Children’s narratives: Exploring children’s voices through The Looking Glass and beyond

Volume 3, Number 5 - November 2014

Editoral

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 6 This Special Edition on Children’s Narratives coincides with the onset of the 150th anniversary celebrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in 2015. According to Smidt (2012), narratives largely refer to “the making of stories” (p. 7), the unique manner in which we make sense of the world around us. This is reflected in the quote above and can be seen intertwined through the articles in this issue of He Kupu, the idea of meaning making.

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Practitioner Researcher

Autonomy is a critical aspect of early childhood development. This article will introduce the concept of autonomy in the early years, as presented by philosophers such as Rousseau, Montessori and Steiner. The article will also examine how young children cultivate a sense of autonomy and possible influences that impact upon their development. Finally, I will critically reflect on autonomy in relation to my own childhood and in relation to diverse contexts.

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The study of art has become an important aspect of early childhood education. According to Picasso, “every child is an artist”. However, how do we, as teachers, protect and cultivate children’s art making? Many theories guiding arts education have arisen from developmental psychology, however, in this paper, projects are analysed in relation to Reggio Emilia practice and Deleuzean philosophy. In the last part of the paper, I will reflect on my own arts learning experience and consider new possibilities, referring to Deleuze.

Spirituality is an important dimension of the holistic development of young children, much like autonomy, resilience and responsibility. Unfortunately, it often remains as a forgotten area in early childhood education in many cultures (Zhang, 2012). Many people simply could not articulate the concept of spirituality concretely and some may confuse it with religion. Sokanovic and Muller (1999) pointed out that the definition of the term spirituality has little consensus of opinion throughout society, and has even, in specialised fields such as education, academia and religion sectors, various definitions. To explore the specific meaning of spirituality would be not only meaningful but of great significance for our understanding of the tenet of early childhood education and the national curriculum of New Zealand, Te Whāriki. Furthermore, spirituality is also a frequently discussed topic in many philosophies of early childhood education. For example, spiritual self or inner spirituality is recognised by Froebel and Pestalozzi (Froebel Web, 2014; Bruehlmeier, 2014), while spiritual development is further explored and integrated in teaching practices by Montessori and Steiner (Weinberg, 2009; Ullrich, 1994). Therefore, the task of this article is to try to define the term “spirituality” in the context of early childhood education, and explore spirituality as presented in the work of two early childhood theorists. Later, this article will also critically examine the aspect of spirituality in my own childhood education in China, and in relation to other contexts.

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Special Edition

This article discusses teacher quality and the preparation of high quality teachers in relation to bicultural and bilingual preparedness to teach into early childhood centres across Aotearoa/New Zealand. In particular, the divide across and between policy, legislation, the practice of educationalists understanding, and their skill and knowledge about quality outcomes for Māori children are looked at. Possibilities are presented that seek to enhance the educational achievement for all learners in Aotearoa/New Zealand, with particular emphasis on the voices and stories of tangata whenua.

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Narrating stories about one’s life to a group of people can be challenging for adults, therefore it is unsurprising that some children may experience anxiety at the prospect. Content analysis was undertaken of ten picture books concerned with ‘show-and-tell’. Three themes were found that related to ‘being known’, ‘being better’, and ‘being judged’. These themes are consistent with the studies of ‘show-and-tell’, suggesting that it is a socially complex event. However, more research is required about facilitating ‘show- and-tell’ in ways that are cognisant of the speaker and their narrative, and that also accounts for the interplay between the peer group and the teacher’s goals.

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There is more to the visual art processes of young children than meets the eye. Early childhood education research has revealed the depth of art experiences for young children. This discussion traces my study of three-year-old children in which the complexity of the children’s engagement with resources, their earnest creative processes and the absolute delight they expressed at the panorama of life around them was astounding (Plows, 2013). Predominantly focused on the children, this article explores selected aspects of the five participants’ visual art experiences. Documented during the study, these elements were the young children’s light-hearted narration of events, their intense creativity and their gestural representation of concepts. An outline of the research methods used and relevant theoretical perspectives is provided. This article brings pertinent content knowledge, teaching strategies and implications for practice into consideration. The following discussion advocates that responsive educators support children’s sense of wonder and know the difference between open and closed art experiences, consolidate professional learning and practice and endeavour to document children’s visual art making.

