Archive for November, 2012

What a silly and frivolous question!  Stories, of course, light our way from babyhood to old age.  Yes, but…is there a ‘perfect age’, an age at which the listener can be most easily transported?  Surely it’s some magic point within childhood, where the intellect (growing) and wonderment (waning) intersect.

I did a little experiment in this last week.  I was at Clifton with Rawcliffe Primary School for two days, to help them mark Science Week.  I spent time with every class from FS2 (age 4-5) to Year 4 (age 8-9).  I chose stories to fit their theme for the week, ‘Forces and Motion’, but to the school’s immense credit, not one teacher drew the children’s attention clunkily to the forces mentioned in the story.  They just let the children enjoy the stories in their own way.  I sat the whole time in the ‘Forest School’ within the grounds, and the children came out to me in their classes, all togged up in their waterproofs and woolly hats. I played my whistle as they approached the woodland and they sat on stumps round the ‘fireplace’ to listen.

So, that was the experimental set-up…and all experimental subjects engaged fully and listened with wide open ears.  But which age group were most capture-able?  Here are my observations:

* FS2 (age 4-5): while most could enter into the world of the story, the residual toddler fidget was still disturbing others, who needed a visual stimulus to train their eyes on.  They struggle to form the pictures in their minds.  I was puppet-less – but when I took the role of Grandaddy Spider and they got to squeeze me to thinness with spider silk, the bums stopped shifting.  This is also the age that needs songs and lots of form and repetition.  They joined in magnificently with the German song of the washerwomen.

* Year 1 (age 5-6): listened avidly and with wide eyes; they did not need tricks or rhymes to hold them.  Again the residue of small-child-hood in the way their minds wander to ever-so-slightly-relevant matters that they just HAVE to tell you.  But they are coiled springs: 15 minutes telling was the right moment for the critical mass of them to bounce off, when I suggested they go and make feasts for Grandaddy Spider’s acquaintances in the Forest School.

Two Year 1s practising their two-person sawing in the Forest School – just like Jack.

* Year 2 (age 6-7): were jockeying for position on the best seats, little conflicts bubbling up here and there….but when they settled down – !  What a joy they were.  They were mesmerised by the tin whistle and begged for more stories.  They did not need a rest or a play, although when they got one, their play (‘working on the farm like Jack’) was deep and meaningful and instantly accessible to almost all.  As they left me (I played them out) one little boy asked, “Are you going to vanish now?”  And another: “Do you live in the woods?”  Their grip on reality is fairly tenuous…perfect!!

* Year 3 (age 7-8) are emotional creatures.  Their reactions to a story are fully visible on their faces.  They have the intellect to understand the significance of some of the experiences they are hearing about, and still have the playfulness to create solutions to any problem out of a few sticks and an overhanging branch. Their strongest connection is to single moments of intense pathos in the story (the dog carrying the dead prince’s body to the shore).

* Year 4 (8-9) are diverse and getting more complex.  The response to a meaty, sad story is, if anything, deeper than that of Year 3s.  Characters’ behaviour is questioned to some extent. The play-acted responses to it are more thought out.  Realism is sought after.  Minor arguments arise as some children want to get the structure of the prince’s boat exactly right, while others are interested more in the love between dog and prince.  Their greatest fascination is with the discovery that part of the story is true and happened to my uncle – while part clearly belongs in the realms of myth – and part is not quite clear.  It matters to them whether it is true or not.

A map of south-west Scotland showing Jura, Scarba and the mainland – can’t you tell?!

SO IN CONCLUSION: who could do without any of these age groups? (or indeed any age group up to adult) BUT if I could only tell to one age of child, it would be those blessed 7-year-olds…


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