Learning stories are a magical tool in the world of early childhood education. It is through them that we perpetuate the ‘notice, recognize, respond’ cycle that is so fundamental to our emergent curriculum. Learning stories can come in many different forms and guises, from the briefest observation to a longer more reflective story complete with pictures.
Here is an example of a longer story, in which I am really trying to reflect and de construct the behaviour I noticed. My role in events was very much an observed, I was not part of the play. I had such an enlightening time observing and these three children used play to grapple with some big ideas about life and death. It could be so easy to underestimate the true potential children have for thinking about big ideas, and how play is their manner of expressing them and working them through. However, if we shake of pre-conceived notions, and just sit and watch now and then, we may be rather surprised and how deep our small children really can go!
A funeral for horses
Sometimes when we take to the time to observe and consider the play of our children, we discover that they are ruminating on some really big concepts and ideas.
Today it was big concepts like death, ritual and the permanence / impermanence of death that worked it’s way through Bonnie, Kauri and Lauren’s sandpit play.
The sandpit is a wonderfully popular part of our Playcentre, and provides a veritable blank canvas for so many different imaginings, ideas and activities. Quite often, things are buried, and either retrieved soon after or left to be rediscovered at a later (sometimes much later) date. Animals are a popular choice for burial. Today, however, was the first time I witnessed our tamariki conceptualizing their burying of the animals (in this case, horses) as a funeral.
I noticed that Bonnie, Lauren and Kauri participated in this, and they began by digging a grave for one horse, and covering over the top of it. Lauren had declared it dead, and it needed to be buried. There was no formalities or role playing around having a service, the children instead spent a good deal of time shaping the sand on top of the horse into a tomb like structure. They did this by hand and were quite particular about it, making swirls and peaks.
Kauri then joined, and made an even bigger monument using the sand castle bucket. He decorated it with foliage a top, and Bonnie brought the second horse close to the grave. It seemed to me that she was making the second horse pay it’s respects, so to speak.
Kauri then busted down his monument, and the horse arose from it’s grave. Bonnie declared it to be alive again, and our tamariki carried on with the rest of their sand play.
I found it interesting but not surprising that the concept of death was being incorporated into their play. Kauri has recently started asking me questions about death and dying, and piecing together the bits of his working theory on this. Some pieces come from his new found information that the eating of meat means the death of an animal has had to occur, some from his interactions with the worms and bugs and discovering that they perish if not treated right, and some from our discussions about not living forever. It is most certainly a working theory in progress.
I was intrigued to see the rituals of burial and monument making and decoration with flowers that the tamariki were exploring. There was no formal ‘service’ or the such, which suggests to me that the tamariki have a general idea about what happens to things and people that have passed on, but possibly not have concrete experience with a funeral (such as attending one) to draw upon. I can only speculate about Bonnie and Lauren, but I know Kauri is lucky enough to not have to had attended a funeral yet.
In the end, the horse was resurrected, which suggested to me that the idea of the permanence of death is one that is still being considered and worked on by our tamariki – I know that Kauri sometimes struggles to understand the idea of permanent death, which is not surprising – it is a big topic. I answer his questions about it best I can, but find it difficult at times.