Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Growing in Every Way

The flowers bloom, vines creep, and fruits ripen on the trees. Children are naturally curious and eager to participate in the natural world around him. Connect the growing environment to literacy activities.

In my Growing in Every Way program (part of Stories at Play), I begin with prompting the children to tell me their observations.   “Has anyone seen any flowers by their house or school?”   “What color are the flowers?”  “Were they growing out of the ground, or on a bush, or a tree?” 

Then I ask, “How do plants and flowers and vegetables begin to grow?”  The children may or may not supply the answer; either way, this segues into a told, very hands-on version of Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed.  The children mimic holding the seed between thumb and finger (fine motor skills), pulling a trowel (new word!l language development skills) from their pocket, and then digging the hole, planting the seed and repetitively watering and weeding (gross motor skills). 

This story introduces the sequencing of plant growth.  At the end, I ask the children to imagine themselves as seeds curled up on the ground.  I prompt again, “What do seeds need to grow?”  Then we expand with the water and sunlight, begin to sprout.  We use one arm as a little shoot peeking out of the ground, then rise up to our knees forming the flower’s stem, arms peel out like leaves. Then we stand up and go from bud (arms curved above our heads) to blossom.  All this wonderful movement is a form of scientific inquiry.  We are recording the stages of the plant cycle with our bodies.

I love looking out at my field of young flowers.  “What color flower are you?”  I may prompt them with flower names, like daffodil, tulip, hydrangea (there’s always someone who’s blue) and sunflower.  One of my favorite answers, “I’m a rainbow-colored flower.”  

All this takes about 15 minutes which may be enough for a young child’s attention.   If the group’s attention is fading, the process of becoming flowers can be continued at art time where the children can draw the colors of their flowers.  I’m sure there will be plenty of rainbow flowers here!  Or, foam shapes of varying colors can be glued onto a rectangular paper for the children to create their own flower gardens.  

Children who are still focused can hear a story about growth.  There are so many.  My favorites are a version of the Russian folktale, The Giant Turnip (I use Giant Pumpkin because I don’t’ think too many see/eat turnips anymore) and Jack and the Beanstalk.  Storytelling engages children.Involve the children by having them repeat chants such as, “… and they pulled, and they pulled, and they pulled.  But the pumpkin would not come off the vine,” or, “up, and up, and up, and  up, Jack climbed, faster and faster and faster.”   

Finally, I like to ask the children what they need to grow.   This produces an array of answer from the healthy, “carrots,” to the probable, “pizza,”  to one of my all-time favorite answers, “birthdays!”   

At this point, tell another story about animals or humans who grow and grow.  An all-time audience favorite is the Danish folktale, The Fat Cat (storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald has a lively, colorful version in print.)  At the end of this story we can reflect upon what is good for us to eat, and what is probably not so good.

My mother always told me the summer sun made me grow faster.   Now, I’m not sure if she meant in height or, as our summers were full of exploration, if she really meant she could see us growing in every way.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Playful as a Preschooler

Using Similes in Preschool Storytelling

“… as big as my teacher,” “as big as a school bus,”  “as big as my house.”  Ask a preschool child how big an elephant is, and these are some responses.   Ask them to show you “as fierce as a lion,” and their little hands clench like claws, their faces grimace and their eyes squint.  Yes, very young children can express themselves using simile.   

While simile and metaphor are not seen in the curriculum until 2nd or 3rd grade (appears in the Common Core Standards in 3rd grade), if you talk to children using this language,  they will better understand the literary terms when they are introduced.   

March is a great month to introduce simile as it couples with the month and weather theme, “In Like a Lion; Out Like a Lamb.”  I have created a storytelling program that reinforces this simile.  
In March in New England we saw days of wild snowstorms, as well as calm days where winter coats were unzipped.  At the beginning of the program, I point out to the children that the snowy, cold, windy days are as wild or fierce as a lion; the calmer days, as gentle as a lamb.   Then I tell two stories that highlight the character of the lion and the lamb.

