Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mapping a story

Chicken in their nesting boxes by Ani
We have been rereading one of our favorite books, called Hanne's Quest, by Olivier Dunrea.  It is the tale of a small hen, named Hanne, who is destined to carry the weight of saving the farm, and follows her fate on an unlikely journey for a little bird.  We love how brave dear Hanne is, and we love the characters she encounters, like a wise and equally brave little keeper-of-the-barrow, a mole named Pieter.

I thought a good use of this week's rainy days and our current colds which have in fact slowed us down a little, might be to make some sort of a map of Hanne's journey.  The writing in this book is so lovely and descriptive, giving nice clues to the directions of her path, such as "Hanne kept the sun on her right all morning" - what direction must she have been traveling? As she nears the sea, she first feels the heaviness of the air on her feathers, and the taste of salt as she stops to preen. Then she notices the coarseness of the grasses and the grittiness of the earth beneath her feet...
The first time we tried this I thought big. I wasn't thinking permanent, but you know how these things go and pretty soon we had embarked on something that would take over our living room and was more than our energy level could sustain... (another day, perhaps...)
The second time was a bit tamer.  I remembered cornstarch clay which, while not likely to be very long-lasting, would invite a longer investment of time and attention.
We used large pieces of cardboard from the recycling bin - Eliza chose to leave hers plain, while Ani covered hers with foil.  Both girls initially drew their ideas on the cardboard, deciding first where north, south, east and west would be oriented on their boards, and then discussing, as I re-read passages from the book, which direction the village, the barrow, the windmill, the sea, etc, lay from the little farm.  How many buildings did the farm have? What side of the barrow was the entrance on?
My thought had been that they might paint them - to me, that would be the fun part! - once the clay has dried.  We have a short road trip planned for this coming week, so we'll see if it still holds their interest once we return. It was a worthwhile activity on its own, however, whether or not our little clay figures of Hanne and the others get to roam their way through these maps.
I wrote about maps a few weeks ago, and this was definitely inspired by Mapmaking with Children (by David Sobel).  He suggests that at this young age children be encouraged to make three-dimensional maps or pictorial maps.  It was interesting to see how they chose to make their pieces; Eliza chose in a few places, but not all, to draw the image of the buildings on the board and then just embellish them with pieces of clay.  In other spots, she constructed the whole piece from clay, making it stand out from the board.  Anika noticed that when she made her farm, the house was a flat representation, sort of like a slightly raised picture, while the "henwoodie" and the barn were three-dimensional pieces.  It was an observation she made without my pointing it out, which was interesting in and of itself.  My contribution (you know how badly I wanted to just sit down and do this all myself, don't you?) was to offer stones for the walls, and when we found the stones in our box, we also found the shells, which came to represent in large part the sea, as well as the back of the great Sea Turtle.
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Part of my journey as a parent of kids-learning-at-home has been, and continues to be, figuring out how not to be attached to outcome.  I will spend hours in the middle of the night dreaming up some lavish lapbooking project! Greek Myths! carnivorous plants!...only to realize in the morning hours that all the information that these projects would bring to light is already available to us in the books we are reading, the observations we are making throughout the day, through the things we are engaging with directly.  What got my adrenaline going was the idea that we would have a thing!  To...put in a pile!  To document what we are doing!!!  This is exciting to me in part because I have always loved books, notebooks, binders, Trapper Keepers, paper of all kinds, paste, my own scissors, new get the idea. To me, a schooled kid, the object of learning anything in school was to have an end product: a paper written (check!), a map recreated or colored in (check!), a test passed (check!).  Unfortunately for me, this formula usually ended in some dribbling out of information from my inner ear into my pillow, to disappear into my sleeping hours, never to be retrieved again.  I was a good student, mind you, because I could produce a fairly decent product and my list was always checked-off.

So now, when my girls are engaged in an activity that does produce some tangible outcome, I get drooly. Greedy. I waaaaant it to be nice. I want it to be finished.  I want it because I can blog about it and show Dan when he gets home, as if to prove that we did something worthwhile today. I'll have to let you know if I get my fix this time around. Meanwhile, know that we had an enjoyable morning together, exploring another world and getting our hands very very messy...


Tokarz said...

I'm reading days and days of your life that I've missed, and missing you. Your family is amazing, and you are amazing; an amazing mom, wife,and friend. I want to share these days with you! Erin

merry said...

Erin,I echo your thoughts.I'm wishing I lived much closer so that I could be a part of these exciting,interesting days too!

Phyllis said...

I have an award for you on my blog for all the sunshine you share.