Monday, April 04, 2016

Stories To "Live In"

I seek out stories about castaways. I know I wouldn't really want it to happen, but there is a romantic appeal for me about the Robinson Crusoe ideal of carving out an idyllic sort of life amidst the palm trees and sandy beaches. And whenever I travel to a tropical paradise-like local, I find myself pretending it's true.

It's in human nature, I think, to want to in some way "live in" the stories that appeal to us, even when we know, and maybe especially when we know, it's all fantasy. That's what a lot of dramatic play at Woodland Park is about, children assuming roles from the movies or television programs they've seen, or in many cases just heard about, or books they have had read to them. I sometimes bemoan the fact that it all comes from the media and wish that their imaginations weren't so tainted with Disney or Star Wars, but the truth is that it has probably always been this way. That's the power of "literature." I imagine preschoolers in ancient Greece assumed the roles of their gods and acted out the myths.

It's fascinating to me to look at these photos. In the moment, it seemed as if the children were jumping wildly, but in every photo I see most of the feet planted firmly on the table top, and even those jumping are barely leaving the ground. There as many as 10 children on that table top at times, yet not one of them fell by accident. I attribute that to them caring for not only their own safety, but the safety of their classmates.

And while there is plenty to criticize about the way large media companies target our children and sell them a certain brand of stories, I'm mostly at peace with it as it plays out at school.

But that doesn't mean I've given in. While half the characters in the play our 4-5's class is working on for a year end performance are Disney princesses or Star Wars characters, I continue to trot out classic children's picture books, and they still, despite the overwhelming marketing muscle of the giant media companies, have the power to inspire dramatic play.

For instance, whenever I bring out our collection of hats and our copy of Esphyr Slobodkina's Caps For Sale, the children drop their light sabers and leave their ice castles to play the part of a monkey in the tree and await a turn to be the salesman carefully carrying his wares on his head.

Last week, we discovered another simple classic, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, that is still powerful enough to inspire the children to want to "live in" it. Like with Caps for Sale, it's a story of naughty monkeys with which we are all familiar, so from the moment I began to chant, "Five little monkey's jumping on the bed . . ." in response to a handful of children jumping on a table, everyone knew exactly what to do. We acted it out again and again, at first exactly as the text dictates, but then, as happens with all dramatic play we began to make it our own. We found that it's even more fun with more monkeys. We found that more than one monkey could fall off at a time. We found that some "good monkeys" were actually sleeping on the bed.

The game became so popular that several kids were forced to retire under the table, calling it the "bottom bunk."

This is how literature inspires our play, not as a script as I once feared, but rather as a common starting point for creating a world in which we can "live in" together.

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1 comment:

Shelley Welch said...

Agreed! I tell stories again and again, usually for 2 weeks. Sometimes, I just make them up using sticks and rocks. Within a few days, the children begin exploring the story on their own with their own props and plot changes. Great blog post...again:)