Wednesday, 27 May 2015

By Rosegrove and Rockwood

By Rosegrove and Rockwood, 
stories grow over grass and over stone, 
by tree and leaf, 
under the watchful eyes of escaping chickens,

Rosegrove and Rockwood Nurseries, May 2015
Rosegrove: mapping adventures
In workshops at these two nurseries we've been using key questions to propel our storymaking forward

In Rosegrove, back in March, we started by asking
who would we send on an adventure? making little characters who then went out exploring, collecting useful items as we went. A simple collection of found objects on a plate was often enough to start spinning stories

Then we wondered
where does our adventure start (or end?) - who lives behind that door? - a  question about where would we go - and for this everyone made little houses for their characters inspiring questions about friendships and secrecy and the hidden doors and homes that might lurk in the school grounds

hidden homes in the Nursery garden

And finally we thought about
what would we (our characters) bring back from our adventure?: giving us a chance to map big stories, working together to devise landscapes where our house-boxes could be positioned, planning perils and problems and choosing trophies, treasures, mementoes to bring back - although those same finds sometimes sent our characters away to their next adventure - scallop shells make very good boats for small people and wide oceans….

Rockwood Day 3: first ideas
In Rockwood, questions also took other groups into houses but here, children worked together to make magnificent log-mansions where the planning and decoration of a shared house could take a whole session. This work drew out all sorts of wonders: poles to keep dragons away on one house were replaced by landing pads on another. Different doors led to different homes (monsters and fairies in one combination). The Tooth Fairy decorated the outside of her house with teeth. Feathers decorated another. A dragon devised a seaside house with shells and sandcastles

None of our workshops finished stories: our role as visiting artists here was to provoke conversation, to get stories moving and encourage staff and children to enjoy the stories that might grow out of their school grounds.

Rockwood: house building carefully

Rockwood: planning a ladder

Rosegrove: fireworks to keep us safe
Cooper's Magic Potion (Rosegrove)
A fish,
A shell,
a cup and a toadstool.

Some tea,
Some juice,
Soemthing squeezed from a boot

A dinosaur skull,
A helmet,
A bead and some sand.

Stir them up,
Mix them well,
And if it works,
I can't tell

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

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Hatching 9: trying to write a river

The Last Hatching
21st and 22nd May 2015

"trying to write a river,
along the lines of the water"

ripple and flow
Fast water,

Crashing water


Over green rocks,

Into fierce, deep pools,

Strong trout leaping

With a twist of a tail.

Swimming up the fast flow,

River pushes,

Trout swims,

Swimming, swimming,

Keeps on swimming,

Through the rapids,

Through the pools,

Over the waterfalls

To lay golden eggs in a gravel redd.

(Holy Trinity School)

last view of a diving trout
The river ran for a final time in this sequence of workshops last week. The trout the classes had hatched as part of their Ribble Rivers Trust project had gone to meet their destinies in the rivers around Burnley but we had proposed these extra sessions to try taking our activities, like migrating trout, to leap the next waterfall or brave the last rapids

Steve and I worked with Heasandford Primary School( 3 Year 4 classes) to take the work they had already done and skills they had already developed further. Teams of musicians looked at ways of uniting their three songs, while the artists took the pop-up planning techniques we'd used before to go over the top and make a series of popups, each one being about 130cm long and combining to give us a folded river almost as long as the school hall

In Holy Trinity School, a comment in an earlier workshop had inspired a "the river as a beatbox" session. We looked at pictures, talked about their trout, drew pictures, experimented with voices and instruments and gradually built a score that mixed words, patterns and pictures and became the voice of the river…..(pictures of musicians pending)

Recordings of both final pieces will follow!

Songs from the earlier sessions with these schools

Heasandford Song 4.2
Heasandford song 4.1
Heasandford song 4.3

with many thanks to the artists and musicians of Heasandford and Holy Trinity Primaries and to the members of the Ribble Rivers Trust who committee who gave us such an appreciative audience!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ancestors in the wood

Te Papa, New Zealand

Myself as a tourist, wandering and revelling in carvings and carved spaces. There are living marae and vibrant wharenui out beyond the wall of the museum. There are people who still sing to the waking ancestors. Te Papa is the National Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. It is wonderful

I step down to enter the Wharenui, respectfully barefoot, slipping in to sit quiet under the glaring eyes and tattooed bodies of carved, wooden ancestors.

NZ is full of ancestors
Watching people, it pulls us into silence, this place, into simply sitting. Children, laughing and babbling out there in the marae, leave their noisiness with their shoes by the door and, Maori, Pakeha and foreign tourist alike, all stand and look. No cameras. Just a moment of peace before they are called on and leave the strange hairy man alone again on the chairs.