Mosquito Teaches Lion Good Manners (another folktale to use is The Lion and the Mosquitos) is an African folktale in which I have the children roar along with me every time the lion roars.  When lion meets the elephants around the watering hole, I have the children start thinking in simile with the “how big is an elephant?” prompt.   After the story, I ask the children to think of a lion and tell me what he is like.  They often repeat words used in the story: “he’s strong,”  “he’s fast,” “he roars,”  and add some of their own from describing physical features to, “he’s tough.”  All of this is good feedback.   Then I ask what does the lion’s face look like when he roars?  They answer that he looks mad.  “Another word for mad and tough, is fierce,” I add.   Then I ask them to all show me, “fierce as a lion.”
I contrast the lion to a lamb.  “Is a lamb tough?”  “Does a lamb look mad?”  “No, lambs are sweet and gentle.”  

 I then tell a French folktale about “Mouton, the Sheep and El Gato, the Cat.”  (It is interesting that most versions have the cat’s name in Spanish, making me suspect that the tale originated in the south of France.)  In this story, the sheep is a “scaredy-cat:” she doesn’t like to go out into the woods surrounding the house and is frightened in a most silly way, when the wolf comes knocking at the door.  

After the second tale, I ask the children to stand up.  They then re-enact “fierce as a lion,” because they love playacting ferociousness.  Then we erase the lion from our faces and I ask them to look as sweet and gentle as a lamb.   Perfect little smiles appear and often their hands are grasped under their chin in an almost prayer like manner.   

Not so coincidentally, the children are now calmed down at the end of storytime and ready to make a transition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Compare and Contrast : A StoryPlay activity for Preschool to Kindergarten

“His cookie is bigger!”  “I want the piece with the MOST frosting.”

Children are little observers and they are comparing all the time, especially when it relates to them –“ I can jump higher”, “my daddy is bigger.’ The trick is to transfer their observations to relate to a broader world, especially as they step into the academic classroom. The Core Curriculum affirms “identifying similarities and differences” is important even in the Preschool classroom.  

I use storytelling to start a compare and contrast discussion with very young children. I start by telling two stories that have the same object – a cooking pot. My first story is Anansi and the Bean Pot.  Grandmother Spider tells Anansi not to touch the bean pot cooking on the stove while she is out buying spices at the market. But, Anansi loves beans and his desire gets the best of him.  He is lured to the bean pot first by the smell, then remembering their taste, then seeing Grandma’s Spider’s ladle by the pot. When Grandma Spider returns, Anansi tries to hide the beans he scooped out of the pot and into his hat by hastily jamming the hat onto his head. The beans burn Anansi’s scalp, making him sweat and cry. When caught by Grandma Spider, Anansi takes off his hat to reveal that the beans have scorched his hair off. (The story sounds a bit gruesome, but preschoolers enjoy nothing more than to see me pretend to be Anansi in exaggerated pain. It brings down the house.)

My second story is my rendition of the classic Grimms tale, The Magic Porridge Pot. (Paul Galdone has a good print version for young listeners.) A young girl, Emily, tries to help her mother out when there is no food in the house. Emily meets up with a magical old woman who gives her a pot that makes porridge using some special directions.  The pot makes magical porridge the first time.   The next time the mother needs to use the pot, Emily is at school. The mother forgets how to stop the porridge from cooking and the porridge overflows, running down the street like a porridge river.   Emily saves the day by running through the porridge and using the magic words to stop the pot from cooking.

When I tell these stories, I purposefully do not describe the pot, except to say that Anansi’s pot is on the stove, and I “show”  Emily carrying the magic pot home.  In the second story, I do take time to interact with my young listeners when describing the delicious, magic porridge. It smells of brown sugar and maple syrup and even pancakes … and I prompt them to tell me how it smells. I get everything from ice cream to grilled cheese. There are two places in the story where their imaginations are engaged with the porridge descriptions.

After the tellings, I take out two pieces of paper. At the top of one I write “Anansi’s Bean Pot,” on the other, “Emily’s Porridge Pot.” As I’m writing, I ask the children to tell me what was cooking in each pot. Then I say, “Both pots are the same because they are used for cooking. The pots might also be different.  Do you think they are the same size?  Which pot do you think is bigger?”    

