Monday, October 27, 2014

Narration and Metaphor

I've been enjoying the meteorological metaphor "atmospheric river" lately, which is being used to describe the flow of moisture that began somewhere around Hawaii and passed over the Pacific Northwest last week, dousing us. It's a weather phenomenon that usually accounts for our heaviest precipitation during the rainy season and is more commonly and colorfully called The Pineapple Express. And while the term atmospheric river may not evoke the romance of the tropics, it does conjure the idea of adventure, which is useful when playing outdoors in a deluge.

"There's a river passing over Seattle right now," I told the kids during the three days that the stuff came down in buckets. "We're right in the middle of a river that's flowing through the sky." There were some blank stares, but others seemed to get it, pretending to row our sandpit boat or swim. 

When the sun finally broke through on the other side, temporarily, of course, a group of three-year-olds were exploring the places that water had collected, finding that our wagons were brimming over. I began to narrate what I was seeing:

"A is trying to pull the wagon, but it's too heavy."

A couple of kids responded by taking holds of the sides of the wagon and pushing. "K and B are helping A move the heavy wagon." 

A couple more children now joined them. "Everyone is pushing and pulling the wagon full of rain up the hill."

I was corrected, "It's river water."

"Everyone is pushing and pulling the wagon full of river water up the hill."

This is the way narration, or what Magda Gerber called "sportscasting," works. When adults simply make statements of fact about what they see without giving into the temptation to prod or "teach" or command, we create space in which children do their own thinking, and more often than not, they chose to help their friends. I didn't know who would start helping to move the wagon, but I was confident that when I chose to narrate this project, shedding light on it, someone would decide to become the first followers, the most essential aspect of any successful project.

By the time they got to the top of the hill with their wagon full of river water, there was a half dozen children engaged in the project. I was no longer near enough to sportscast, opting to simply watch from afar. As they passed the swings A gave up the game, taking advantage of an empty swing. K, however, took up her role as puller and the team moved on, around the swings, then parallel to the row of cedar stumps that define the upper level of our sandpit. 

Now they were heading back downhill and the work was easier. They navigated the sudden drop into the lower level of the sandpit, only spilling a little river water, taking advantage of the floodplain of sand that has recently developed out of a multi-day project of the older kids (more on that later this week), to ease their way up into the sandpit itself.

As they made their way along the top of the stumps, one of the rear wheels slid off, tipping the wagon's bed, resulting in a cascade of river water. By now I'd moved closer to the project again. I'd anticipated that they might find themselves stuck in this area and wanted to be there to make more statements of fact. Most of the children laughed as the water poured out, but K, who had taken a leader's ownership of the project, looked upset.

I said, "It's a waterfall!"

K's face briefly showed something like sadness or anger or frustration, but then joined the others, smiling and saying, "A waterfall!" She had decided to embrace the metaphor.

A couple of the kids wrestled for a moment with the wagon, attempting to get it back up into the sandpit, but it was stuck and besides much of the impetus behind the project had drained away with the river water.

B remained behind, not ready to give it up. He strained to get the wagon back on its wheels. I said, "You're trying to move the wagon by yourself."

"It's empty."

"And it's stuck."

"Yeah." He didn't shrug, but he might as well have.

I said, "Maybe we'll have to wait for more river water."

He looked at me blankly, then went about his business, the metaphor flowing in a river right over his head, but I know it will come our way again and perhaps next time he'll be ready for it.

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1 comment:

easy go wagon said...

ya that children put a lot of effort