Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How and Why, Butterfly? Part One

Here's the story...I've been mentoring youth storytellers for ten years now. I ran a youth storytelling club for five years and it was exhausting! I loved it, but I had to stop because it was too all consuming. When I said goodbye to the club, I resolved to come up with a different way to help kids tell stories.

My friend Karen did a puppetry workshop that inspired me to try something new. Karen is an artist, a professionally-trained puppeteer and a very efficient person. In less than one hour, she guided a group of ten or 15 children through manufacturing and manipulating their very own shadow puppets. Pretty normal so far, right? Here's the fun part - at the end of the workshop, family, friends and innocent bystanders were invited in and each and every young puppeteer had the chance to perform in front of a live audience. I was wowed. I stole Karen's idea.

Why Oak Trees Drop Acorns,
by Victoria

So now I run isolated workshops twice a year or so, and I do a lot of activities with local Scout groups to help them earn storytelling badges and such. It is SO much fun, and not at all like school (no offense to all the wonderful language arts teachers in the world.) These are notes from my first workshop five years ago (March 2004). It was at a local education event for gifted children and their families. The children in my workshops were in grades two and three. I have scattered some of their beautiful artwork throughout this post.

Pizza Box Pourquoi Stories

Summary/Publicity Blurb

How did zebras get their stripes? Why do roses smell so sweet? Journey back in time and learn the ancient art of telling "How & Why" stories. Create your very own Pizza Box Story to share. Family and friends are invited to a performance at the end of this one-hour workshop.

An Australian Miracle:
How Platypuses Were Made,
by Ryder

Introduction :00- :05

Sit on a blanket on the floor in a circle (using a blanket helps define the space.) Have each child share their name with the group and name a favorite animal.

The Talking Box Game :05 - :10

Before the program prepare a box full of objects. Each object will represent some aspect of human communication. Try to have at least one object for each child plus some extras. Some of the objects can represent more than one thing.

Red wax candy lips can represent the human mouth & voice, or you can make a “cootie catcher” out of red paper (see Resources in my next post.) Use a pair of gloves (preferably stuffed to make them 3-D!) for human hands or sign language. Below is just a partial list of ideas. New technology is changing communication forms very quickly, so you should update this game periodically if you plan on using it often.

- Literature = book
- Hand writing = pen, pencil
- Art = crayon, paintbrush, painting (or maybe a picture of a pictograph)
- Mail = a stamped, addressed envelope
- Television & Motion Pictures = a videodisc (DVD)
- Radio = a small radio or personal stereo
- Symbolism = a flag
- Signals = a flashlight or emergency beam
- Music = a small drum, other musical instruments, audiocassettes, CD’s
- Computers, Internet & email = compact disk (or other storage device) , computer mouse, hand-held computer, etc.
- Telephone = telephone!
- Flag = symbolism
- Coin = Money ('cause money talks!)

Playing the Game:

Sit together in a circle. Introduce the Talking Box and explain that everything in the box has to do with how people talk to each other in different ways. Don’t show anyone what is inside. Ask the group to think of different ways that people communicate. You may need to ask specific questions to get things going (How do people talk? Can you think of different ways that people communicate?) and give an example if necessary (people speak, people send letters.) Make it like a guessing game. Each time someone guesses something find a matching object in the Talking Box and give it to that person. If necessary, keep the momentum going by posing a greater challenge (Can you think of something that I didn’t think to put in the box?) Keep everyone guessing until everyone in the group holds an object or until the box is empty. Now reverse. Ask the group to give back to you any object that uses electricity (or needs electricity to be used.) Put those objects back in the box. Next have everyone return any object that people made or invented. Give everyone a moment to examine the objects what is left. What are we left with? The only things that you really need for storytelling or-the most elemental things that people use for storytelling--HANDS & VOICE!

