Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Let's Play A Story"

When Sylvia arrived on the scene, finding a collection of small dinosaurs, vehicles, rocks, and other loose parts, she said, "Let's play a story." It was a new idiom to me, yet one so spot on, so descriptive, that no one, not even a grown-up could misunderstand her proposal.

And, of course, her friends knew exactly what to do.

It was a story played in narrative prose, involving lots of sentences beginning with, "Let's . . ." or "Pretend . . ." These are words of inclusion, the kinds of words we begin to expect our 3-year-olds to be using more and more. As a teacher, I'm always listening for sentences that begin with an invitation.

"Let's play a story."

It was a story played out in chapters, some of which occurred only in a single mind, while others were spoken aloud so everyone could follow the action. It was a story including both archetypal characters (e.g., good and bad) but also new forms of beings, modern mutations of the stereotypes, ones that tread in the grey area on their monstrous dino feet and construction vehicle wheels: a limitless world to which Sylvia had invited everyone to come play.

"Let's play a story." It's the kind of lazer-like comment from a preschooler that I can live off for weeks, knowing that someone, at least, is doing my job.

One of the things about our school that I've never wanted to discuss too much out of a vague fear that any kind of deconstruction of the phenomenon would somehow wreck it, is our school's history of fostering dramatic play. When I visit other schools, I'm often blown-away by the constructive play or the artwork or the long term projects I discover there, and learn all I can in an effort bring up the level of that sort of play in our classroom.

But I've never had that experience with dramatic play. I have no idea what it is we do to foster it. I don't even want to speculate for fear of killing the goose that lays this particular golden egg, but man can the kids at Woodland Park play stories like no body's business and it has been true for a decade. It's either something I do unconsciously, or the institutional memory that carries over from year-to-year by the returning children in a multi-aged school, or some of both, but I'm not going to look into it any further than to say, it's a point of pride.

We've had our keyboard in the classroom these past couple of weeks. It's been an occasional visitor to the classroom for the past two years, but I'm now considering what it would mean to have it in the room as an every day play option, my biggest concern being that an already loud classroom may not be able to take the extra noise on a daily basis, but we'll see.

For the most part the children have been enjoying the keyboard as soloists or duet-ists, but yesterday it was taken over by four of our older boys. When I stopped by for a listen, they told me they were "playing a haunted house."

Ariya said, "This is the monster coming," as he rhythmically pressed several low note keys with the palm of his hand. Max played the "creepy music" discordantly on the keys in the middle of the keyboard while Orlando and Charlie B. played the parts of various bats, ghosts and skeletons, alternatively chasing and being chased through the haunted house.

The crazy storytelling sounds they made really did evoke a horror movie, and I'm not the only one who could hear that haunted house. At one point Charlie L.'s mom Shelly said, "With that creepy music and all the kids splattered with red paint, it's like a real haunted house."

And indeed we were all roaming the room, spattered with red paint.

All we needed yesterday was maniacal laughter to make the macabre story we were playing complete.

What strange and wonderful stories we play when we play together.

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Ann V. said...

There are no words.... What an amazing description that goes to the heart of why we love early childhood learning. Beautiful post, Tom. Thanks for making my day!

Ted Carnahan said...

Reminds me of some of my earliest experiences with piano. Freeform plunking to evoke a particular mood or feeling. Twelve years of lessons, working in music, writing in music, and I still do it sometimes!

Jen Widrig said...

I wish I could have been there! Do you think the boys would do a reprise for our Halloween party?

Play for Life said...

Very theatrical indeed! I wonder if the boys chose the story to match the music or the other way around. Either way I think adding the keyboard was a stroke of genius Tom.
Donna :) :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Teacher Tom, I am Camille a teacher at Ivybrook Academy in SC.
Your blog was sent to be by one of our class parents. She remarked that you class reminded her of ours. I very much enjoyed your comment that you are always listening for sentences that begin with an invitation. I am now looking forward to "listening" first thing on Monday. I most often utilize a camera to "see what children are thinking" and now want to listen a little closer.
Are you familiar with the work being done in Reggio Amelia? You might enjoy reading The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories, by Gianni Rodari... if you haven't already.
Thank your inspiration.