For me, this place is full of presences and the shapes who have loitered on the edge of my senses since I arrived in New Zealand take form and I feel these short, green, tattooed bodies around me. I would like to dance a prayer here in a cloud of scented smoke but instead I find myself reciting poems and blessings out of my own far away lands*

Power of the raven,
Power of the rain on the hills,
Power of the wind over the moor,
Power of the hare in the grass
Be thine.

Grace of the clover,
Grace of the geese in the loch,
Grace of the gunmetal grey clouds,
Grace of the white clouds that catch the light
Be thine**

This wharenui is transplanted. A museum artefact, moved with blessing and permission and respectfully contained and even at this distance from its place of origin, I can sense the root that still links wharenui to marae and back to home. But what would it be like to stand in a living wharenui within a living marae while the voices of a strong and vibrant people echo round the walls and remind the carvings of their descendants and the families they gave life to?

*and later a Maori friend tells me that the spirits like to hear voices: that prayers (and poems) are gifts to them that help the ancestors stay here, with us.

** The lines come from a blessing prayer from my book “Old stones and ancient bones: poems from the hollow hills”. The final verse is an ending from a much older blessing

Slip into stillness
Beside a tall stone
Bristled and bearded with lichen.

Listen to the voices that 
Whisper along the wind,
Through the grass,
Out of the old stone itself,

Power of the raven,
Power of the rain on the hills,
Power of the wind over the moor,
Power of the hare in the grass
Be thine.

Grace of the clover,
Grace of the geese in the loch,
Grace of the gunmetal grey clouds,
Grace of the white clouds that catch the light
Be thine

Stillness of the wave on the shore,
Stillness of stone in the Ring,
Stillness of sunrise behind the ridges,
Stillness of long sleep in the hollow hills
Be thine

Strength of the gull’s freedom,
Strength of the bull’s endurance,
Strength of the rooks’ gathering,
Strength of the crab’s stealth
Be thine

May no day be grievous to thee,
May each day be joyous to thee,
May love of each face be thine
May death on pillow be thine,
Honour and compassion.

Moa in Kaimai

Deep green dreams

Moss-shaggy boulders,
Brood in tree-fern beds.
But at night,
Under moon-light or star-fire,
Old creepers uncoil into necks,
And heavy legs lift those boulder-backs,
And tough leaves relax into browsing.
These woods still dream of Moa

Kaimai Range, North Island, New Zealand November 2014

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Book reviews: Stone Age schooling

Stone Age books
more ave than Stone age but first ideas from a group looking at ancient life

Hands-on History: Stone Age, Charlotte Hurdman, Armadillo, 2014 978-1-84322-974-2
Stone Age, Bone Age! Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Franklin Watts, 978-1-4451-2892-4

O, if only! 
No, two books about the Stone Age - specifically about teaching "the Stone Ages" to children

Hands-on History is great: a rewarding mix of factual information and activities to try. The information is well presented and could be used by a teacher to get a bit of background or be given to confident KS2 readers for their own information. It is with the activities, however, where this book really scores. Most chapters have an activity associated with its content and while some are familiar - paint sprays to get hand prints - others are delightfully new and inventive. I really liked the mammoth bone house and the model canoe.
There is a bit of a dependance upon air-drying clay which might start pushing costs up if you were doing these activities with a class (substitute card?*). I like clay as a paper replacement: it offers a different texture and a sense of the issues of working on a different surface. Using clay to make model axes and fire-drills is fine but most children I work with would instantly want to try their new tool out and I don't think these would stand up to much heavy wood-cutting or fire-starting!

I love the generous confidence that assumes we all know what shape and size to make our model mammoth bones, and that we are all happy about instantly drawing cave pictures. A bit of guidance in these cases might have helped: maybe a quick column on looking at animals and finding simple shapes to build the main picture from?

The activity side of Hands-on is its greatest asset and is sadly lacking in Stone Age, Bone Age! Here a cheerful, almost rhyming, narrative bounces our young adventurers (KS1) through Stone Age life. Good bright pictures accompany a simple text where key points are supported by some background information. But I wanted some action: some definite suggestions for things to do….we could fill in the gaps ourselves but I think the book would have been more complete if it had had some sections on, perhaps,  "looking for tracks in mud, sand and snow", exploring colours in nature, maybe even lighting a fire and cooking…activities to take the reader beyond the book itself.

Two useful additions to the library shelf.

a moment of prehistoric domesticity

 * I have certainly used mounting board scraps from the local picture framers for good solid bases for "cave painting" and big sheets of black sugar paper for even quicker ones

Friday, 8 May 2015

A world of growing things

A world of growing things
Slindon Primary School
May 2015
Stone Age abstract

I’ve spent 4 days in Slindon Primary School between March and May working on stories and writing. We have

wooly rhino
explored a world of growing things. We have wandered through the Stone Age. Mostly, we’ve been finding the Secret Stories of Slindon where, as it turns out, mermaid treasure has been hidden and where in the distant future a faulty spacenav crashlands an alien invasion force into the village. The school grounds gave us a lot of inspiration: they informed riddles and exercises in imagery. They offered settings for stories and ideas for characters.

