Not a Box

Week One: Not A Box by Antoinnette Portis
Last year I went to an art exhibition at the Suter Art Gallery. There was a wonderful exhibit of a cardboard box with a data projector displaying an adult dressed up as a rabbit from within the box. The theme was inspired by this book. Not A Box is a simple book with line drawings of a rabbit playing with a box. The rabbit is in the box, on the box, squirting the box etc.. Every second page asks the rabbit a question. Why are you sitting in that box? It's not a box. The illustration changes to show the racing car, rocket, fire hose, etc.. of the imaginary play. Brilliant. Nobody seemed to get it but when you live most of your days with 5 year olds the theme behind Not a Box resonates clearly. A box is so simple. It has so many possibilities. That's why even though I originally wanted to read only New Zealand picture books, I had to relent for this one. For a child, a box is like a story. Something from nothing. Imagination, creation. A strange thing happened today. A parent who doesn't know about my project came and said she had all of these huge boxes she needed to get rid of. Would I be able to do something with them? Hmmmm.

Day One Not a Box Curiosity
Day One
This was a very funny day. I put the biggest fridge box you've ever seen on top of the topic table with a sign on it that said Not a Box. When the children arrived they were so bemused and curious about it. After all it did look absurd. They were all trying to guess what might be inside it since that is a game I have played with them in the past. "What is it? It is truly a box though isn't it, on the outside." All day long they kept probing until after lunch I read them Not a Box. They laughed at the story and when it was finished they commented and talked about it with me for 15 minutes or more without much prompting. Initially I realised that some of them had not really understood the story. After talking for a while they began to suggest that we could make our big box into a: hut, a house, a jungle, a cave with possums, a fire engine, a truck, a rocket, a tunnel, a library, a bridge, and so forth. Then they started to suggest imaginary scenarios that they could play act. I recorded all of our conversations with the data recorder. I let them play in groups of three or four using the box as whatever they liked for 15 minutes each. All of the groups got cushions and went into the box and made it as dark as they could and played imaginary games. I used the video camera to record their play. It was fascinating.

Tiger in the Not a Box Jungle

Day Two I'm loving this. So are the kids. Today a child arrived at school dressed as a tiger. I asked her if she was getting ready to go into the "jungle." I modeled story writing by writing about our Not a Box. The children jumped right in and it became a shared story based around yesterday's imaginary ideas. "It's not a box, it's a fire engine," said...."It's not a box, it's a cave,"said.... Several of the children wrote stories with a "Not a Box" in them. Later in the day I got some of the children to take digital photos of the large box and then I created a template of the box photo in Kidpix. I showed the children how to draw themselves into the picture and turn the box into their imaginary creation. We printed it as a poster and will begin our Kidpix big book/slideshow tomorrow. We also took photos of the tiger child prowling around the Not a Box jungle for her page of the story. What was my research question again? It feels like it's going to take on it's own direction. Oh well. This was the perfect book to start with as it is completely where these five year olds are at. They are happiest playing make believe, so to give them the liberty to learn through this feels great.

Day Three I read Not a Box again today. I thought they might be sick of it but they wanted me to read it. They started to join in and read parts of the story with me. After reading it, I asked if they had any new thoughts or ideas. We talked a lot about imagination. What is imagination? "Your brain", some replied. "Pictures in your brain." "My pictures move." "I imagine when I can't do something and I want to learn to do it." "I imagine and then I draw." "Where does a story come from?"I asked. "An author", one child answered. "Is it real or from an imagination?" I asked. They all agreed that a story came from an author's imagination. We presume that children understand words but talking about imagination I realized that it was very good to hear what they thought a word meant; what meaning they give the word and then to put all of our understanding together to create a better, fuller sense of the word. The children played dress-ups. They took turns taking photos of each other as cowboys, policemen, tigers, rainbow fairies, and so forth each interacting in some way with their Not-a Box -police station, stable, hut etc...Two children created Kidpix pictures with the photos. They are getting more independent but I still need to support them. It is pretty slow going with one or two computers but in a way it works to just have one or two working while the others do other work or play. I wonder if their is a better way to print these into a big book that would last for a long time. Today I also made a movie of the kids acting out The Little Red Hen. It would have been good to have watched it straight away but I didn't want to risk having technology trouble so we'll watch tomorrow and see what their response is.

Rollin rollin rollin

Day Four

This was a no light bulbs went off sort of day. No big AHA moments. We decided to re enact the Little Red Hen and video it. This time the children acted it out with more animation but I should have shown them the first version so they could see themselves. I couldn't find a cord to hook the video camera to the T.V. The data projector screens are not up yet and I didn't have time at lunch to go set it all up. The children all dressed up and played with the Not a Box with increasing amounts of sheer joy. Have the children gained a deeper, richer sense of meaning about Not a Box? Stay tuned for a more reflective response tomorrow.

Day Off
I read through some of the 2007 e-fellow blogs today. They had a lot of time. More time to form a community of learners but less time teaching and reflecting on that teaching. They were researchers first but we are teaching-researchers. I had a bath under the kanuka trees in the sunshine and thought a bit about not much. I love children's stories and their artwork. They don't need to do that on the computer. What is the benefit of creating stories in Kidpix? I think the benefit is in the recording. Being able to add voice and watch and listen and read along. To be able to share these online or at assembly. Being able to hear or watch yourself perform or read is a way of having a different awareness. I listened to myself talking with the kids and I was surprised at how nice I was. How I listened. I also heard myself repeat their comments which I wasn't aware of doing. I gave more positive feedback to some children and less to others.
I think that we have all gained a deeper sense of meaning of the Not A Box story. We have become the story. I think the children were uncertain about the story to start with. They liked it but it was a little confusing to some of them. All of them play imaginary games so this is a book that they can all easily put themselves into, probably much more easily than an adult or an older child. I remember as a child reading a book that had my name in it and being so excited. Next week we will put a big book together and read it. We will watch our movies and listen to our podcasts and see how the children respond to seeing and hearing themselves.

Not a Box

This is the movie. I am really pleased with it. I wanted to capture the way children play. The way they make believe and the way that they make sense of story. The kids made all of the graphics in Kidpix by importing photos and drawing onto them. They all had their own ideas about what the box should be for them. The editing is done in i-Movie with music added over the top to give it a bit ofatmosphere. It is easy to insert the Kidpix clips with simple transitions between. My only regret with this film is that I should have carried on longer with the theme and filmed more of the ideas. It was early in the process and I didn't know better!