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This article seeks to counter the predominant understanding of young children's writing activity within a classroom, which has been formed as a response to the structural framework of school literacy. Taking a different approach, I have explored the established relationship between language and writing as a socio-cultural construction transforming human thought (Vygotsky 1986; Wertsch 1998), and plugged aspects of these ideas together with features of Deleuzian thinking. The writing child is conceptualised as a becoming writer (Deleuze & Guattari 2004), and their writing activity considered as a process of 'relational encounters'. This alternative reading of children's early writing activity is presented through the analysis of a short vignette;a writing encounter between three children where connections between bodies, mediational objects, sensations and emotion are traced to further our understanding of writing as a process of movement and production.

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Over the past decades, shifts in English curriculum concerns have seen considerable variance in the place of oral language in classrooms. The crowded curriculum and high stakes testing, plus rapid changes wrought by digital technologies do not support the valuing of oral capacities in schools. Many teachers feel challenged by including storytelling in the literacy programs, especially as students move through the education system. Using a professional storyteller and an academic as a critical friend, this project aimed to build early childhood educators’ understanding of the relationships between storytelling and literacy development. Positioning teachers as researchers, we sought to focus teachers on the notion of themselves and early primary years’ students as purposeful and competent storytellers. We explore the emerging confidence of teachers in this role, as well as a number of complex ways that young children engage with and re-interpret story. This process occurs in multimodal ways to consolidate and expand literacy knowledge.

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The analysis presented in this article draws on Rogoff’s (2003) work on intent participation and Dyson’s (2001, 2010) studies of children’s written compositions to identify the nature of peers’ contributions to meaning making, and cultural transmission processes claimed to occur when young children narrate stories to supportive adults. It draws on data collected during an evaluation of an in-service training programme that introduced UK-based early years practitioners to a version of Paley’s (1990) storytelling and story acting curriculum known as the Helicopter Technique (HT). The HT draws on theatre practice and drama to foster narrative development and literacy skills. Children tell a story to a practitioner trained to scribe this exactly as told and who assists them to identify story characters that can be acted out later with peers. The significance of adults’ contributions to these sessions is well understood, but less is known about the contribution of peers who may also be present. The evidence presented suggests that these peer-to-peer processes can be described as two-way transactions between more and less confident language users and may be particularly important for children with English as an Additional Language (EAL). Implications of these findings for practitioners supporting second language learners are discussed.

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Stories articulate our deepest desires and aspirations, connecting us to each other and the world. Through stories, we make sense of the world, and children tend to express complex feelings through narratives before they learn to articulate abstract thought. Children are encouraged to tell stories, as it is believed that it fosters growth in language, cognition and confidence besides actively contributing to their socialisation. Often teachers use props like puppets and drawings to excite imagination and participation, to enable sharing of stories (Strickland & Morrow, 1989). If children can draw images based on a story they are told or that they wish to tell, is it also possible for them to tell a story about an image that is presented to them? Reading an image is a complex activity, as our encounter with images is never the same. A picture is not simply an image to be read; it invokes memory, imagination and will be interpreted differently by each viewer or reader (Mitchell, 1984). The polysemic nature of the image offers a possibility to see the point of view of children from different segments of society. Understanding ways in which children make meaning when they receive pictures and words together is a vast and important area for research, but, in the context of this paper, is limited to understanding the relations between spoken words and images found in the Kaavad storytelling tradition of Rajasthan, India.

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Book Reviews

Teaching Compassion: Humane Education in Early Childhood is a collection of 15 perspectives, edited by Mary Renck Jalongo. It is organised into three sections, with Part One introducing readers to the notion of Humane Education. In the first chapter, Mary Jalongo has defined key terminology, such as humane education, compassion and empathy, followed by the importance of integrating humane education concepts in early childhood. She also draws our attention to the significance of the child-animal bond in developing empathy amongst young children, and highlights the role of early childhood educators and professionals in fostering empathy and kindness through the use of different strategies and resources.

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This is a compilation of writing about practice with children under three. The authors are all based in England and, consequently, the focus is on issues and experiences specific to the English context, but within this, there is still discussion of ideas that are relevant to Aotearoa/New Zealand. The information within the book would be most useful in supporting students to develop theoretical understanding for working with young children, but it is also useful to support experienced practitioners who would like to reflect and think more deeply about their practice in light of the ever growing knowledge about how best to provide optimal care for young children and their families.

Contributors

Akshada Chitre, Dorothy Faulkner, Julie Faulkner, Jane Kirkby, Helen Lane, Yan Lin, Dayle Manley, Anita Mortlock, Julie Perrin, Julie Plows, Nina Sabnani, Kate Lucy Smith, Jing Yu, Yidong Zhao