Sunday, 12 April 2015

Stories Alive!: developing techniques

The Short Story Lady at Basnett Street Nursery

A report from Carol on a workshop day
"This time I took the key workers out of the classroom to work on storytelling techniques. I observed each of them telling their favourite stories to their key groups. I noticed that while everyone had particular skills, the way to bring out the best in everyone would involve sharing the best of these skills across the group. I took notes about each key worker’s strengths and areas for development, and assigned them each one person to help them with a particular skill, and one person they should help in turn. I made a story sack for the book “Someone Bigger” by Jonathan Emmett and Adrian Reynolds, and used this story sack to demonstrate how they can best be used to enhance all areas of the curriculum. I asked the key workers to begin thinking about making their own story sacks in anticipation of the INSET day I’m delivering in late May."

Carol Ferro is the Short Story Lady, one of the artists working on the Stories alive! project
Photos:  due to the nature of this activity we haven't 
got any photos, so here are a couple of 
cheerful Spring pictures to liven your eyes!

Stories Alive! has placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire with the challenge of developing 5 different sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are working with

Stories Alive!: Once upon a time in ancient China….

Rockwood Nursery School
11th March 2014
an exploration of Chinese New Year 
begins with a story and 
grows new adventures
a lion and a dragon
Once upon a time there was a lion, a hungry lion….

The adventure began with a storywalk. Outdoors, through bushes and play equipment, behind trees, over grass, under climbing frames, children followed the lion, Nyan's, trail through the Rockwood wilderness

As they met the unfolding story, children looked for lanterns, found dragons, and a shelter for the (very tasty-looking!) goat, listening to and playing with the story at the same time

These outdoor sessions were great fun and well received despite increasingly soggy conditions as the day progressed. With the rain and the excitement of going for a walk with a dragon (and a certain degree of worry that there might be a lion about), we did wonder how much of the story our young storytellers would remember
a heroic dragon spreading over several pages
Indoors, however, they joined me* to tell me the story they had just adventured through and go on to draw the story in folded-paper books. There was a powerful lesson here in seeing that almost everyone, especially working together where children could fill in each other's gaps, every group, even the very wettest ones, could tell the story back to me and then go on to improvise around it in their own books. 
         ~ our brave dragon changed size, colour and nature
         ~ Nyan was usually a lion but occasionally tigers were more frightening
         ~ the Goat might remain a goat but was also occasionally a sheep, a donkey, or a rabbit.

But everyone was always sure that red is the colour of good luck and safety and red scares the monsters away.

Nyan's story tied in with the beginning of the Year of the Goat (or the Sheep) and was the first of a number of activities the children went on to do over the next few days, adding more experiences to their Chinese New Year celebrations
even a delicate fan could scare a monster away
For Stories Alive!, it was good to see how enthusiastically our children would both use the thread of a story to explore the school grounds and how well they listened and remembered, especially those the moments they had been active in, using that memory to help rebuild the whole story around

* 2 artists involved: Hannah Stringer, Rockwood's artist-in-residence, planned and set up the sessions while I came in as an extra pair of hands and useful colouring pencil
(photos: more pictures are pending - waiting for a chance to check with families as to which ones we can show - they'll come in after the holidays)

Stories Alive! has placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire with the challenge of developing 5 different sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are working with

Friday, 10 April 2015

Book reviews: Lost Frogs and Cold Blood

Frogspawn, toadstrings, 
and amphibian excitements!

 In Search of Lost Frogs, Robin Moore
Cold Blood, Richard Kerridge 

Phrynobatrachus - a puddle frog

Breviceps poweri, a rain frog
Both of these books took me back to personal occasions in an almost disturbing way. Richard Kerridge's description of his childhood adventures with amphibians could have been autobiographical for me. I still remember the almost hysterical excitement of watching tadpoles in a pond, or in a jam jar and the thrilling sense of connection with amphibian life. The sheer elegance of a newt gliding suddenly out into an arena bounded by water plants and sunken wood and hanging there, balanced in the water, still leaves me speechless

But the story of the Golden Toads of Monte Verde ran with me through early adult life. When I was a zoology undergraduate, they were being talked about. These frogs that looked as if they'd been cast in metal: almost improbably vivid just sitting there on a stream bank. And then in 1989 one male was seen. The last that anyone has seen. They were gone.

Bufo taitanus - a dwarf toad!
That is the storyline that runs through  Lost Frogs. Almost heartbreakingly poignant (at least for me), is this repeated litany of the frogs (and other amphibians) found, documented - and lost. Whole populations - and not always with small starting numbers -  simply dwindling and disappearing over the course of a year or two. Trying to understand these processes makes for a fascinating book. There is a strong sense of how fragile (but wait for it) amphibians are and how different factors all apparently conspire to undermine their lifecycles, from habitat loss to variations in el NiƱo to the rampant gallop of Chytrid fungus across the planet.

Bufo maculatus - a square-marked toad

Inevitably - hopefully - the story is more intricate than that as, sometimes, just as suddenly, the frogs come back. Not all of them, but enough to slap the face of that human arrogance that assumes that "only we can save them". Given half a chance, those delicate frogs can save themselves. Give them no chance at all and they still might find a way to persist, quietly, inconspicuously, coping slowly with fungal infections, waiting out changing water tables, just hanging on in there until it all got better.
Kassina senegalensis - a running frog!

