Thursday, June 28, 2018

Beyond the Book: "The Story of the Root Children" by Sibylle von Olfers

The change of seasons is always a time of excitement. The transition from Spring to Summer is often a more subtle one--especially if summer vacation has already begun. Sprout Scouts Playcamp had already been "in session" for three weeks by the time the longest day of the year rolled around. We've already enjoyed some of the earliest tastes of our garden harvest and seen fireflies at night and heard the cicadas chirping and smelled the honeysuckles in the woods nearby. Our fingernails have been nice and dirty here from digging in the dirt and when it came to welcoming Summer in its own right, I wanted a book that truly celebrates this all. 

The Story of the Root Children by iconic author, Sibylle von Olfers is a favorite of mine! It is truly a tale of wonder and magic woven out of the colorful threads of a child's vast imagination. In fact, all of von Olfers' works capture this quality. Her works are commonly used in early childhood classrooms, particularly in Waldorf education and they naturally lend to storytelling. You can do this in many ways! You can use small loose parts and toys to create your own small story world or you can use props to act out the story with children. Both are fantastic ways to bring literature to life indoors and outside. There is a great Root Children Circle Play written up on Lavender's Blue Homeschool that includes audio clips of some songs to accompany your storytelling. I've found storytelling with young children to be a great way not only to take children's literature beyond the book but also to encourage expansion of play themes.

One afternoon while S and Y were napping, I decided to create our own set of wooden Root Children peg dolls and their Mother Earth. Who knew I could needle-felt a tiny sheitel? Everything else I left up to the hot glue gun! We had been enjoying repeated readings of The Story of the Root Children and it was time to expand on that through play. We also put together a tiny Root Children Playgarden using a few succulents and a metal tub with potting soil. I added in some interesting loose parts (mosaic tiles in a variety of shapes and colors, stones, sea glass, miniature garden animals and toy furniture, even some tiny toy food...) and both indoors and outside, this has been a favorite play area for S to expand on the story and create his own adventures of, Mother Earth, the Root Children and their garden friends!

The smaller loose parts are a bit beyond Y's developmental level right now (although he tries his hardest to keep up with S), but it's a great activity for when he is having his morning nap--a time that S is particularly cherishing these summer days as special time just between the two of us. Both of the boys absolutely loved play acting our own version of The Story of the Root Children this week. Prior to beginning, I gathered a basket of colorful scarves and play silks and homemade ribbon kites, my favorite wooden chime, a candle, and some handmade crowns I updated with silk flowers and (yes, more hot glue!). I collected our own mini version of the book and a larger copy S picked to check out of the library at our botanical gardens a couple of weeks ago to "see if the pictures were the same" (they are, but he still gets a kick out of it!). I had some printed story line and songs at the ready, including a recording of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" to play in the background for merry scarf and ribbon dancing at the end.
S really took the lead, which I loved! He decided to begin by setting up "their beds" where they would sleep. He wanted to sleep under the rug. I suggested perhaps some blankets on the rug. He gathered a few and his favorite baby doll to join in the story.
"Under the ground, deep in the earth among the roots of the trees, the little root-children were fast asleep all winter long."
"When at last winter came to an end and sun began to melt the snow, Mother Earth came along with her candle to wake them up again."

"Wake up, children... Time to get up now!"

"The children yawned and stretched. Then they jumped up merrily. Hurray, spring is coming!"

S had the idea to use a toy magic wand as the "needle" as we sang "The thread follows the needle, the thread follows the needle, in and out the needle goes while the Root Children sew their clothes!"

"But there was still more work to be done. The ladybirds, the beetles, the grubs and the bumblebees...had to be washed and brushed, painted colorfully and made to shine..." 

So we gathered the yellow blossoms of some two week old cut flowers that were wilting and filled ground them up with a mortar and pestle to make our own flower petal paints. S used a pipette to squeeze in some water to make the ground petals into a pasty yellow paint. I helped both boys to smash, grind and mix our colorful concoctions. I helped Y add some ladybug stamps to his paper (I'd recommend a permanent ink since the paint is quite watery!) and S decided to forego the stamps altogether. He really enjoyed the process of mixing and experimenting with creating the paint itself. This activity was more process focused than goal oriented, though if you did want to create your own natural plant dyes and paints, the internet and local library are great resources! Both boys had a great time with this extension activity before we completed our story drama with festive dancing and singing.

Since S is quite fascinated by the idea that the Root Children "had to make their own clothes!" I have set out some handcrafting activities for him to practice sewing with me. He still loves using our embroidery looms with burlap and colorful embroidery thread. The same thread and large blunt needles work well with plastic canvas, too, and really encourage that practice of the thread following the needle over and under, over and under...

Good books encourage a story to be told once. Great books encourage a story to be told again and again. And AMAZING books encourage a story to be retold and recreated through imaginative play. The Story of the Root Children is an AMAZING book to welcome Summer or any season and can be read and enjoyed all year round.

Happy Summer and Happy Playing!

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