How does a group of more than twenty 5 – 7 year old children write a story together that they all feel they proudly authored in the end? Slowly, as an adult listens carefully, and with lots of time to play. That is how this year's Lantern Walk story came to be.
For a week or so, we spent time telling and reading aloud stories about darkness and light. We compared them, shared what we liked about them, and thought about why there might be so many of this kind of story in the world. Children quickly observed that these stories might have come to be because people are so curious about the changes that go on in the sky. These stories help explain things we really, really want to know. Through dialogue, the children came to understand that in many ways, stories have the power to take care of us. They comfort us, entertain us, inspire us. The Opal 1 children were thrilled to have the responsibility of creating the story that might care for the Opal community through the cold winter ahead.
So first they played.
They played to find ideas, to talk with one another, to imagine, and to invent.
They used a variety of materials– invited to select a medium that would best allow them to create, think, and share.
Occasionally we would re-group, sharing characters, settings, problems: How does the light disappear in your story?, and solutions: How will the light return? It was a powerful lesson in the construction of narrative for these young writers. All ideas were interrogated. "So you imagine that it's the clouds who push the sun out of the sky. But why? What's the problem?" Or, "Well, so the wolf takes the sun away. How did he get it? Why did he want it?" These questions prompted children who may not have initiated the idea to help create meaningful connections, explanations, images. And slowly the story unfolded.
When we were stuck, we turned to the power of play. The question: How will the sun fall out of the sky and what will happen to it when it does? was solved one day through drama. After a variety of possibilities were brainstormed, children joined the group they were most interested in and created a way to act out possibilities for that section.
When the groups shared, it became clear that we were down to two promising possibilities. One involved two genies who would discover the sun had dissolved into the earth. One genie would say to the other, "Hey, what are you looking at, Buckethead!" Of course this clever line was followed by howls of laughter from the audience and many dramatic repetitions of the line.
The children were asked to consider what might happen at the lantern walk if we told that kind of story. And they knew, right away. "People might start saying mean things to each other." "People might be too crazy!" "Lanterns might get broken!" They realized in that moment the power their story could have on the whole community.
The other possibility involved the sun shattering on the ground after falling from the sky, and children finding the pieces and carrying them back to the sun's palace. Even on her very first day at Opal School, Rory said, "That reminds me of the lantern walk!" The children were so excited by the idea that their story could inspire everyone to imagine that they were carrying a little piece of the sun through the forest, working together to hold on to and to bring back the light. Their story really could care for the Opal community.
After agreeing on these ideas, the children spent time using watercolor paint to explore and refine the images they held.
With great care, the children created and shared their images until they agreed on the whole story. It is a story filled with beautiful ideas, collaboratively constructed and revised until it was just right. And they love it. As well they should.
The story will come home on Friday with every Opal student, tucked inside his/her lantern. Whether you choose to join us for our magical walk in the woods or not, we hope you'll take the time to light your lantern and read this story together so you have it to hold in your heart as we enter this dark season. It will bring you comfort and warmth.
And if you happen to run into an Opal 1 student, take a moment to congratulate the author. Authors love to know their stories have made their way into other people's lives.