Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Re-creation Matters for Learning: Some age appropriate examples

Sam (age 7) holding his 'Swiss Family Robinson' game
Imaginative recreation is an essential part of learning. By re-creation I mean the reconstruction, presentation or retelling of a story in new ways. The story might have been experienced firsthand (e.g. an event, eye witness account, careful observation), seen as a film, video or TV program, heard or read.
Story in its own right is critical to learning, communication and well-being. This is something that I've written about many times (for example HERE & HERE). For children, the re-creation or reliving of a story is a critical part of their growing knowledge of narrative as well as a way to gain knowledge.

Lydia reading with her Dad
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. My youngest granddaughter Lydia has been fascinated by story since her first year of life. Now as she reaches the age of two, re-creation is a big part of her everyday play. She uses Little People characters, toys and objects of all kinds (even her knife & fork!) to tell stories. Not all of her stories are re-creations, many are highly original and involve the use of varied objects to apply names and roles in situations that she creates. But story for her is stimulated by television (e.g. 'Everything's Rosie', 'Charlie and Lola', 'In the Night Garden') as well as books.

Young children often quite naturally use re-creation to support and play with story. Other children need help and encouragement to do this. Re-creation can be seen in children's experience of story in varied ways, for example:

  • Changing rhymes and songs, e.g. 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to 'Baa Baa White Sheep' as Lydia does often.
    Acting out 'Little Red Riding Hood' with the resources of the dress-up box and some friends.
  • Dramatizing a well-known children's song from television or CD or a children's picture book.
  • Using art or drawing to imagine a story character, mythical creature or story setting. 
  • Using Lego (or other toys, props and objects) to re-imagine story alone or with others.
  • Creating something new that grows out of an experience of story.

Recently, another of my grandchildren, Samuel (aged 7 and pictured at the beginning of the post) watched the movie 'Swiss Family Robinson' (1960) with me. The story is based on a novel written by Johann David Wyss in 1813 (in reality he rewrote the original version of the story of his father Johann David Wyss). It tells of a family that is shipwrecked in the East Indies on route to Australia.  They face many challenges but manage to create a tree house, gather and grow food and survive.

Sam was captivated by the video and watched it at least 6 times while staying with us. He began drawing some things based on the story and wanted to talk about it often: "I wish we could build a tree house". His grandmother suggested that he make up a game about the story. He eagerly took up the suggested idea and with some simple advice from his about the form the game might take, he began creating his board game version of the film. The game was based on the shipwreck and the family fleeing the ship for the island. He suggested that he'd do a second game for the defense of the island and the attack of the pirates. The game was played with dice and buttons for markers. Players moved forward and often landed on squares that either offered chances for progression or regression. For example, 'Hit rocks, go back 1', 'Pirates defeated, go to finish', 'Help, tiger! Go back 5'. It was a wonderful re-creation of the opening scenes of the movie.

Close-up of Sam's Game
But why is re-creation so important? Is it more than 'just' play? As an aside, I've written much about the special value of play HERE. 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 Group

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).
  • Using puppets to re-create a story.
  • Using modelling clay or craft materials to create characters to re-create and retell a story.
Creating knights for storytelling

c) Later childhood (7-12 years)

  • 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 (as Sam did).
  • 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.


Katherine Collmer said...

Trevor, Thank you for this informational post. Play, in all forms, seems to be losing its stature in our children's lives. Creative play, through the ages 5-12 has been almost left out in favor of technological learning. In my work with children and handwriting, I find that many 5-8 graders who struggle with handwriting also struggle with imaginative play and creative writing. I am always on the lookout for strategies to include creative writing and thought into my sessions with them. I will definitely share your post with my readers and clients in the hopes of a re-creation rebirth.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Katherine. Nice to hear from you again. Trevor