Norristhorpe Creative Partners 8 – Story bag II

  • Some children brought props and costumes to the session for their story making with some having worked at home on their objects.
  • Most of the children were keen to talk about their weekend and were unfazed when the exercise changed into miming and acting rather than verbal.
  • The children enjoyed the Invisible box exercise with all of them finding something to take out of it, some being very imaginative.
  • The one word story worked very well with the pace being quite fast and the vast majority of children being able to contribute in a logical sequential manner.
  • Story telling roulette was much harder as it forced children to continue the narrative after they might naturally end it. This meant that they had to think fast to come up with ideas.
  • The story science was kept brief and to the point with children being encouraged to participate where possible.
  • As in previous weeks, the classes enjoyed making activities and were very creative in making costumes, face painting and props.
  • At story time, each group or individual placed their story cookie in the bag and cookies were drawn out to determine the running order.
  • Some children had obviously worked hard on their stories and attempted to keep to their own script. Other groups used a lot of drama to get across their ideas and some children seemed to relish their opportunity to perform, leading the group backwards and forwards over the outdoor area. Some several times! Some groups, mainly comprising boys, had quite convoluted adventure or war based stories which in places seemed to stray into demonstration of martial skills.
  • On the whole the stories were well received and children who were worried about speaking in front of the group were often the best storytellers.

As the culmination of the storytelling segment of the programme and indeed the programme itself, I felt that the final session went very well. There was an air of festival about it with both classes wanting to tell their stories to each other.

With the benefit of hindsight, it may have been better to offer full day sessions towards the end of the programme to allow children more time to prepare for their stories and to embed more of the learning around story structure and presentation. That said there are always those children for whom a whole day around one subject might be too much.

In initial planning, the programme was to focus on poetry, moral dilemmas and scripts for plays. While the focus for the last three sessions was on storytelling in general, the strong theatrical element in the stories both demonstrated to and created by the classes meant that such scripting was touched upon, all be it through oracy rather than the written word.

The eight sessions have been a journey for children and staff alike and on a personal note I have learned a lot about how to inspire children and show them that they have an innate appreciation for narrative in its many forms and are able to produce something worthy which will be of interest to themselves and inspire others.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 7 – Story stick

The day was extremely hot and humid.

During the introduction, the children were vying to talk about their weekends though when I asked them to make up a fantasy element, there were fewer participants. While some of the narrative was original and inventive, some children did plagiarise though this did lead to some excellent story building and much laughter in the group.

Both groups understood the improvisation exercise and individuals were eager to step up and perform with many wanting the activity to continue longer.

Though the treasure bag activity was more challenging with children working in groups, often with classmates they may not usually work with, each group managed to tell their story. Some groups managed to use their imagination to transform the objects while others took a more literal approach. Despite some children saying they did not want to speak out, on the whole they did very well.

The children were very attentive during the story stick activity. By the time my story had finished they were eager to make their own story sticks. Though there is a dearth of resources on the site, some children managed to find interesting objects to story build and with the addition of imported items, beads, feathers coloured wool etc, some interesting sticks were made.

We took time to allow those who wanted to tell their stories and some children showed a remarkable level of understanding of how the aid memoire should work and produced some interesting and at times quite exciting narrative.

In order to show other aspects that the group might include in their final story next week, it was necessary to curtail the story stick activity somewhat. The children’s curiosity was piqued by the masks and puppets with many wanting to make the cookie puppets, venetian half masks and clay head puppets. As there was not enough time or staff resource to make marionettes, I showed those who were interested how they were constructed so as to give them a chance of making one outside of the session.

AT the end of the sessions, neither group wanted to leave with the morning group staying on throughout their play time!

This bridging session between me presenting narrative and the children creating their own offered a lot of challenges. On one hand I needed to prepare the children to recount their stories either alone or in groups as well as introduce them to methods such as puppetry and masks as props. On a day which climatically was very challenging, they all did very well indeed showing excellent commitment, enthusiasm and stamina.

