Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Role of Imaginative Re-creation in Literacy & Learning

 A well-received present. The 'Lord of the Rings' Lego
Imaginative recreation is an essential part of learning, probably even life. It sits alongside 'story' as an essential way to relive or enrich narrative experiences. Story in its own right is critical to learning, communication and well-being. Imaginative recreation is one of its essential foundations. For many children, the re-creation of story is a critical part of their growing knowledge of narrative. In the photo (left) Jacob receives a Lego set for 'The Lord of the Rings' based on some of his favourite books. His joy comes from knowing he will have hours of fun re-creating his experience of Tolkien's wonderful books.

The re-creation of literature is a part of the enjoyment of the story, but it is also a means to deepen our understanding and appreciation of it, as we respond to it in new and varied ways.

Narrative is central to how our minds order experience, whether real or virtual. Our minds order experience in the mode of story.  As Jerome Bruner and others have taught us, narrative is 'a fundamental mode of thought through which we construct our world or worlds.'

From a very early age, children begin in various play situations to experiment with story in the form of literature, song, film or even real-life accounts. Young children use re-creation to support and play with story. It finds its way into their experience of story in varied ways:

a) Playing 'Incy Wincy Spider' as a toddler.
b) Acting out 'Little Red Riding Hood' with the resources of the dress-up box and some friends.
c) Dramatizing a well-known children's song from television or CD or a children's picture book.
d) Using art or drawing to imagine a story character, mythical creature or story setting.
e) Using Lego (or other toys, props and objects) to re-imagine story alone or with others.

As a child I would spend hours alone in the yard using the resources of my Grandad's back yard to invent stories of far away planets, alien peoples, and terrifying battles. Discarded pipes became rocket ships, a steel anvil the foundation of a vast city, wire and tools parts of hideous weapons. Pieces of wood were hammered together as strange vehicles, and weird imaginary creatures were made from anything I could lay my hands on in Grandad's shed. Some of these stories were new creations, while others were the re-creation of known or adapted stories.

For Jacob, imaginative recreation has been an essential part of his life and development. As a one year old he would attempt to dramatize parts of stories (e.g. 'Where the Wild Things Are' was a favourite), as a four year old he would act out 'The Wind in the Willows' with family members. As an eight year old he would draw maps and images of characters. And now, as a ten year old, he re-creates complex story settings, plot elements and story episodes using resources like Lego, drawing, modelling and writing.

But why is this important? Is it 'just' play?

If it were 'just play' it would still have an important role to play in any child's intellectual development. But, imaginative recreation does many things to support language and literacy. It helps children to:

  • Play with and understand the complexities of plot development.
  • Comprehend any story at much greater depth.
  • Understand character development in new ways.
  • Enter 'into' a setting as they create an imagined version of the setting and events of a story.
  • Understand story in three dimensions.
  • Appreciate the way the language of story is shaped by, and in turn shapes, characters, settings and plots.
In short, imaginative re-creation is a powerful learning strategy for children that stretches them as language users and learners.

Examples of Imaginative Re-creation by Age

a) Toddlers (1-3 years)

  • Being encouraged to be a wild thing as the story 'Where the Wild Things Are' reaches the critical moment when Max declares 'Let the wild rumpus start'.
  • Finger Plays and rhymes ('This Little Piggy', 'Incy Wincy', 'Round and Round the Garden')
  • Retelling Thomas the Tank Engine stories using the various engines that feature in the story.
  • Using dolls or soft toys to act out domestic scenarios.
    Using dress-up clothes in association with well-known stories.
  • Creating a story using toy soldiers, Polly Pocket toys, magnetic boards with characters, fuzzy felt and so on.
  • Joining in the television dramatization of a well-known story on a program like 'Playschool'.

b) Early years (4-6 years)

  • Many of the better story apps for iPad or android devices are an innovative way for multiple re-created experiences of stories (see my recent post on this HERE).
  • Drawing maps, key characters (dragons, people) or scenes.
  • Acting out stories with a group of children or with adult family members.
  • Creating an adapted text to re-create part of a story (e.g. poetry, a character interview, telling the story from a different point of view).
  • Use the strategy I call 'Never-ending Story' to encourage a group of children to invent narrative re-creations together. One starts a re-creation with a single paragraph, folds the paper over and hands it to the next person to do likewise. Continue for a set time.
  • Using puppets to re-create a story.
  • Using modelling clay or craft materials to create characters to re-create and retell a story.

c) Later childhood (7-12 years)
Photo courtesy of 'The Eighth Day'
  • More elaborate dramatization, with involvement in making props and costumes.
  • Simple animations using one of the programs readily available (see my previous post on animation HERE).
  • Using materials like Lego to re-imagine a well-known story.
  • Creating a board game that recreates the plot or a specific part of a story.
  • Creating a complex map or plot summary as a device for others to use.
  • Create a script to be acted for a specific part of a story.
  • Write a newspaper report based on an event within a story.
  • Use a variety of written genres to create a new text ('The Jolly Postman' and 'The Jolly Pocket Postman' are published examples of this).
These are just some of the ways that imaginative re-creation can be stimulated. I may do a future post on some worked examples of imaginative re-creation for classroom use.


Michele Latham said...

Excellent essay. Thanks for putting into words what we as parents know to be true.

Trevor Cairney said...

Glad it was of some use Michele. Also glad that it's part of your experience as a parent.