The Curriculum in Action:
Building Literary Roots 2011: As I sit down to write this, four and five year olds are riding bikes and scooters and tricycles downstairs...
As I sit down to write this, four and five year olds are riding bikes and scooters and tricycles downstairs in what we call The Trike Room. Diana, a parent volunteer, has finished helping children begin the first step in making candle holders for a craft project that we will continue to work on during our Halloween Carnival on Monday, October 31st. Upstairs in the North Room, Eileen is reading Ray Bradbury’s complex and compelling Halloween Tree to our primary children. They are drawing what they hear and are off on an adventure worthy of reading every year. (As a part of our curriculum last year we looked at the connection between All Hallow’s Day, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day and The Days of the Dead (El Dias de los Muertos). This year we have not focused on the history of the holiday, yet the children are reviewing what they learned before as they listen to Eileen reading aloud.
Soon the children will come up from the Trike Room and join Laura on the rug as she reads a chapter from Pippi Longstocking, the classic Astrid Lindgren novel.
We devote a lot of time to reading aloud. Research has proven that reading aloud to your child at home is the key factor in developing a literate human being. (Parents are the first and best teachers in this regard. One of the best books about reading at home is Dorothy Butler’s, Babies Need Books. I love to give a copy of this book to a new parent; out of print, it is widely available second hand. Not only does it discuss books for babies, but introduces the parent to the joys of shared reading all the way through age six.) Our interests range way beyond research-proven literacy benefits. What we do in the classroom when we engage in reading aloud is make space in our circle and our day for a whole host of characters and events to join and belong to us.
When I was very young, probably two, my father read a great book very hard to come by even then because he found it in a barn in New England and its publication date was 1920. Called The Tale of Johnny Mouse this book by Elizabeth Gordon was read and reread all the way through my earliest childhood. A line from that book became a line that our family repeated with regularity when the occasion called for it, “Hold on, for we shall go swiftly!” When we were driving and came to a steep hill, or riding a trike and taking off, or careening downstairs in a cardboard box, someone might say, “Hold on, for we shall go swiftly!” In the book, the action centers around Johnny Mouse as he is given rides by various flying animals as they help him fly to the moon. Each animal in turn says to him, “Hold on, for we shall go swiftly!” The line allowed for us to transcend the moment and became for my family an inclusive saying that we evoked often. It gave us a sense that we were a unit and had had shared experiences.
The same thing happens in the classroom. When I read The B.F.G. by Roald Dahl, we get to know the big, friendly giant who gets his words mixed up. He says to Sophie, “Little girls chitter all the time.” He means they chatter–they talk nonstop. In the middle of the classroom at work, I might say, “Too much chittering; we need to get back to work.” Everyone knows what I mean by that. We have brought the BFG into our classroom and he is now a part of our communal experience.
When Eileen reads about Pipkin, the perfect boy’s boy in Bradbury’s novel, the children are right there with her and with him. He has come into the classroom and can be referred to in the spring. When Laura reads about Pippi who is the strongest girl in the world, all of the children imagine that they know Pippi as a real person. When Tom takes out a picture book and reads about the Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, who isn’t even scared when two big shoes go clomping down the road behind her, we (the Big Room children, and I, too) want Tom to read that book again and again because even though we know what is going to happen, we want to re-experience a little of the ruacuas, laughing joy of it again, and yes, a little bit of the spooky strangeness of it, too.When I read The Iron Giant, were surprised to find that we are rooting for him. At first, we thought that he would take the role of the one who must be ultimately done away with. But under poet Ted Hughes’ empathetic words, we want the giant to be fed and accepted. All of the above examples are simply that– examples that narrow down to the essential: we read not because we are required to read, but, if we have been given literature as children we know what it is to live with literature. We read because we are hungry for it.
Yesterday, we were privileged to have our board member, Merna Hecht, tell us Halloween stories. Merna is a professional storyteller and librarian and has worked broadly with children and teachers in literacy education. She brought folk tales to life as she told her stories. Without looking at pictures in books, and without even seeing the words on the page, the children looked at Merna’s face and hands and were brought right in to the middle of the story. Such telling allows us to be right there with the storyteller and the story. There is no one making the pictures for us. We are truly “living” story when we just listen.
Next month, we will be turning our attention to the bardic tales of Robin Hood as we get ready to attend the Seattle Children Theater’s production of the legend. As we engage with the characters of Robin and all “his merry men” and of Maid Marian, we will be learning of the place the spoken word holds in the development of poetry. We will study some of the many ballads that have been collected and come to appreciate the fact that the tales of Robin Hood, as in many stories of folk origin, have no single author. They have come down to us via the spoken tradition.
We will be asking families to bring in books and materials that relate to the Robin Hood legend. We would love costumes and pretend bows and arrows and will be turning our dramatic play area into Sherwood Forest. All of the children will be participating in hearing the story told and in making it their own. We will keep everyone posted about when we attend the theater and will include four year olds in the trip. We are saving seats for each four year old to have a parent in attendance. Although there is dramatic, fighting action in the play, we will be discussing the choreography behind the action. We have found that when the children are well prepared, all ages really enjoy seeing a play that has some substance to it.