Yet again, the half day session could easily have lasted all day. After hearing and seeing some of their ideas, I am confident that their final weeks storytelling will be superb.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 6 – Story bag

  • Weather was warm and still with some sun
  • Both groups refreshed the knowledge of their experiences to date with the key points being raised by some children
  • Once the children were shown that they had story telling ability simply through recounting events in their own lives they were eager to share their experiences.
  • The His-story activity demonstrated the unreliability of the written word as a method of reporting on the whole of history through the ages. The groups were shocked at the desecration of their writings but understood ultimately that written history was quite narrow in its scope.
  • Each group had several stories from the story bag. Following each story, there was discussion around key elements in the story, was there a moral? Did the story make use of humour or horror? Were there heroes or heroines, accents or props.
  • By breaking down the stories, I was attempting to show the children some of the elements that they might draw upon in their story making

Overall it was a rewarding session. The His-story activity worked very well and had the desired impact on the classes. Both classes responded well to the stories, finding drama, humour and something to do during or after the story by way of a spin off activity.

While it was necessary to make judgements on whether a particular story should be repeated with the second class, there were enough stories in the bag to avoid repetition.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 5 – Voyage and adventure

The weather deteriorated throughout the morning session, becoming dangerously windy towards the end of the session. In the afternoon the wind persisted along with bad rain showers. For the last hour of the school day, the weather was sunny.

Now familiar with the routine of the sessions, the morning group gathered at the usual meeting place. The group were very excitable, perhaps owing to the quite high winds. They enjoyed the drama of The Owl and the Pussycat poem and managed to order themselves for the group recitation with many showing ability in reciting to the rhythm of the poem.

They were engaged by “The Lone Trail’s” poems promise of adventure and took part eagerly in the adventure activities. Though many thought that the activities might be simple to complete, with monitoring they came to appreciate that all were more challenging than they first thought. The children understood that to achieve the tasks it might be necessary to work together and/or take turns.

Once the group had completed the tasks, they were asked to assemble in the ”Pirate ship”. They immediately started to use sticks to row the boat with many children taking on roles within the crew. When it came time to recite “The shipwreck” poem, they rowed in silence apart from screams as they were flicked with handfuls of water.

When the order came to abandon ship, they ran around the outdoor area, swimming, drowning and attempting to survive their ordeal.

At this point, the wind, which had added to the atmosphere throughout, became too strong and the session ended ten minutes early.

In the afternoon, the rain made it impossible to work on “the Owl and the Pussycat” poem strips. With some pupils lacking waterproof coats, shoes or head covering, it was decided that the session would be stopped pending an improvement in the weather.

With an hour to go in the school day, the weather cleared and the afternoon class took part in the adventure activities. They worked well and were diligent in their efforts, producing the only passable rope bridge of the day.

Both groups enjoyed the adventure and voyage theme though this session could perhaps be improved by linking the narrative more closely to the activities, this would involve rewriting the poems to incorporate the Bridge of Doom, the Stinking Swamp etc.

It was apparent that judging the danger of high winds is difficult. The wooded area in Norristhorpe School is quite small and the trees are young with little in the way of dead wood. Had this session been in a denser and older wood, it would have been necessary to cancel the session much sooner.

The appropriateness of clothing worn by pupils is still an issue. Many do wear rain gear and wellingtons but many were ill prepared for the rain in the afternoon.

This session will benefit from being developed but was, I feel, a good step on from last week with dressing up and face painting being replaced by team work and problem solving.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 4 – Witches

The weather for both half day sessions was grey and breezy.

Both groups showed interest in the preparation I was carrying out for cordage making while waiting for them to assemble. Some thought that they would have the patience to make cord, some thought not.

Familiarity with the routine meant that the children were comfortable in talking about what they remembered from the last three sessions with most being eager to contribute. They remembered the alliteration name game from the last two weeks but some struggled to rhyme something with their own name.

During the discussion around mythical creatures, many creatures were discussed, including less obvious ones such as Hippogryph and Chimaera. Once the discussion moved onto witches, all the children were happy to make witch faces and laugh like witches.

