Sunday 12 April 2020

When children self-initiate...go with it!

With the Easter holidays ending, the blurry prospect of home-schooling is back on the horizon. After long days of playing in the garden and allowing the kids to lead the action, the thought of re-introducing 'learning', however play or outdoor based it is, is making me nervous. Yet, we don't always have to initiate an activity to feel we are fulfilling our role.
Today, on our annual Easter egg hunt around the garden the children unearthed three eggs hidden in a small Peter Rabbit suitcase which had arrived by Easter Bunny post (thanks Nan!). After the chocolate had been eaten and the excitement had passed, I found my little boy playing happily with the suitcase.
"Look Mum!" he said, marching past me with it clutched in his hand. "I'm like the BFG!"
Link to Goodreads
Okay, didn't see that one coming but I jumped on it.
"Yeah, you do! Why don't you go and catch some dreams?" I picked up an empty chocolate wrapper. "Could this be a chocolate dream?"
Enough said! With a big smile on his face he put the wrapper in the case and went off on a search. Within five minutes he had a petal for flower dreams and his toy soldiers for 'bad dreams' and so on and so on. He kept the case by his side all evening.
So tomorrow, if he's still keen, then we can take the suitcase on our daily walk to collect more dreams. We can combine two or three items together to create a more complex dream. We can storyboard that dream, make potions of dreams and label the jars. We can Skype family members and ask them to tell us stories about their dreams. What is the science of dreams? What causes dreams? What will we dream about this week? Can we use our fitbit to track our sleep? How many hours have we slept? What time did we go to bed? Can we walk like a giant? Suddenly we have covered literacy, maths, science, PE, art and bags of creativity. All from one story.
This is the fundamental power of stories. Although we haven't read the BFG from beginning to end yet, the kids know it is one of my favourites, they have seen the film, we've read parts of it and listening to it on audio in the car. Stories throw children into new worlds, trigger the imagination and help them to relate to our own world. They explore new perspectives, viewpoints and empathy. And they stick in the memory.
I would never have made that connection from the suitcase to the BFG but my son did all on his own. With a little enthusiasm and encouragement we suddenly have a whole array of activities to get stuck into this week, including reading some of the book again. Yet, he could have easily made a similar connection to Paddington or Narnia (evacuees) or any other stories that involve a suitcase.  (For older children I really recommend the new 'Strangeworlds Travel Agency' by L.D. Lapinski).
Stories are usually a great way for an adult to initiate and kickstart activities and get a child onboard.  Yet, if it feels forced then don't push it. For every success, ten will probably flop and end in frustration. Just enjoying books and stories together and leaving it there is fine. Children will sit on it, process it and then, possibly, act on it, just like my little one did today. If they do then support it but don't take over. Allow them to lead and…who knows where you'll end up.

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