October 28, 2011
Making the Case for Thematic Curriculum: When I see how much we have learned since we first began listening to the stories of Robin Hood just eight days ago...
We are making the most of three traditional folk songs which evoke the period. One is called “Come Follow, Follow” and recounts a singer asking others to follow him “to the greenwood tree”. As we sing, we imagine Robin Hood calling to his men to follow him to Sherwood Forest. Perhaps the biggest draw in the school right now is our active engagement with bows and arrows. As we shoot blunt arrows at targets, we are truly involved. A song that brings the role of archery into our awareness is “The Keeper”. It features a call and response motif, with the two parts blending in a robust “Derry, derry down, among the leaves so green-O!” We are singing this song in many ways, learning four verses. Sometimes we get up and skip during the chorus. There is a lot of interest in learning to play the autoharp as an accompaniment to this melody. Newer to us is “Who Killed Cock Robin?” a lament for a dead bird that was shot with a bow and arrow. “Who killed Cock Robin?”. “I,” said the Sparrow. “With my little bow and arrow. It was I. It was I.” We will add more songs to our repertoire. Singing is a vital part of this unit as all of the Robin Hood tales began as folk ballads which belonged exclusively to the oral tradition and were only much later written as folktale.
To see the vast impact of the ballads, do notice the display that runs across the windows in the Big Room. These are mounted copies of prints made by Virginia Lee Burton (of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel renown) in Song of Robin Hood by Anne Malcolmson. In the frontispiece of this Newbery Honor book, she shows a printing press. We will discuss the role of the press as an adjunct to our study. In doing so, we will discuss the role it had in standardizing spelling; this concept makes a fitting counterpart to our growing awareness of the evolution of English. As we sing such phrases as “Whither shall I follow?” and listen to tales where “quoth Little John” is de rigueur for “said”, we usually do not need to stop to ask what such words mean. But when we point them out, and the children write them down next to our common vernacular, they see a stunning difference that can yet be recognizably traced. We might say, “Good morrow,” to one another, but the children will know we are saying “Good morning.”
In order to understand the story, we began the unit in an unusual manner for a school—watching the animated Disney version. The classic movie served us well. Created in keeping with the folkloric element of the tale, the connection between ballads and story is made apparent through the conceit of the Rooster as Allan-a-Dale, bard.
We began making our own Robin Hood hats last week. These are made of “Lincoln green” felt and require just one seam. Maddy ran the sewing machine. After the seam was sewn, each child began to hand sew the hat, adding a feather, buttons, and other details as she/he chose. Plans are to make quivers or knap sacks. We will spend a day at Seward Park wearing our hats and taking our bows and arrows into the forest. We’ll make of it our own Sherwood Forest and have our own “in the greenwood” adventures.
By the time we attend the actual production of Robin Hood at the Seattle Children’s Theater on December 2nd, we will come to the show open to the dramatic interpretation of the moment, knowing that that interpretation is just one aspect of the literature. Living deeply into a universal tale, in this case a classic trickster story, opens the door for living into other archetypal stories, into myth, and on into fiction and its constant contextual counterpart that is always verifiable history.
A Sampling of stories by North Room children follows:
My First Meeting with Robin Hood
My name is Cole. The Sheriff was not being nice to my family. My mom was old and died. My sister died because the Sheriff killed her. I ran away. I came to a Rain Forest and when I was pretty far into the rain forest I came to a river. When I was about to step onto a bridge to cross the river I saw a person. I said to him, “I will cross first.”
He said, “No, I will cross first.”
We started to have a word fight. Then we got really mad and started to go on the bridge. We started to fight with sticks. Then I did a really big blow and he fell off the bridge. Then I helped him back up. I asked what his name was. He said his name was Robin Hood. He asked my name and I said it was Cole. I asked to join his merry men.
Robin Hood said, “Only if you can beat me in a shooting match tomorrow morning.”
In the morning we went out to the oak tree and did a shooting match. At first Robin Hood hit the target. Then I hit the target. On the last one Robin Hood missed. On my last shot I split robin Hoods arrow open.
By Franklin Reedy
I am Franklin, a ninja. My friends told me about Robin Hood. I went into the forest to find him.
We were fighting. Whoever fell off the bridge did not cross the bridge first. This is the real story in my version of Robin Hood.
“Why are you in the forest?” said Robin Hood.
“I was looking for you.”
“Why were you looking for me?”
“Because I wanted to join the league of your men.”
How I Became Hunter
I am Dutch. The people in my town called me Hunter because I was so good at hunting deer. One day I was in the forest hunting so many deer that almost all the deer were gone in the whole wide world. Then there was only ten deer in the whole wide world. Our family was so rich because we were hunting so many deer. That is what I was working for. Then I became an outlaw because I hunted deer in the King’s Forest.
One day I was in the forest hunting some deer when I met robin and became one of his Merry Men. Robin Hood always called me “Hunter”