Friday, 24 January 2014

Charlie and the Beanstalk

Charlie and the Beanstalk – an account of critical, creative and collaborative story-telling and making.

In this blog I recount what happened at bedtime one night when I asked Charlie, aged 3 years, 7 months, what story he wanted. The result was a creative and collaborative process in which Charlie had a big input into the shaping and molding of a story that suited him at this stage in his life. Having described the process and told the story that emerged I raise questions about what will happen to Charlie when he starts school next year and apply the same questions to thinking about the teacher and what opportunities she will have to respond to the children in her care critically, creatively and collaboratively.

Charlie was three years and 7 months when this story was created. It was bedtime and he wanted a story with ‘Jack’ in it and I offered to tell ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, one we had been sharing for well over a year.  But this time Charlie wanted to change the story. He didn’t want a giant in the story because, “Giants are too scary.” Charlie’s Mum had been reading Charlie The BFG – the Big Friendly Giant ­­– by Roald Dahl and he had been scared by the giant in that story. What follows is another example of how Charlie and me create a new version of the old fairytale and once again incorporate some of his favourite TV characters. For the first time Treefroo Tom makes an appearance, but Fireman Sam is not excluded, he is still there too. As I tried to accommodate his requests I had to think about possible new scenarios for the story and with Charlie’s help we created the following adaptation.

Once upon a time there was a boy called Jack who lived alone with his mother, who was a widow and Daisy their cow. Everyday Jack’s mother would milk Daisy the cow. She would make butter, yogurt and cheese from the milk for them to eat and they were happy.
Then one day, Jack’s mother went to milk the cow but there was no milk left. “Jack, Jack” said his mother, “there is no milk left, we haven’t got anything to eat, you will have to take Daisy to market and sell her and use the money to buy food.”
“Oh no!” said Jack, “Not Daisy the cow, I love Daisy.”
“I know” said his mother, “but unless Daisy gives us milk, we won’t have anything to eat – we have to sell her. Now be a good boy and take her to market. Make sure you get a good price for her.”
“OK Mother…”, said Jack and sadly he tied a rope around Daisy’s neck and set off to market. He hadn’t gone far when he met a small man wearing green trousers and a hat with a feather in it.
“Hallo Jack”, said the man, “where are you going with that fine cow?”
Jack wondered how the man knew his name and said, “This is Daisy, but unfortunately she can’t give us milk any more so I have to take her to market to sell her.”
“I will buy her,” said the funny little man.
“Really?” said Jack, a little surprised, “How much will you give me?”
“I won’t give you money,” said the man, “Oh no, I will give you something better that money. I will give you these magic beans.” And he held out his hand to show jack the beans. “With this beans you will never be hungry again.”
“Never be hungry again,” thought Jack, “that would be wonderful.” But he hesitated. His mother had said he must get a good price for the cow. But he decided he would accept and said, “OK, give me the beans.”
The little man gave Jack the beans, “You won’t regret it,” he said and walked off with Daisy the cow. Jack ran home. When he got there his mother was surprised. “Well, Jack, you were quick, did you get a good price for the cow?”
“Yes, mother,” said Jack, “but I didn’t get money, I got these magic beans,” and Jack opened his hand and showed his mother the beans.
“BEANS”, said his mother, “BEANS! We can’t live on beans – you stupid boy” and she threw the beans out of the window and sent Jack to bed without any supper. Jack was so sad and he cried himself to sleep.
The next day Jack woke up and something was wrong. It was morning, but his bedroom was dark. “What’s going on?” thought Jack. He jumped out of bed and went to the window and there growing tall into the sky was an enormous beanstalk. “Wow!” thought Jack, a magic beanstalk, “I must climb it and see where it goes.” Jack ran out of the house and started to climb the beanstalk, he climbed and he climbed, climbed and he climbed – through the clouds, climbing, climbing until at last he came to another land. Jack got off the beanstalk and looked all around him. There in the distance was a huge castle. “I wonder who lives in that castle?” thought Jack.
“Not a giant,” said Charlie.
“No, not a giant” I said, “but who does live there?”
“A Knight”, said Charlie.
 “OK,” I said. “Off Jack went to the castle, he went run, run, run, walk, walk, walk, run, run, run, walk, walk, walk, run, run, run, walk, walk, walk until he reached the castle door. He looked through the door and there sitting at the table was,
“Mike the Knight,” said Charlie.
“Hallo, my name’s Jack”, said Jack and he told Mike the Knight all about Daisy the cow and the man who had given him the beans for her.  Mike got excited. “Evie, Evie,” he called, “come and see this boy Jack, he has a story to tell.”
Evie came in and Jack told her the story.
“Was the man wearing green trousers and a cap with a feather it in?” she asked.
“Why yes,” said Jack, “but how did you know?”
“That is the man who stole my magic beans from me,” said Evie. “What did you say you did with the beans?”
“That’s what I have been trying to tell you,” said Mike. “The beans have grown into a giant beanstalk and Jack here has climbed up the beanstalk. This means we can all go home.”
Mike then told Jack the story of how a giant had captured Mike and Evie and taken them up through the clouds to the castle and left them there. They had no way to get back to Glendragon because the castle was in the sky. But now that Jack had grown the beanstalk they would all be able to go home.

