Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Unschooling Our Four Year Old or Backstage with Little Bear

Putting on Birthday Soup for Gibbie's birthday party is such a great example of our learning process that I want to explain how it all came to pass. Gibbie loves pretending. We're always making up a story, or acting out a favorite book. Gibbie lives for the days when we go to our neighbor's house and the kids all put on costumes and do a little "show." (the show is usually mostly Gibbie announcing that the show is going to start in three minutes! a loose string of "tricks" or one well-used story about a lion and a Chinese person and a baby putting out a fire)
I don't know who's idea it was, but we started talking about doing a show for his birthday party. Lots of enthusiasm. I suggested we pick one of his favorite books as the story. We looked at his bookshelf and discussed the possibilities. He picked Little Bear's Birthday Soup. That was maybe a month before his party.
Gradually, the plan developed. I started a page in my planner for his party, and as he had ideas for it, wrote them down. It was my idea to make real curtains for the "stage" and I went and bought an old sheet for the fabric, but it was his idea that they would open by pulling a string. I sewed the curtains while he danced around excitedly one afternoon.
We read the book a lot. We discussed his costume. He and I both made drawings and discussed the features. I found out what he considered the essential features of little bear. He listened to my suggestions too. We tried out various plans for costumes for the other characters, and face paints for everyone. We ran our ideas by Paul and shared excitement with Ezra and friends and family.
We discussed the invitations; what they needed to say, what he wanted them to look like. We started making some by hand. He did drawings of little bear and told me what to write. We worked together, but he became very frustrated that they weren't turning out all the same, and it was taking a long time. I ended up making invitations/playbills by cutting and pasting from photocopies of the book's title page, and copying them. He folded them up and hand-delivered them.
He had a longer list of people who he wanted to come than could fit in our house. We talked about how this could work and decided that the kids who were going to be in the show would come first, get ready, and practice, and the grown-ups and little kids would come later. The little kids would sit on cushions in the front. He had definite ideas about all kinds of specific decorations, activities, and foods. Some he made happen on his own, some I did for him, a lot we worked together on, and some were eventually forgotten or rejected. He helped me clean the whole house for the party, bake the cake, prep the food, set up the props, make decorations and party favors. He designed valentine name tags and tickets for popcorn. The popcorn tickets were a feature he was most proud of. As per his instruction, I carved stamps out of rubber erasers that said, "popcorn!" and "recycle me!" He cut out tickets, stamped them, and planned how they would be used for the guests to order popcorn for the show. For a long time beforehand he dictated little signs advertising the show which he cut out and taped up everywhere.

Some weeks before the party, he stopped wanting to play Little Bear and was reluctant to practice acting it out. I got a little worried, because he had so much invested in this idea. We talked about the need to practice, and kept reading the story. He seemed nervous about being watched and wouldn't even repeat the lines. I resolved to abandon the show and just have games and cake if it looked like it was going to be too stressful. A few days before the show, he practiced it with me in costume, and had practically all his lines down word for word! After that, he wanted to practice every chance he got. We went over it with some of his friends when we could. We worked out some staging, talked about talking loudly and facing the audience. It seems he worked through his nervousness all on his own, and had been getting ready inside-- until he was ready to do it with others.

Of course, not everything worked out. There were some timing and logistical issues, things we would do differently next time. There were some nerves before and after the show, but what actor or host hasn't experienced those? I'm not going to detail the academic skills practiced here, or knowledge gained but I do want to highlight our process: how much it was driven by Gibbie's vision and ideas, how that vision led him to gain new skills, seek out resources, and solve problems; how he was externally supported but also internally motivated; how each step led to new ideas and spurred him on to try new things; how naturally social and interdisciplinary the process was; how much fun we had, and what a thrill of accomplishment!


Myra said...

Again, so inspiring, what you can do at home with kids. I was present for the grand opening and it was awesome!

Lynnie said...

That's incredible! What an awesome experience! Sounds like there were a lot of different layers to the whole process. It's funny, isn't it, how this is so different from just signing him up with a local kids drama group? I'm glad it went well!