Small Tales, Big Imaginations

We’re almost through the second term of the school here in Australia and with Mr D settled into the school routine I’ve been spending Wednesday morning in the Prep room helping out in whatever way I can.

Today the teacher was sick and she’d left a story exercise for the kids to do. There were three pictures, the first of an old lady knitting, the second of her getting up leaving her knitting behind, third was the cat leaping up on the chair to the knitting and the last square was blank. It was up to the kids to decide how the story ended.

Their task, having decided how the story ended was to illustrate it, then retell the story to one of us, so we could put it down in words for them.

Annie has been working as a relief teacher this year and does lots of creative writing (not surprising) especially if there hasn’t been set work left. She said the one thing which disappoints and upsets her most is the limited imagination of the students, even when they’re given vivid visual prompts and lots of encouraging, leading questions.

The cat, old woman and knitting wasn’t a particularly vivid image (compared to these wonderful story telling cards Annie has) but it didn’t limit the kids. Sitting on the carpet they were all given a chance to give their version of what happened – the Grandma came back and told the cat off, she came back and the cat ran away, she came back and was glad the cat had done it because she didn’t really like knitting. I couldn’t help myself. I suggested that perhaps you could draw the Granddaughter holding the knitting and the cat disappearing – leaving the Grandma to think she’d done it. Later I also suggested to the kids that perhaps the Grandma had turned into the cat after she’d left the room – because you never saw the two of them together in a picture… just to keep their imaginations probing into new and original places.

My job ended up being transcribing the stories and I was able to ask some interesting questions to get the kids to think deeper about what was in the pictures – what was the Grandma knitting, who was she knitting it for, how did the cat feel and how did the Grandma feel at the end of the story. Did something else happen next? What?

It made me think how easily it is when you get caught up in a story to miss some of the major linking information in a narrative arc – even when you write every day.

The best story I heard, was the last one.

She was one of three girls who had drawn identical pictures and coloured them in, also in identical colours. I’d told them all they had to tell me different stories because that was the joy of story telling – you can take the same idea or prompt and come up with totally different stories.

The young girl in question told me the cat was leaving. Leaving – I asked. Yes, he’s going to the bus stop. Bingo! I thought. This girl’s got it happening. So I asked her what happened to the knitting. Oh he took it with him – he was going to play with it while he was waiting for the bus.

It made me realise you can faciliate and nuture storytelling and writing, even before kids can’t physically write words and construct sentences. They are born storytellers if you give them a chance and we could foster a whole new generation of writers with nothing more than a few interesting pictures and questions.

The other thing which struck me was the context. How many people knit now? My mother, Nanna and Grandma were all knitters (just look at all the ‘lovely’ jumpers I’m wearing in the school photos) but how many kids have seen a family member knit? I asked one of the girls if her Nanna knits and she told me all about having to get the “knits” out of her hair with a comb!! I had to smile.

Now to convince Mr D’s teacher to do some more story telling exercises on a Wednesday…

Image via Items of Interest – carvings done by Pete Goldlust

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5 thoughts on “Small Tales, Big Imaginations

  1. I used to love creative writing at school. We never did enough of it. Some of the kids didn’t like as much as me, so maybe that was why.

    I love to hear how creative kids are, how unhindered their imaginations can be. Doing my occasional baby sitting has made me seen that with the 4-year-old I’m looking after.

  2. Sadly in many school creative writing isn’t even on the curriculum any more.

    I think part of our mission as writers isn’t just to invest in the here and now, and our own careers, but to keep investing in the future. And there doesn’t seem to be a better place to start than with young kids.

    Julia Cameron says you do your best, unhindered, free creative work at kindergarten. How sad is that fact of childhood and growing up?

  3. Sounds like a good lesson for you as well. My three girls (twins 1st grade, oldest 4th) hardly do any creative writing at school. It’s a shame. Come to think of it, I hardly did any in grade school, plenty in high school, but not so much in grade school. My own thinking of this (and yes it’s all conspiracy theory) is that schools try to squelch creative thinking-it’s easier to instill capitalistic ideals if you aren’t allowed to think abstractly. Probably my being paranoid. Anyway.

    Picasso once said something to the effect: If you want to do really great art you must paint like a child. In other words-recapture the innocence of youth and record what you see without putting your adult knowledge, bias, opinions, etc. into your art. Keep it pure. The kitten taking the knitting to the bus is pure innocence.

    Also, I knit. I know, right?

  4. I always used to dread growing up because the image of my parents was boring. You just work and don’t get to do much else. Honestly, I think working is one of the main things that sucks your creativity, or if it uses your creativity, it is no longer your own. People are told to think a certain way, not for themselves.

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