Because of the way I portrayed the stories, the children usually tell me that the Porridge Pot is bigger. Then I look for another similarity: they both have handles because they both need to be carried. Then I ask them about color and other differences.  Usually, the magic pot is more colorful.   Often the children will say that the magic pot has a spoon with it; the bean pot has a lid. (The spoon is an important part of the magic instructions, and at one point in the Anansi story, Anansi lifts the lid to “just smell” the baking beans.) 

This compare and contrast exercise can be as detailed or as summarized as time and age level allow.   In small groups, the children can actually color the pots. With older children, they can go back to their desks and draw the two pots. I always end with a reflection on not just the similarities and differences between the pots, but also the stories. For example, in the Anansi story, Anansi got into trouble. In The Magic Porridge Pot, Emily was a helper; it was the mother who got into a bit of trouble.

Compare and contrast, or similarities and differences, is a great foundation for future story readers and storytellers. After all, isn’t every classic tale about how the main character is both the same and different in the end. For the storyteller, examining and highlighting the similarities and contrasts as the story develops can assure and interesting tale.

Other "cooking pot" stories:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Stories in the Streets Gets Local Press

September 27, 2012

Taking literacy to the streets
Storyteller pitches idea, gets hit at business competition
Judy Wakefield Staff Writer
Professional storyteller Nicolette Nordin Heavey of Andover was the fan favorite at a recent advertising pitch contest hosted by a group of businesses.

Her explanation of her literacy program – she performs stories for kids on the street – proved just as popular with businessmen and women as it has with parents and their children.
Heavey spent the summer pursuing her program, “Stories in the Streets,” at community gathering spots in Lawrence, including its farmers’ market and a playground at North Common. Armed with a colorful rolling cart of books, she performs stories for underserved families and gives a free picture book to every child who listens.

It’s long been a dream of this Smith College graduate, married mother of three and former Andona Society member, to perform stories and give away books to children.

“I just have a talent to communicate with children,” she said. “Andona is about giving back and I very much believe in that.”

It’s certainly not a lucrative career, but a storyteller’s life has other, non-financial rewards.

“It’s the hugs and smiles from kids,” Heavey said. “The real life stuff, that’s what is priceless.”

Maureen Pasek of Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, which has awarded Heavey a children’s literacy grant, said Heavey is phenomenal.

“She’s so animated and engages kids so well, even with the simplest of books,” Pasek said. “She’s like the Pied Piper. Kids just love what she does.”

Two weeks ago, Heavey pitched her “Stories in the Streets” idea to the Merrimack Valley Sandbox group, a community-wide initiative supporting entrepreneurship, based at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Up against start-up companies, including a company that turns old athletic shirts into bedding, she placed second and was also selected as the fan favorite. Heavey was awarded a total of $1,250. She will compete again for a bigger financial prize next month.

Successfully pitching her idea to an audience of 100 business people was not a bit intimidating for Heavey, who calls herself “pretty competitive.” The audience voted on their favorite pitch from their seats and votes were tallied on a big screen at the event, held at Chester’s at the Bell Tower in Lawrence.

Heavey will use her winnings to run a summer camp in Lawrence for students who want to be storytellers. She expects a dozen kids to take part.

“It’s an art form,” she said of storytelling, and it’s a passion she has pursued through performance for the past 10 years.

Heavey, who has a business and marketing background and lived in Belgium and London before attending college in the United States, is hoping to get grants so her “Stories in the Streets” program can grow. Lawrence is her pilot site. She has also performed in Lynn.

The Greater Lawrence Community Action Council is hoping to give her more grant money from the federal grant program, Race to the Top, which is promoting literacy development across the country.

“I’ve been so well-received in Lawrence and I want to keep Stories in the Streets going,” Heavey said. “The program meets a critical literacy need in Lawrence, where about 60 percent of third-graders are reading below grade level.”
Competing for $10,000 in the Sandbox final pitch contest next month is Heavey’s next step. That money would certainly help her literacy program grow. Contestants have just one minute each to pitch their new businesses.
“I had two and a half minutes before, so I’m just editing,” she said. “I’ll do it.”

Check out www.mvsandbox.org to learn more about the effort.