This post will mostly be filled now with images and words from the artists and storytellers of Slindon

life in Stone Age Slindon

First set: "when you don't know what to say, look out of the window!"
Slindon aurochs

1. As warm as as summer’s day,
As blue as the bluest sky,
As sticky as a melting sweet,
As thin as a twig,
As clear as water,
As cold as the coldest winter’s day.

2. They met an old man as ugly as a rotting tree stump and boring as a fence but as sad as a lonely soldier standing in a field

3. His voice was as comforting as soft flower petals but his smile was a frozen ice spike sending chills down my spine

4. As sad a lonely flower
As sad as a child’s dying heart and soul
As vague as a smile from a cold, cold heart 
As sad a child’s grief

5. As cold as a winter storm,
As hot as a summer’s day,
As sharp as a tiger’s tooth,
As painful as a broken heart

we used natural and man-made objects to inspire us
Second set: riddles: we looked at plants and animals in or visiting the school garden. This gave us riddles and a collective poem but also just good sets of words!

I’m loud, I’m free,
A dancer is me,
Take my wings and I cannot fly,
But nothing is so selfish or fearsome as I
I stand tall but that isn’t all,
Straight black knives are my feathers
But you don’t know whether I’m clever.

Tall green swords guard
A tall green spear
That blows a golden trumpet
To cheerfully welcome the summer

Green weeds float on dark, wind-rippled water, where the knee-deep pond hides frogs and frogspawn and possibly the jaw-snapping, bone-breaking last crocodile in Slindon

a world of growing things..
Recipe for a wildlife garden
Take a tophat full of flowers
And a sheet of the greenest green grass.
You might want some saplings,
20 saplings, any flavour, to your taste.

Throw in a handful of flies,
A sting of wasps,
A carpet of ants,
A rustle of leaves and
An ogre’s ear of spiders.

Shake out a summer wind and
A breeze full of butterflies,
A shower of blossom,
A storm of bees,
A pillow of moths,
A singing gust of robins and
A flight of birds

You will need a tornado of green leaves and
A tsunami of last year’s compost.

You will need a pond with
A welly-full of frogspawn and a
Trolley of pond-weed,
A bucket of ducks and
A beard of worms and
A bag of slow-worms
Stir it all up with a handful of life
And rain,
And sunshine.
And when the houseful of lumpy, bumpy hedgehogs arrive,
Serve your garden with wheelbarrows and goats,
And a chair of twisted tree trunks to rest in,
And enjoy that garden growing around you. 

many thanks to all the artists, storymakers and storytellers of Slindon!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Telling tales and heading homewards

first days: Dollar Glen

A Cavalcade of Stories
Northern Scotland, late April 2015

who did you meet on your adventure?
Dingwall Primary
Two weeks on the road winds to a close. These were good weeks full of unexpectedly snowy days (and hail, sleet, rain and even sunshine, now and then)

I was “on tour” through northern Scotland throwing myself about from Farr and Daviot, out to Nairn (Millbank Primary) and up to Thurso (Pennyland Primary and Miller Academy)

In Daviot, puppets told strange stories of horses, witches and rabbits.

In Dingwall, some rather grisly accounts of the lost stories of the town surfaced

Up In Thurso, Pennyland Primary and MIller Academy hosted marathon storytelling sessions. New stories were told inspired by my collections of strange objects

story landscapes at Daviot
Farr Primary saw the lost  tales of the glen shaping up with spooky houses, mushroom armies, and people hiding in wooden houses that turned into boats so that they could sail away down the river

At Lochardil Primary among all the stories I felt privileged to see rehearsals for the R-Rock competition the following week

And I never manage to take enough photos to capture all the moments we encounter! But I have met, worked with and told stories to some 1500 children over the last 10 days
this little lamp from Dubai airport always gets ideas going!

Haunted House
a Daviot witch
1,000 years old, with
1,000 years of ghosts, and
1,000 years of screams, and
1,000 years of fear and terror, and
1,000 years of emptiness, and
1,000 years of hopelessness, until
A single person finds
1,000 years of treasure
(Jake, Daviot)

Stories have come and gone including the man who poured hot water into a genie’s goblet to chase the poor thing out and got 2 wishes before the genie decided it wasn’t giving him any more.Then there was the red dragon who emerged from smoke and mist, and flew away. (Miller Academy stories)
Farr: a house to hide in

And from Miller Academy in Thurso also comes what must be one of the best endings of all!
“...and surprisingly he got away. Then he looked back on that day and forgot about it”

Thurso, late afternoon
Thanks to all the storytellers, storymakers, artists and dreamers I have met over these 2 weeks! Congratulations on your wild imaginations and don't wake the giant under the hill!