Week Three

A Lion In The Meadow.

By Margaret Mahy



Introduction Every second weekend I travel to my special place in Collingwood to unthink. I walk down to the cafe on Saturday morning and pretend I am in a travel magazine savouring my coffee and quietly taking in the day and letting go of the week. On Saturday a friend came in and I was telling her that I was going to read A Lion In The Meadow to the children. The Cafe owner walked in with our coffees and said with such a sense of nostalgia and joy " A Lion In The Meadow..mmm...I loved that book when I was a child." The joy of a book. The joy of the memory. When my children were little we used to snuggle up on the couch every night and I would read to them. We did this until they were quite old. I read the entire Narnia Series at one stage. It was a pleasure that has no equal. I was thinking about that. The way we remember books and stories. The way young children love to be read the same stories over and over and how in some ways those stories become a part of us. I don't know what the children in my class do. Who reads before bed? Who goes to the library? Who watches T.V. a lot? Who has a computer? I will ask them this week. My own children are boys. Oh no I mean they are men now but they were boys. They have always been voracious readers. I wonder if I need to think about whether the books I read are appealing to boys and girls. I am interested in who connects to a particular book and why. What experiences and language do they have that makes the book come alive for them? It only takes one really good book to make a reader of a child.
Where is the Cat from Spain?

Illustrating and noticing the details

Day 1

Today a child brought her globe to school to show us. She is trying to find out where the cats are from. I like that. It's connecting to the book. We are reading a book a week but the books we have read have not been put away. I said I didn't do too much braining about which books but I did think a little. I thought that I would begin with simple fun books that all of the children would understand and connect to and then move towards more complex books. The first three books have all had boxes but I only realized that later. A box that can be anything and is the best toy in the world and is a story maker. The boxes to hide in. And now this little box that contains a tiny dragon that really isn't a tiny dragon but a great big dragon. I filmed myself teaching today but I'm too frightened to look at it. Actually it was quite a lovely time. I asked the children if they wanted to say anything about A Lion In The Meadow after I had read it. There is such a subtle and essential difference in the ways we can listen or not listen or sort of listen or pretend to listen. Today I listened softly and let the ideas flow.
I like the title one child said. I like the way you read the story. I like the pictures. How do they make them...the pictures like that? They draw them. No They paint them. I tell them how. I like the page when they become friends. Big smile. That's my favourite page too. Is it a true story? I ask. No dragons aren't true in New Zealand. Yes they are. Tuataras are kind of dragons. Then I asked them what we might do with the book and they said we should act it out but it wouldn't be good because there weren't enough characters. So we drew and we painted and as they looked at the illustrations they chatted and were delighted to find new things they hadn't seen. Paintings of cats, teddy bears, apple trees. They were absorbed for an hour. Happy. Nobody wanted to go home. But we did.
Inside the theatre

Outside the theatre

Day 3
News is a special time. Often it is my favourite time. I am bewildered by teachers who roll their eyes and try to shuffle news away. They miss the treasure. Today's news was a little magic collection of stories that are so precious and so funny and individual and I just wish I could catch them and hold them in a little box and open it when I need to be happy. I would like to think of a way to organize our talks about books in the same way as we have news. A child leads and the other children sit in a circle and contribute ideas and questions as the leader asks them for input. I say nothing. This way the children have to ask the questions and talk and it becomes theirs. If I accidentally say something without putting up my hand they give me the eyes. Some children need a long time to think and I find their peers give them the time whereas I try, but then my pace is still much faster than theirs. They know how to help each other to share their thoughts. I need to think of a way to read to the children with them snuggled and then make it more like news for the talk.
This afternoon was fun. My friend came out and read some stories he had made with children 30 years ago. They are beautiful books. Screen printed and handwritten and made with love. I got to cuddle up with the kids and listen and it was very nice. I think the boys like having a man read to them. Especially books about cars and canons!
I read A Lion In The Meadow again. The children commented again about how they liked the pictures. The detail in the dragon. The colours. One child asked me, "Is it true?" "Is it I asked?" "NO" the others said. Did the mother believe the little boy? No, she said, "Nonsense", the children replied. " Have you ever told your parents something and they didn't believe you?" I asked. Some of the children recounted they had. Tomorrow I would like to really delve into the story. Often if I just think about it, the children come up with it without my even overtly asking. Isn't that funny?
We made the Not a Box movie theatre with some architects' paper and a hole in the box and the data projector shining through. High tech. We need a bigger box to fit the class in! I'm writing a sequel. My class likes to hide in boxes.

Children like to spend time exploring the Kidpix tools.

