Matches Struck Unexpectedly in the Dark

Imaginative Education: Provoking Excellence Across the Curriculum Presented by the
Conference Presentation Abstract: In this workshop, Kristin Eno will provide a multimedia presentation including portions of several of the videos she has made with children since 2001. She will discuss and invite dialogue surrounding these issues in relation to making videos about children’s play: adult play-facilitation and how it helps children access their zones of proximal development; intellectual empowerment and growth through spontaneous storytelling; the poetic voice of children’s voiceover narrations; the relevance of playing, teaching and learning in natural outdoor settings; the great potential of more artistic, poetic children’s media; the viability of video-stories as teaching strategies for a range of curricular goals; the role of video as connector of diverse populations of children throughout the world; and the accessibility of digital video technology to teachers.

This conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with teachers and professors of education across the world. I was most honored to present my work when Vivian Paley was in the audience. I have been admiring her work as a pioneer of storytelling/story-acting in the classroom ever since I first discovered her books in my elementary education classes at Dartmouth College. Vivian's response to my presentation was that the videos had captured "the authentic voice" of children's play. That sort of stamp of approval is something I do not take lightly. If anyone could make sense of the beauty and profundity of life as seen through the eyes of a child, it would be Vivian, who in her eloquent Keynote address, reminded us that our relationship with children is one that encircles the very mystery of the meaning of life itself. She invoked Virginia Woolf's words in To the Lighthouse: "What is the meaning of life? . . . The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one...Mrs. Ramsay saying, 'Life stand still here.'" By calling up the words of this book I have so loved through the years, and applying Woolf's words to the context of young children's play, Vivian herself struck a match unexpectedly in the dark, and made life stand still. As Resa Matlock of the Childcare Collection at Ball State U. commented later at the conference, there is something about Vivian's voice that somehow helps us see what children are capable of teaching us, in a way that so few can. She is the rare teacher-thinker-writer-poet-friend to children. There should be many more of her kind in the world. We can try to do her legacy justice by taking her words to heart: "Just a few moments of spontaneous drama tell so much. Their storymaking spirals in pursuit of ideas, and in the midst of chaos, there is shape: life stands still here, the children are telling us...Watching children play invites philosophical discourse. Why do children do this, if not to prove the very necessity of their existence? They solve one problem and create another situation. The have a reason to exist, and it is to be with others, to prove that they are necessary to each other. They keep telling a story over and over as if to understand it. The child practices her thoughts, listens to her thoughts, so that she will understand her thoughts better. She will practice, practice, practice. We who spend our lives with children are surely trying to erect a listening community. The children will show us how it is done, if we give them the time."

Also at the conference I was pleased to see Beth Ferholt present her dissertation work towards a PhD in the UCSD Communication Dept., done in collaboration with a K-1 grade class on a military base Southern California. She and colleagues at USCD and universities in Finland (Pentti Hakkarainen, U. of Oulu) and Japan have been studying “Playworlds," a term that describes full engagement in imaginative play by both children and adults, and stems from Vygotsy's analysis of creativity and imagination, by way of Gunilla Lindqvist's work (The Aesthetics of Play: A Didactic Study of Play and Culture in Preschools, 1995). Beth shared her play world project based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, including video clips that documented Beth and her colleagues' costumed interaction, in character, with the entire class, over the course of a year. As the adults played with the children, creating variations of the original book by C.S. Lewis, they developed an ongoing cross-generational spontaneous interactive story. As Beth was narrating through the video of the children and adults enacting the story, in full costume, with elaborate props that took up major portions of the classroom, I had the distinct feeling that this work was something truly special. The adults had made a huge effort to not only put on a show for the children, but to invite them into the show, so that they could all live and breathe the story. This effort was obviously not lost on the children, who could be seen to be experiencing the deepest, most profound joy at the progression of their play, which culminated in the whole group chanting "party, party!!", at the moment when the faun, Mr. Tumnus, was freed from the White Witch. Seeing the children's otherworldly happiness on the video footage was worth more than any words could say. It reiterated to me that the video medium is so powerful for us as adults, as we peer into the world of children's play and attempt to understand it.