Starting the nature kindergarten program at my school about three years ago may have taken a ton of time away from my writing (and just about everything else), but it has also inspired so many new ideas. In fact, some of my more recent stories are connected directly to ideas that have sprouted form my time in nature kindergarten.
Also, kindergarten in general sparks idea after idea. With time being an issue, I am always for ways to "work smarter, not harder." One such idea is to try and combine my writing practice with my lesson planning. I think I've found a fun little writing activity that not only entertains and educates my class, but allows me to practice my craft.
With an activity I call "Silly Stories," I have my class review story elements by brainstorming potential elements of a story. Then, I take all their ideas and groom it into a story. Finally, each student gets a section of the story to illustrate, making a truly co-constructed piece of art. :)
Now, these stories may not have the time investment of one of my own picture book drafts and certainly won't win any writing awards any time soon, but they do provide writing practice for me, they do allow for student review and collaboration, and quite frankly, the joy the kids express when I read "their" story to them makes all the work worth while.
Please enjoy our first story of the year. Below are the story elements the class brainstormed and the story I created from their suggestions. Happy reading!
CHARACTERS - Mickey Mouse, nature teacher, talking tree
SETTING - trail, woods, winter
PROBLEM - teacher is lost on trail, Mickey and tree are arguing
SOLUTION - This was my part. :)
The Picnic Tree
The wind was howling, the flakes were flying, and the temperature was dropping. But nothing would keep Mickey Mouse from exploring the outdoors at Black Locust Nature School.
“Ms. Goldenrod,” Mickey asked, “can we take a walk on the trail?”
“Are you sure you want to go, Mickey?” his teacher replied. “It’s mighty cold out there.”
“Ok, let’s get geared up and head on out.”
Mickey and Ms. Goldenrod put on their winter gear and headed to the trail.
The trail wasn’t too far from the school door, but it was still hard to see with the blowing snow swirling around them.
“Hurry, Mickey! If we make it to the woods, the trees should block the wind.”
Mickey and Ms. Goldenrod double-timed it up the hill and through the trail until they had reached Hickory Forest.
They sat down at one of the fallen logs and watched the snow fall.
“It’s so pretty,” said Mickey. “I love winter!”
“Me too, Mickey, but we should start heading back before it’s too late.”
But as teacher and student headed back the way they came, they noticed the winds had blown the snow this way and that, covering the trail in a sea of white and making it nearly impossible to pass.
“We’ll have to take a shortcut through the woods,” Ms. Goldenrod said.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Mickey.
Though the thick woods of Hickory Forest kept the blustery winds out, they kept the light out too.
Before they knew it, Ms. Goldenrod and Mickey reached a part of the forest they had never been before.
“Hello there!” said an unknown voice.
Mickey and Ms. Goldenrod looked to find the owner of the voice, but didn’t see anything.
“Hello!” the voice repeated.
Still, they saw nothing.
“What are you doing in MY forest?” the voice thundered.
Noticing the voice was louder and angrier this time around, Mickey glanced up and saw something shocking: a huge tree with two eyes staring directly at him.
“Listen here Mr. Tree. This is our forest too!” Mickey said.
“If it’s your forest, then how come I’ve never met you before? I’ve lived here over one hundred years.”
“Well," Ms. Goldenrod said, “we usually don’t come this far. We must have taken a wrong turn on our way back to school.”
“School? Do you go to Black Forest Nature School?”
“Why yes we do!” Mickey said. “I go there to study plants and animals. This is my teacher, Ms. Goldenrod.”
“Well, you should have told me that from the start! Welcome to OUR woods. My name is Thorn.”
“It is beautiful here, Thorn, but we really should be heading back. The snow is getting a bit too deep,” said Ms. Goldenrod.
“Ok, I’ll give you directions, but you must promise to say hello to my cousin, Maple. She’s the big tree right near the school, entrance.”
“That’s our picnic tree,” said Mickey. “She’s a beaut!”
“And, will you promise to visit me again?”
“We sure will,” Mickey said.
“Even better,” Ms. Goldenrod said, “we will bring the whole class. Now we have a second picnic tree!”
Thorn gave a tremendous smile. He also gave directions.
Mickey and Ms. Goldenrod loved telling and re-telling this story to the rest of the class, especially on the warm spring days as they enjoyed a picnic under their new friend.