Professors, Crocodiles, Bears, Nurses and Cats
Last month I had the great privilege of running an entire week of storytelling with Home for Good Leicester, an amazing charity that provides support to families who have adopted or fostered children. I worked alongside around ten children, telling them stories, creating stories with them and watching them produce storytelling masterpieces themselves. I have written a blog, comprised of five sections each named after characters we worked with. They are written respectively as a reflective piece, a list of quotes, a short narrative, a poem and a haiku as part of my reflections on the week.
The most active and explosive member of our storytelling crew led the creation of this character, whose vehicle is almost more impressive than the character himself. Professor Polite was one of five superheroes that we created to remind us and help guide through the rules we created together for the week. The other four- Captain Peaceful, Steve Protector of Property, The Forest Guardian and Manda Faye all fell by the wayside but Professor Polite
remained an essential part of every session. Each time the lego vehicle would be added to, one day some wheels to propel the professor along his polite way. Another day a gun, shooting out beams of politeness was fixed to the bonnet. And slowly the piece assembled
into the wonderful piece it is today. To me it served as a reminder that in all the stories we created, all the characters we imagined, all the scenes we lived in, that continuing to build on the simple, to enhance the basics of a good story and to ground ourselves in the beginning is sometimes the most important thing to do. As we try to rush forward onto the next theme, story or project Professor Polite and his genius creators showed us that in the slowness of coming back to the original, something truly beautiful and magnificent can be created.
Curtis the Crocodile
At the beginning and end of every session Curtis the Crocodile would join us and share from each child their name, their favourite type of something, the best thing about today and something that could be better about today. Here were the topic ten things that Curtis shared.
“My favourite object is a Tesla.”
“Something that could have been better was your story. It was rubbish.”
“My favourite thing today was using clay.”
“Something that could have been better was if there had been more painting.”
“My favourite game was bombs and shields because I love being hyper and running around.”
“Something that could have been better was your timetable of what was happening. Your arrows were very good but the drawings could have been better and if you actually had the times on that would have helped…”
“My favourite story was of the two brothers and sister because it taught us how to be kind.”
“My favourite character was David Attenborough.”
“Something that could have been better was having more time.”
“My favourite story was the lighthouse because it was funny and exciting.”
The power of Curtis was in unlocking the tongues of children to be open and honest. Without a puppet, children often give feedback in the form of “It was amazing! Nothing could have been better! It was perfect! I loved it all!” Whilst this is very encouraging I have learnt to lean into the criticism and see it as a way of moving forward and improving. Having Curtis as their mouthpiece added fun and silliness to the atmosphere which allowed the children to be more relaxed and more honest since it was not really them saying it. Curtis was an essential part of the team and the children were genuinely sad to say goodbye to him at the end.
The Missing Teddy Bears
“Everyone! Pay attention- this is really important!” Announced the boy, C, in the corner decisively. All eyes in the room turned towards the boy and listened with interest to his narrative. “Last night the family of Teddy Bears were all out for a midnight walk in the forest. They all had a really good time and were just heading back from their walk when suddenly two of the baby bears disappeared! The mummy and daddy bears called out and searched and searched last night but they couldn’t find them anywhere… So when we go out later into the forest can everyone keep an eye out for them and bring them straight to me if they find anything?”
As one group we all nodded in agreement and headed off into the nearby arboretum to begin our search for the bears. C waddled behind us somewhat struggling to contain the four other bears in the family in his small arms. The children searched in bushes, up trees and finally the cries of delight emerged from behind a bush proclaiming the discovery of one of the missing bears. Immediately the children rushed up to C and squashed the teddy bear into the receiving arms of the other four. C continued his even more precarious balancing act down the path whilst the others rushed off again. Again shouts of victory drifted to our ears as the children came pouring out of the blackberry bush and triumphantly shoved the final bear in between the head of one and the leg of another. C’s anxious eyebrows transformed into a delighted smile, “The bear family are back together again, thanks for all your help everyone!”
In that moment it seemed that all our struggles in the week, all of our creativity and searching had culminated into the wonderful completion of this story that everyone had worked together to solve and to resolve. From then on C’s connection in the group strengthened and he became much more than the boy in the corner.
As we told stories real and imagined,
New and old fashioned,
Mary Seacole inspired us,
The woman who had caused the British government such a fuss,
She asked to be a nurse in the Crimean war,
But was rejected because she was black and poor,
She did not let this stop her,
She scrimped and saved silver and copper,
Paid her own passage to that place,
Used a hotel as her space,
To save soldiers’ lives,
To those who had been attacked by guns and knives,
She gave rest, healing and home for a time,
Her incredible story line by line,
Served as an inspiration to the children,
Who had themselves perhaps been rejected and downtrodden,
A reminder that in the face of overwhelming opposition,
It is possible to fight back and rise again,
So when they return to their schools, lives and homes,
They may know they are not alone,
So when they feel it is them against the rest,
They know that they are standing with the very best.
Luna The Lighthouse
At the storyline crunch point
Guiding light in waves