Thursday, July 16, 2009

Develop Imagination Through Literature-based Play

by Susan Stephenson,

If you're a regular reader at The Book Chook, you've probably noticed how much I enjoy discovering web spaces that encourage kids to read and write. The new technologies can be so motivating, and also provide an authentic audience. However, like everything else in life I guess, we need to find a balance between technology and the other things we need. One of those needs is imagination.

Hopefully your own children know how to play by using their imagination. You've read to them from the moment they arrived, you've talked and sung to them, you've encouraged imaginative play - with books, rhymes, dress ups, toys, cardboard boxes, and paint. But what if you come into contact with kids who haven't developed their imaginations? Through marriage, helping out at a school, meeting new relatives or neighbours, you may meet kids who need to be taught how to play the 'old-fashioned' way.

One suggestion is to play WITH them. Use books as a springboard. Read a story together and then suggest making a game about it. If it's your game, you get to grab the best roles like Pirate Chief or Ugly Witch. Be sure to involve the kids by asking questions, or suggesting parts for them - I admit I have to reel in my tendency to want to be producer, director and leading lady! Once the kids are coming up with ideas, gently withdraw until all you have to do is throw in the occasional nasty chuckle, or guard the treasure with your feet up, reading.

An invented game my K-2 classes loved was called Go Dog Go. We'd start by sharing P.D.Eastman's classic beginner book, Go Dog Go. Then we'd find a part of the playground as far from other classes as possible. A group of children would pretend to be dogs, locked in kennels, A. The majority of the class would be rabbits, out eating the farmer's crops, B. Both groups would enter into their roles, either munching and taunting the dogs, or growling at the rabbits. Then after some question and answer routines, I would give the signal, "Go, dogs, go!" and release the dogs who would bark loudly and try to catch the rabbits before they could make it back to their warren, C (equidistant from A and B). Caught rabbits would turn into dogs in successive rounds of the game, until at last only the fleetest rabbits were left, facing a pack of slavering hounds.

No, the game really didn't have much to do with the book, aside from the name. Yes, we made enough noise to bring the Principal out into the playground. The kids just loved the game so much, and begged for it during our Physical Education classes. I would often see them playing it during lesson breaks. It sounds so simple, and it WAS simple, so I never really understood its success. Perhaps it was just an ideal combination of a great book, running freely, imagining, and making one heck of a lot of noise.

Lots of games can be adapted to suit a favourite book. Fairy Tales are wonderful fodder. You can take a standard hide-and-go-seek game and add some characters - say a giant or a witch seeking as many Jacks or Hansels as you have. Chasing games are even more fun if your teams are Gryffindor and Slytherin. Outdoor games help kids to get fresh air and exercise, but indoor ones can be a wonderful way to while away a wet afternoon. Encourage kids to act out stories themselves, or with toys or puppets. It's great way to involve literature in children's imaginative play.

Both outdoor and indoor imaginative play are more fun with the addition of props. Lengths of material, old hats, pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes and pieces, old makeup can all be put to good use, and encourage creativity far more than a standard costume purchased from a store.

Inventing a new game is great fun, but recycling an old one is good too. Some of the games we played as kids are not so popular now. However, some kids love to learn new games, so why not teach them your favourite skipping rhymes, cat's cradle patterns and tag games? Recycling just might start a new craze in your neighbourhood. If you're a little hazy on the rules, you and your kids might enjoy researching them at your local library, or on the internet - another great idea for reading together. Or you might like to read Literacy in the Playground (pictured above) - a Free PDF booklet I compiled of clapping, skipping and other playground games.

In my primary school, we played Fly, Queenie, cubbies, skipping games, elastics, Jacks, hopscotch. We had crazes on yo-yos, cat's cradle, some clapping games. We also had an elaborate role-play game we built around the book, The Borrowers. What games do you remember from the playground?

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