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By Robert MunschGo to page: 1 2 3
Neugebauer children grew up on Munsch stories. We first heard them on audiotapes on car trips, and then sought them out in printed format. Their hilarious plots and boisterous lines and motions lured us into the stories and led to family games which were based on our favorite lines. So we were delighted when Robert Munsch agreed to share some of his insights on storytelling:
Peekaboo, the most well-known interactive game for very young children, involves a prescribed set of words and actions. It doesn't work very well if just the words are used, or if just the actions are used. It is an interactive sequence which demands both words and actions for the child to enjoy the situation. In fact, actions without words may arouse fear in the child, rather than delight.
There are many finger plays for young children which work upon this same principal. The child's interest is held by the physical actions that go along with the words. This type of play makes a great deal of sense because young children become adept physically much sooner than they become adept verbally, and they learn and experience things physically before they learn and experience things verbally. So, the physical aspect of the story can be looked on as a sort of crutch which eases the child to the verbal element.
There is, however, another way of looking at this. The stereotyped verbal and physical interactions which adults use with young children are probably a form of imprinting that lets the child become attached to the adult and the adult become attached to the child. The mixture of the verbal and the physical which work in unison to support the attachment. So, finger plays for young children can be looked upon as the outgrowth of the genetically imprinted sequences which begin the attachment between adult and child. But what happens when the child becomes three, or four, or five?
Two things happen when the child grows older. In some situations, the verbal separates from the physical and becomes a part of the world of books. The illustrations in books, the visual message, replaces the physical interaction of earlier stages. However, kids of this age group still love physical and verbal imitation setin an interactive sequence.
One of the most popular circle time stories is Going on a Lion Hunt. It uses the very elementary calling back and forth between the teacher and the audience as well as the mirroring of physical gestures. Once again, the use of physical gestures makes the verbal element accessible to children who would not otherwise be able to follow the plot. It's one thing to tell a child you are going on a lion hunt, but it's another thing to have the child wap his hands and imitate walking, or stomp his feet and imitate walking; it helps the child get the message.
With three to five year olds, left-over elements from adult-child attachment processes can be used to modify and expand what is essentially an attempt at verbal plotting. And this is, in fact, what I try to replicate with many of my simpler stories. The theory, stated quite simply, is this: a plot which works verbally with older children can be united with a participation sequence which works with younger children, therefore widening the possible age appeal of the story. Three year olds, who would not be able to follow a complicated plot, will none-theless sit quite happily, as long as they are rewarded with a familiar interactive sequence of which they can be part.
This same form of interactive sequences probably existed in traditional fairy tales which are now found only in verbal form in books. The reason for this is simple. The participation elements, verbal games, rhythmic chanting, slapping, and imitation which work so well with young children as part of the story are generally impossible to write down. They do not translate well into written language.
So, the translation of traditional tales into a written format acted as a filter. The music, the cadence, the gestures all dropped out. Parents and teachers who want their bookreading and storytelling to work must now put the music and cadence and gestures back in. It is interesting to watch adults read Three Billy Goats Gruff to young children because, if they want it to work, they instinctively reintroduce back into the story the element of participation and imitation on the part of the child.
So, what is this leading to?
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