“I want Tree Fu Tom in the story”, said Charlie, “and Fireman Sam.”
“What does Tree Fu Tom do?” I asked.
“He’s magic and he can fly,” said Charlie.
“OK” I said.
Mike was now getting excited. He called for Sparky and Squirt and told them about the beanstalk. He then called for his horse, Gallahad and he and Evie and Jack jumped on Gallahad and set off towards the beanstalk. Sparky and Squirt flew along beside them. Soon they arrived  at the beanstalk.
“Oh No,” said Mike, “what are we going to do? Evie and I can climb down the beanstalk, and Sparky and Squirt can fly, but what about Galahad? He won’t be able to climb down the beanstalk.”
Everyone looked very sad for a moment. Then Mike jumped up. “By the King’s Crown, I’ve got it. We must send for Tree Fu Tom, he can fly and if he gets on Galahad’s back he can fly him down to the ground. But there’s one problem how do we contact him?”
“Leave that to me,” said Evie and she took out her magic watch and dialed up Treefru Tom.
“Hallo,” said Evie, “is that Tree Fu Tom?”
“Yes” said Charlie (aka Tree Fu Tom).
“We have a bit of a problem Tree Fu  we are stuck up in the clouds in the giant’s land, but Jack grew a giant beanstalk from magic beans so we can be rescued, but unfortunately poor Gallahad can’t climb down the beanstalk. Can you help us?”
“Yes”, said Charlie.
“Can you come now?” said Evie.
“Yes”, said Charlie, “right away”.
Quick as a flash Tree Fu Tom span around and flew right up the beanstalk to the mountain.
“What about Fireman Sam?” asked Charlie.
“Yes. I know,” I said.
“What will happen when the giant gets back and finds Mike and Evie have gone?” asked Jack.
“Oh no”, said Mike, “he will follow us down the beanstalk and when he catches us he will grind our bones to make his bread. What are we going to do?”
“Fireman Sam,” said Charlie.
“Good idea. I’ll ring him now” said Evie.
Briing, Brriing.. Briing..”Hallo, is that Fireman Sam?”
“Yes,” said Charlie.
“Fireman Sam, it is Evie here and I need your help. Mike the Knight and Jack and me are stuck up in giant’s land and we are going to climb down the beanstalk to get home, but when the giant comes back …
“No giants” said Charlie.
“No giants,” I said, “when he comes back and finds we are gone he will chase after us down the beanstalk. Can you come and chop down the beanstalk when we get down?”
“Of course,” said Charlie. “I’m coming right away.”
“Ok,” said Mike, “Treefru Tom can you get on Galahad’s back so you can fly down.”
“Of course, Mike” said Tom and jumped up onto Galahad’s back, “now Galahad don’t be afraid, just close your eyes and step off into the clouds.” Galahad was very scared, Squirt and Sparkey flew around him to encourage him and then he stepped off into the clouds and began to fly.
“Hurrah!’ said Mike, come on Evie, come on Jack. So Mike, Evie and Jack started to climb down the beanstalk. Squirt and Sparky and Galahad with Treefroo Tom flew down to the ground. Just as they all arrived on the ground they heard the sound of Jupiter. “nee naw, nee naw, nee naw, nee naw”.
“It’s Fireman Sam”, said Jack. Sam got out of the engine and took his axe and started to chop down the beanstalk. (Charlie began to make chopping motions with an imaginary axe).
Jack’s mother ran out of the house, “what’s all this commotion?” she said. She was so surprised when she saw what was going in. Jack explained to his mother what had happened and at that moment CRASH! The beanstalk hit the ground and everyone started to cheer. “Hooray for Fireman Sam, you’ve saved the day.”
“No problem,” said Sam, “But I have to go now, bye.”
“Bye Sam, and thank-you” said everyone.
Mike turned to Jack’s mother. “Your son Jack has saved Evie and me from the giant, now I want to invite you to come and live with us in our castle. You can work in the kitchens and Jack can help look after the horses. You will have somewhere to live and all the food you can eat. You will never be hungry again.”
“Oh thank you,” said Jack’s mother and she turned to Jack. “I’m sorry I was so cross Jack, this is wonderful news, let’s set off for the castle at once.”
So Mike and Evie, Jack and his Mother, Galahad, Sparky and Squirt set off for Glendragon where Jack and his mother lived happily ever after. And they were never hungry again.