Both groups were very interested in the cauldron and the contents, including rubber snakes, and took turns at stirring it and adding ingredients throughout the sessions. Both groups listened attentively with eyes closed to the Macbeth witches speech “Double, double, toil and trouble” and were inspired to dress the part by making witch cloaks and accessories and painting their faces.

In the morning session, the group followed the original session plan and in groups, converted sections of the dragon story from session 1 into rhyming couplets. This was then copied onto handmade paper. In the afternoon, the children wrote spells in rhyming couplet rather than working from the dragon story.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 3 – Bags of poetry!

The weather for both half day sessions was hot and sunny with a breeze. Rain threatened in the afternoon but apart from some small light showers the weather was fine.

Both groups, for the most part,  understood the alliteration name game and were able to choose words to go with their names. Those who could not were helped by eager class mates.

The classes enjoyed looking at photos from the first two sessions and for some this refreshed their memory when we reviewed the last sessions as a group.

In order to give purpose to the exploration exercise, I introduced the topic for the session at the beginning by asking the groups whether they liked poetry then pointing out that their favourite pop singers and bands were essentially writing poetry. We then recited nursery rhymes which were familiar to all, pointing out that these short poems were devices to aid in the development of their language. Finally, to a clapped beat, I recited part of  the Gruffalo story which almost all of the children knew and enjoyed.

Once interesting items had been found, the children were given their lunch bags to put them in, then in pairs they discussed the items and talked about why they had chosen them. At this point the afternoon group were already approaching me with the beginnings of poems so the white boards were handed out (to practice on) and the writing part of the exercise began.

Owing to time limitations, especially in the morning group, it was impossible to see all the children’s work but in the afternoon there was time for those who wanted to recite their poems.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 2 – Dragon eggs

The weather for both half day sessions was hot and sunny. Following the shouting and jumping warm up exercises and a review of the previous session,  the groups were walked further into the outdoor area to look at the mandala. Discussion was animated and there were a host of ideas around what had happened to the mandala.

The consensus of opinion was that the dragon had come, attracted by the mandala and the perfume that some children had used to anoint it, and had created a nest. The dragon had used the natural materials for the nest, rejecting the man made items. They noticed that the dragon had also used straw to make the nest soft and that there was coloured wool all around.

The children touched the eggs and theorised over what might have happened to the broken one. They noticed that the eggs were different colours, one being silver, the other gold. With the proximity to Easter, some thought that the eggs might be chocolate.

While many thought that the broken egg had hatched, it was suggested by some that a predator such as a crow might have broken one of the eggs.

During the introduction to the baby dragon/small shelter activity, some children pointed out that the baby dragon was in fact a piece of small log with a face painted on it and feathers for wings. For the most part, the children were happy to go along with the story and ask questions. The children found the nests of baby dragons and many took care over decorating them, naming them and creating powers and characters for them. Some of the boys insisted that their dragons were dead and buried them in a dragon graveyard.

Both classes approached the small shelter building activity with gusto. Some worked alone and some in groups with shelters ranging from simple designs, some well constructed to complex hotels with a whole range of features.

At a suitable point in this process, I took the groups back onto the grass to solve the dragon knot puzzle and “win” coloured dragon hair for bracelet making. Following this activity, the groups returned to their shelter building until the session end.

All of the children were excited on arrival and  very keen to find out what we would be doing. They showed excellent recall of the previous session and contributed meaningfully to the discussion around the senses, leading it themselves into the realms of emotions as a feeling sense.

They cooperated well with the knot puzzle and in helping each other with the bracelets though one or two individuals did need to be called back from shelter building to help their partners complete theirs.

The children had a lot to say about the eggs, and the nest and were extremely engaged in the small shelter building. It was quite difficult to choose a time to bring in the dragon knot puzzle, in a play environment, I may well have left the activity out completely. That said, both classes enjoyed the knot games and all of the children made and wore their bracelets.

The positive side of working with a larger group in this kind of activity is that their energy levels are extremely high. They inspire each other and activity takes on a momentum one rarely sees in smaller groups.

