview each child (and this I do record) then give the recording to the parents as a part of the child's portfolio. It is a wonderful keepsake for parents to have years later. I still have one of my 23 year old daughter with her cute little voice. I pull it out occasionally and enjoy the memories.

Jason, as himself said...

I love these. I have enjoyed allowing my pre-schooler to guest post on The Jason Show from time to time, and it cracks me up!

Oh, and I am so sorry about how my gay marriage has caused so many divorces in straight marriages involving people I have never even met, or heard of. I hope the world will accept my apology.

Launa Hall said...

When you phrase their stories into prose poems, do you tell them they are writing poems? Do you introduce them as poems when you read them aloud in circle time? Do you take on the lilting, poem-reading voice of seasoned poets when you read them? Love, love, love this. I'm learning so much. Thank you, Tom.