How the Raccoon Got Rings Around His Eyes,
by Emily

Time Travel Activity with Story #1 :10 - :20
Instruct everyone to lie down (or put their heads on their desks) and close their eyes. Play some soft music in the background--I like “People of the Glacier” by Coyote Oldman (see Resources)--and use your voice to bring everyone on a journey back through time. Include any or all of the following elements, moving progressively farther back in time (prehistory is your goal):

Imagine you have gone back one year in time. You are one year younger than you are now. How is your life different? Were you living in a different place? Was your family smaller? Maybe you’ve gotten a pet since then, or a new baby brother or sister. Was your teacher different? Now imagine that you are much younger. Maybe you can remember your first day of school or your first big birthday party and now go back to your earliest memory. Now travel back to a time that is too early for you to remember because you were just a little baby. And now we’ve gone back even further, to a time before you were born. Maybe your parents haven’t even met each other yet. And now your parents are children and now we are going to start traveling much faster to a time before your parents were born and your grandparents are children. Let’s travel back to a time before there were computers and television. And now we don’t have telephones or even electricity. We are using oil lamps and candles for light at night. And now it is a time before we even had lamps, before people discovered fire….before the first drum was made. It is nighttime and we are huddled together in a cave. It is so dark that we can’t even see each other. And now I’m going to tell you a story. (Here you should gradually lower the volume of the music and then turn it off entirely.) This is a story about that long ago time when the sky was much closer to the earth than it is today…

End with a pourquoi story. If the group is restless at this point allow them to sit up. Otherwise, just let them relax with their eyes closed and enjoy the story. I like to tell Nine-In-One Grr! Grr, a Hmong folktale about the adventures of the world’s first tiger (see Resources in an upcoming post, "How & Why, Butterfly? Part Two".)

How the Cheese Got Its Holes,
by John

What is a POURQUOI story? :20 - :25
Discuss how & why stories. Does anyone in the group know French? “Pourquoi” is the French word for “why.” Pourquoi stories—or “how & why stories”--are among the oldest stories on earth. The very earliest people asked the same questions that we still ask today: Why is the sky blue? Why do crickets chirp? They thought very hard about the HOW and the WHY behind everything in the world around them. This infancy of scientific thought resulted in many wonderful stories containing much wisdom and insight, so pourquoi stories are still very relevant to people today. Best of all, it’s very easy to invent new stories just for fun.

How Rabbit Got His Short Tail,
by Miss Lynne

Flannelboard Demo with Story #2 :25 - :30
Tell another story, this time using a pizza box flannelboard with characters that you have made in advance (see directions below) and stored inside the box. Prop open the pizza box with a stick so that the top faces the audience. The top of the pizza box is covered with black flannel attached with Velcro so you can detach the flannel and store it inside the box when you are not using it. This is a demonstration for the children to emulate, so the story you choose should highlight the essential simplicity of how & why stories. I like to use “Rabbit Counts the Crocodiles” from How & Why Stories, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (see “Resources”). Create no more than three flannelboard characters and make sure to point out afterwards that a good story doesn’t need a cast of thousands. For this flannelboard I made one piece with a picture of Crocodile and two pieces representing Rabbit—one with a long, bushy tail and one with a short, puffy tail.

Idea Hat :30 - :40
Explain to the children that they are going to create their very own pourquoi stories and that they can make a pizza box flannelboard. Give the children some time to think of a story. They can follow these steps:

Start with something that is true today. (Rabbits have short, puffy tails.)
How might it have been different long ago? (Rabbits used to have long, bushy tails.)
What might have caused the change? (What caused rabbit’s tail to become short?)

An idea hat can help this process. Before the program, write individual story ideas on separate pieces of paper, fold them up and stuff them in to a hat, bag, or box (a really tall wizard hat is fun.) A child who is stuck for an idea can simply reach in to the hat and pull one out. They can keep picking until they find an idea they like. Make sure you have plenty!

Why the Man's on the Moon,
by Gabby

Here are some ideas (find more in books listed in the Resources section):

How did rabbits get long ears?
Why are strawberries red?
How did raccoons get rings around their eyes?
Why is the sky blue?
Why do skunks smell?
Why do dogs chase cats?
How did deer get antlers?
Why is the sky faraway?
Why do we have night and day?
Why are crows black?
How did raccoons get rings around their eyes?
How did people learn to sing?
Why is the sea salty?
Why do owls only come out at night?