It's not all good news. Too many of those lost frogs have stayed lost. Lost Frogs  describes the 2010 -2011 Conservation International project of the same name and the heroic collection of expeditions that set off  in search of their missing amphibians. If it wasn't so poignant, it could sound like the follow up to Michael Palin's Ripping Yarn "Over the Andes by Frog"
Chiromantis xerampelina: Great Grey Treefrogs

But it is poignant and the stories are often sad despite the occasional triumphs and that's where Lost Frogs scores over Cold Blood for me. They are both enthusiastic books, written by people who have real passions for the subjects but in the end Cold Blood misses that wider context and a relevance or engagement beyond the author's own interest. It reads for me like a writing exercise grown into a book while Lost Frogs has a purpose and a sense of mission

Both books are worth reading especially if you're wondering "why all this amphibian stuff? Why are they important?" but for motivation and inspiration, Lost Frogs does it for me

Cold Blood, Richard Kerridge, Chatto & Windus, 2014,  978-0-70118-795-8
In Search of Lost Frogs, Robin Moore, Bloomsbury, 2014, 978-1408-1-8633-6

Photos: reading these books sent me off to dig out and scan slides of my personal lost frogs: not scientifically lost but frogs from my past. I offer various amphibians of Malawi! The names are the ones I knew them by 30 years ago. Nomenclature might have changed since!
Leptopelis angolensis

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Stories Alive! Who goes adventuring?

Rosegrove Nursery 
Tuesday 10th March 2015

Who would we take on our adventure? Who should we send on an adventure?
We started with characters, telling instant stories and making up on-the-spot adventures: what if? what might? O dear!

With Stories Alive! different artists are exploring different ways of building stories with young children, and Rosegrove and I are finding ways of improvising stories out of what we can find in the Nursery's grounds and garden

On this cheerful Tuesday, we started with small puppets: as tall as a finger and as brave as lions and we sent them out exploring…

I have a useful set of small character drawings that we sued to get us started. These are simple figures who need faces adding and have hands waiting for bags, lunch boxes, dangerous sticks, footballs, umbrellas, binoculars....

With plates to arrange finds on, we started off asking "what would help our hero on his or her adventure"

twigs for campfires
and throwing at monsters
and tickling trolls,
leaves for blankets
and the walls of houses,
and mud because you should always have some
pinecones are good for throwing at monsters
Looking for those first finds generally then set whole stories in motion as children moved on from that starting point for themselves, adding treasures, finding exciting places to go (someone drowned in the quicksand of the sandpit where for others the dinosaurs lived) and risking life, limb and cardboard to bravely balance on logs or climb giant jungle bushes

These were short sessions, revolving around making our puppets, finding useful things and talking about them. We recorded discoveries quickly with pictures and small finds on long storyboards and groups told their stories back to each other again before they went home

(photos: more pictures are pending - waiting for a chance to check with families as to which ones we can show - they'll come in after the holidays)

Next time:  who lives behind this door? Or that door? Or the scary one over there in the roots of the tree....
small pirates are
always useful!

Stories Alive! has placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire with the challenge of developing 5 different sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are working with

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Every stone tells a story

a very smart Marble

Every stone has a story to tell, a story spun out of a million years of growing and crumbling, heating,  freezing, cracking, melting and the heavy tread of dinosaur feet, or maybe the silent weight of mammoths or even the warm, careful hands of a cave-child

At Marsden Community Primary School in the spring of 2015, I worked with a  group of Year 3 children to find some of those stories and use the stones to inspire some new writing. We mixed children from both Year 3 classes and, at the school's invitation, parents joined us as well adding a lovely extra element to the atmosphere

From simply handling our stones and reading up on their uses, our first stone-stories were poems:

In snooker tables and mirrors,
In graveyards and floors,
Safe and solid and strong,
Brown slate will even
Let us draw on the floor

Lumpy as a camel's back,
Yellow and orange and grey,
Hard and heavy as a frying pan,
Granite begins,
Hotter than chocolate,
Hotter than tea,
Hotter than fire
Hot liquid rock
Is where granite begins

We listened to an old story where a boulder in a forest tells a single boy the first stories and he starts storytelling. We took that story and told it back to each other. We mapped it and remembered it. Our schools torytellers took their maps and stories home to tell their familes and like the boy in the story (in our telling one boy became a boy and a girl), to keep the stories spreading

We played with our words, building descriptions:

As red as a rose,
As red as blood,
As red as plums and rubies and beetroot,
As red as cherries,
As red as a volcano before it erupts

(This is actually a description of the hair that grew on Medusa's head after the animals had nibbled her snakes to freedom - but that is another story!)

And finally we gave our stones faces, with wide-mouthed puppets that took their shapes and colours and natures from the stones they started life as. Small, quick pebble-people-puppets provided an avalanche of backing vocals, rattling away like rockfalls.  The bigger stones themselves started talking. Telling their own stories. reciting the poems of their first memories, singing, sighing, arguing and shouting. Whispering their stories to anyone who would listen

Many thanks to Julie and the team at Marsden and 
to all the puppeteers and geologist, writers, 
poets and storytellers - and their parents! - at Marsden

pumice always seems to have a lot to say
- too much  hot air perhaps?

Practical points:
we worked with the core group for 4 mornings spread out over 6 weeks
afternoons were spent with the rest of those classes on similar themes
materials: I brought in some of my rock, mineral and fossil sets, adding some lovely big chunks of rock to handle