Norristhorpe Creative Partners 1 – The dragon of the woods

Birch Forest Schools will be working with two staff members from Norristhorpe Junior School in Kirklees as part of the Creative Partners programme.

Through sixteen half day sessions with two year four classes, we plan to examine “Issues and dilemmas”, poetry and script writing.

The first two sessions will revolve around “The Dragon of the woods” story, focusing on the dilemma faced by the lead character in the story as to whether she should help the wounded dragon or not. This to be continued in session two where dragon eggs are the theme.

Around this narrative is constant reference to the senses that the children might use to make sense of their world especially in the outdoors.

The morning session started slightly late owing to school assembly. Both the morning and afternoon groups gathered on the grass area and were organised into a circle using “sticky toes”. Both groups liked blowing the bird whistles and knew most of the sounds. Owing to the size of the groups, each child had only one opportunity to blow a whistle. While most took part, some were unwilling though others who were initially reluctant to have a turn, did so later on.

During the dragon story, the children were engaged and excited with the different sensory aspects of the story. Many recognised the herbs as Lavender and Rosemary and the jams as raspberry and blackcurrant. The children eagerly took part in the vocal parts of the story with magnificent screams, roars and hisses on cue. They espoused opinions on the smell of the dragon perfume and the “burning  forest” with some liking the smells and others not liking them.

Despite high levels of excitement during the story, they listened attentively to the end of the story with some asking questions, putting forward ideas and opinions.

Both classes were very excited and engaged in making their dragon perfumes, some choosing to attract the dragon and some to drive it away. They used provided herbs and their own found objects to create the perfume with the school compost heap proving to be a rich source of materials. Without any prompting they used sticks and spoons to mix the perfume and help extract the smells from their ingredients. All of them were keen for the teachers and each other to smell their perfumes and many shared sources of new smells with each other.

In the review of this activity, most of the children had something to say about their perfumes and almost all of them were happy to continue this activity for an extended period.

Though only the first class laid out the mandala using pegs and string, both classes contributed to filling in the different sections with found materials with most children exhibiting a lot of imagination in their choice of materials and design. Some of the children chose to anoint the mandala with their perfume to attract the dragon.

In discussion around the dragon in the story, both groups put forward their opinions as to the sex, colour, size etc of the dragon, it’s name and where it might live or had been when Judy from the story was growing up.

During the review of the session comments included:

  • I enjoyed everything
  • I enjoyed the story
  • I liked making the mandala
  • I liked making my perfume
  • I liked the whistles best of all
  • I liked eating the jam
  • I didn’t like the jam
  • It was difficult to carry the big stones for the mandala

Overall both classes were very engaged in the activities and showed enthusiasm, imagination and creativity throughout. Some children who may have been reserved at the start of the sessions became more vocal and willing to speak out during group discussion.

Session aims around issues and dilemmas were achieved and good groundwork for later sessions around using all of the senses to stimulate narrative was done.

Despite my initial reservations around working with full class groups, the sessions went according to the session plan and both classes were a pleasure to work with.

Princeville Art Week – day 5

And finally… Friday was given over to rearranging the feathers so as to display them to best advantage. The stone feathers needed some repair and waterproofing following their getting wet and the glue not drying properly, the peacock needed more holes drilling to accommodate all the feathers that the children made and to finish the week off, Nursery children came en mass to see the finished peacock and sing their peacock song.

Princeville Art Week – day 4

The final class to make feathers were a year five class. This making activity was particularly challenging as several different processes were involved. Children had to cut brass sheeting to make the largest part of the eye, heat and quench steel to darken it and drill all three pieces of metal before riveting them together.

The eyes were then mounted on sticks and these placed into the peacocks back.

With a slightly larger group in the morning and one staff member in support, the session tended to bottleneck while some children waited for support with the next task. In the afternoon, the group size was smaller and with two members of staff in support, it was possible to keep all of the children occupied in the task, so much so that there was a little time at session end for staff to play Tig with those children who were finished.