Making Pizza Box Flannelboards :40 - 1:00
It’s helpful to have another adult available who can handle a hot iron.
Play music while the children work--native American flute music works very well because it’s evocative, yet non-intrusive (see “Resources”).

Materials for one flannelboard:
- One large pizza box
- One piece of black flannel approximately 18” square.
This should cover the top of the pizza box and is handy to buy by the yard at a fabric store. Cutting the flannel to size is easy if you have it cut from a 36”-wide bolt.
- Three pieces of oval-shaped pellon fabric, also known as inner facing. (did I get this from a book by Judy Sierra?) Buy yardage of the heaviest weight available and cut it into 6-8” squares before cutting off the corners to make rounded pieces. Three pieces should be able to fit comfortably on the top of the pizza box without overlapping.
- Four sets of self adhesive velcro (both sides), approximately 1” across
- Set of fabric crayons/pastels
Use the kind that can be made permanent by laying a sheet of paper over the fabric drawing and pressing with a hot iron until the drawing bleeds through. Older kids can use permanent markers instead.
- Wooden stick or dowel approximately 18” long (long enough to prop open a pizza box lid almost upright, but short enough to be stored inside a closed pizza box)

Other supplies:
- A household iron
- An ironing board or a thick piece of folded fabric which can be ironed on safely
- blank sheets of paper for ironing images on to pellon (each to be used only once)

Why Strawberries Are Red,
by Megan

Putting it all together:
Give each child three pieces of pre-cut pellon fabric on which to draw the characters in their stories. If your time is limited and if the pizza boxes are still flattened, construct them while the children draw. Set up a station for the hot iron in a secluded corner of the room for safety. When the children are nearly finished drawing, warm up the iron. Have the children come to the ironing station with their finished drawings to have them pressed under a sheet of paper. Each child then receives the rest of the materials to complete their pizza story box. Have them affix the adhesive backing of four pieces of Velcro to the four corners of the pizza box. Take the matching four pieces of Velcro and lay them on top of their opposites with the sticky back facing up. Help each child (it’s easier with two people) lay the square of black flannel across the top of the pizza box. Press down on the four corners so that the flannel sticks to the sticky back of the Velcro and it’s done!

Share Stories 1:00 - 1:30
Anyone who finishes early can pair up to practice their stories on each other. When everyone is finished, allow time for each child to stand up in front of the group and tell their story using their flannelboard.

Photograph flannelboards to put on school or library website. Make sure to slip a copy of the web address into each of the pizza boxes so the children have a chance to view their artwork from home on the Internet.

I have also done this workshop using much less expensive materials. Give each child three 3x5 cards for creating their stories. When they have finished drawing, give them some masking tape and provide a surface--a whiteboard, a kitchen cabinet, etc.--where they can face an audience and tell their stories.

More ideas:
Group Storytelling-
Most children are unfamiliar with the old-time game of Round Robin storytelling. They don’t seem to have any trouble starting a story, but as they jump from person to person they sometimes have trouble sustaining the narrative (“Use verbs!” I shout. “Use action words!” I dream of someday experiencing a rousing session that is just as creative and silly as the scene in Little Women where Jo and her family and friends play Round Robin.) The most successful Round Robin sessions I have had with children occur when I provide some sort of framework. Have a blackboard, whiteboard or flipchart handy. Have the children brainstorm to make a list of elements that they would like to include in a group story, but don’t let them fill in the details about the action yet. Help them out by asking questions: What should our story be about? Should it be an animal? Should it be a thing? What is that thing like today? Is there something about it that may have been different a long time ago? How was it different?

Sit in a circle and have someone start the story. Each person should try to leave off at a suspenseful moment and let the next person pick up the story at that point. You never know what kind of fabulous story you might end up with, so you might want to record the session (audio or video) and listen the the playback together.


Jeff Wignall said...

Who knew you could do so much with a pizza box and some felt! I love Emily's raccoon :) Felt forever!

Jeff Wignall said...

Wait, it's not felt it's flannel! Flannel forever!

Lynne said...

I think that the raccoon might be my favorite artistically, but check out the platypus!

ArtDot said...

What a great idea! Good Luck and God Speed! XXOO