“That was a good story, Nana.”

At the age of three years and 7 months Charlie shows himself to be a critical and creative thinker with the capacity for collaboration and agency.  Drawing on the wide repertoire of stories he has been exposed to which include traditional fairy tales, books and TV characters, he can take ownership of stories and direct them in ways that suit him at this moment in his life. As I have discussed in previous blogs, stories move him; he can be frightened as well as excited by them. He knows he can manipulate them to provide a satisfying story that incorporate all the fictional characters he cares about and exclude those he isn’t sure about. I am constantly delighted by his capacity for powerful thinking and learning.

When Charlie starts school next year I wonder if his capacity to input into his own learning will be valued, or will he just be expected to engage with the curriculum offered by the teacher? I want to raise some questions that I will return to when he does start school to see what the answers might be.

What will role will Charlie play in his own learning when he starts school? 

Will he get to play an active role in his own learning? Or,
Will the teacher decide everything he is to learn in advance?
Will Charlie be expected to conform as a passive recipient of the knowledge the teacher wishes to transfer?
Will he have any opportunity for agency as a cultural being with experiences, insights and ideas of his own?
Will he be encouraged or even allowed to develop new ideas or question the knowledge the teacher transmits?
Will he get the opportunity to dialogue with his teacher, to shape the curriculum to incorporate his ideas and thoughts?
Will his natural creativity and criticality be nurtured or suppressed?

The teacher will be under great pressure to ‘deliver’ a curriculum that has been decided by government, I also worry about her opportunities for creativity and criticality.

What role is the teacher expected to play in Charlie’s learning? I have taken the same questions about Charlie and applied them to the teacher.

Will the teacher play an active role in planning learning?
Will the teacher be expected to have planned the curriculum in advance before getting to know the children in her class?
Will the teacher be expected to conform as a passive deliverer the knowledge predetermined by government?
Will the teacher have any opportunity for agency as a cultural being with experiences, ideas and insights of her own?
Will the teacher be encouraged or even allowed to develop new ideas or question the knowledge she is expected to transmit?
Will the teacher create opportunities for dialogue with the children with a view of incorporating their ideas and thoughts into the curriculum?
Will the creativity and criticality of the teacher be nurtured or suppressed?

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