Illustrating The Lion In the Meadow
The dress up box

Day 3
I have lost my voice. That usually happens to me when I am afraid of something but I'm not afraid today. We talked about being afraid though. Not many kids had news, so we started to talk about The Lion In the Meadow. I asked them how they feel when they listen to the story. I didn't explain myself in a five year old way and they misunderstood but I will try again. We talked about how the boy felt. They thought he was scared but they didn't seem convinced of it. One child said she thought that the story looks true but it isn't. Another said that the little boy is making up the story. Another child added that it was because his Mum wouldn't believe him that he did make up the story. I asked them why the mother would put the dragon in the matchbox. One child said that it was because the mother wanted to make up a story too. Others thought it was to scare the dragon away. I asked them if they play make believe games outside. I told them about when I was a little girl their age and how I used to go up into the clay hills behind my house and I would imagine bears were in the caves and huge mythical snakes might come up from the red earth. Being afraid of something that you imagine. Yes they knew that kind of being afraid. Wild horses chase you. You might slide and fall and fall off a rainbow. You go to bed at night and there is something in the cupboard, the door is open and it might be a monster.
After lunch we went to Nelson Public Library to see a real true author. Diana Neild read her story Piggity Wiggity Jiggity Jig. Two of the children had brought their library cards to show us and they were very proud. One child carried his round all of lunchtime to show people. Before we left I asked the children to think of some questions to ask. I was very impressed with their questions and even the fact that they
are questions. They asked them so easily. "Why did you write the story?" "How did you think of the story?" "Did you have fun writing the story?" "How did you get the idea of the long name?" "How did you become a famous author?There were a few comments; "I like the story because it rhymes." "I like the pages inside the book." It was good to go to the library and see an author but the book doesn't do it for me. The funny thing was that the kids had really clear ideas about this book when I talked to them whereas The Lion In The Meadow is a bit more of a mystery, like a good painting it takes awhile to allow the layers of meaning to find a place in our experiences, our understanding, our deeper selves.
Rhyming is fun but in my experience of little people, they actually really appreciate a bit of drama, a really good story. A bit of a puzzle. The Lion in the Meadow is only beginning to come to life and I have not figured out a way to do that yet so we will make it a two week book. I might get the children to take photos of their illustrations and then do some green screen filming and place them in the story via a painted movie or slideshow. We need to find a meadow of long grass. Oh bother why does everybody mow their lawns? It's not conducive to story making.

I know that I am diverging from my ICT focus in these reflections but I am doing this for my own growth as a teacher and the e learning focus just has to integrate naturally along the way. I have opened the matchbox and the dragon has grown.

Inspiring Book

Day Off..Voiceless
I'm reading a book called The Girl With The Brown Crayon-How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives. It is written by Vivian Gussin Paley. It is the memoir of a kindergarten teacher and the story of a special little girl called Reeny and her friends. They are reading the stories by Italian author Leo Lionni and it is absolutely fascinating to follow the beautiful conversations and insights into the characters and the children's relationship
with the stories and with each other and their teacher. When I taught at a little private school in Founders Park I team taught with another teacher. I told stories all the time. I made them up. I had a lovely old suitcase full of treasures that I used. Children would come and choose an object and I would spontaneously weave a story. We once painted an 8 metre high Poppa Pockets and then dressed up in our costumes to hunt round the historic park for the alphabet robbers. We had Poppa Pocket's magic pockets to help us fly, become invisible, turn into animals and so on. It was a great time. We made movies as well. I haven't had my suitcase out for years. Maybe it is time to dust it off and see if we can do something.
Do you think that maybe something gets lost sometimes when we use computers? My favourite things are made by hand and they are things well made like these lovely books Craig made with his class thirty years ago. They resonate with some quality. But I think the movies have it a little.
I have a seed of a thought that feels like it is something but I don't know how to write it. It won't go on the page in a straight line. It is a crooked thought, little thoughts moving towards each other from long ago and trying to make something, like bits of remembered songs but they are parts of my life trying to find each other.

Our little country school

It's fun to become who you want

Have you ever wanted to just give up?

Baaa. Sideways doesn't follow the flock.

Another Day Off and Voiceless
I have been laying on the couch sick all day. We weren't allowed to be sick when we were kids. I never missed a day of school in twelve years. My Mum worked full time and sickness was out of the question for us.

I chose to read A Lion In The Meadow but it isn't a book that I loved. The more I am getting to know it the more I like it. Like getting to know a new friend and liking them better and better.

I watched some of the Not a Box video footage of the children playing today. Last year I had an oven sized box We cut a small opening door and all day long children would open the door and go inside and shut the door and sit in the darkness by themselves. It was a spaceship. I thought, why don't we have somewhere to be alone and quiet? They like it.
This big box is different. I sit and turn back to them and they play as though I am not there. "Im pregnant says one little boy." "Ok an how bout we make that the Dad is dead?" "I'll be the baby and ..."
There is a great fluster of excitement. In and out of the hut pillows and then they are trying to pull the giant Nana bear into the doorway to make it dark. Something is being played out here. Someone always dies in these games. Babies are born. They could play like this all day. I haven't been letting them play make believe enough. I will do that next week. Maybe we could play The Lion In The Meadow or make up our own plays.

Puzzles. They said we should write about puzzles in our practice. I have a lot of puzzles.

Puzzle One: Why do people want children to "read" by the time they are six? What are they afraid of? It is quite a long life. Has anyone who writes these progressions thought about the kids? Do they understand the psychology of fear? Do they understand the delicate balance every good teacher of little people must make? I'm going to take you on a tramp up the Dragon's Teeth. It's steep and the drop to the bottom of the gorge is so long you can't see it. All around the country is rugged and and you just have to keep breathing, keep breathing. How do you think you are going to get over the teeth? Do you think that if the guys you are with heads up at top speed and then looks down at you like you are a coward you will get there? He's been climbing for years and you've never even tied a pair of boots. Now you have a time limit too. I don't care if you've never seen a mountain. Well I care but everyone must have seen a mountain cause I've seen one. O.K. It's time you learned a bit faster.
How many books do you think this child has had read to them at five? And this one? How many? There are so many fabulous teachers out there teaching five year olds. We should stand up and tell them about the kids. I teach kids who come from homes with love and money and time and care for their kids and some still struggle.

We have a culture of expectation that children will know how to read by the time they are sixish and then the teaching changes. The children who do learn to read are in such a hurry they don't get to know what it's really about. If they don't, then they are failing in some way. I find that so incredible and sad.

If you want the ones who aren't learning by the time they are six to learn well, slow the process down. Give us more time to do it well and give the kids who haven't seen the mountain time to look at it awhile, gain skills and courage and confidence in themselves. How long do you think it takes a child who has no knowledge of books or letters or words to get it? Longer than the first year at school. What has this got to do with e- learning? I'm not sure.