Story Challenges, How Kai Learned to Fly, and Why You Should Tell Stories Outside

Dog and Steg.NK

Jen, can you tell us a story with these leaves? And this Stegosaurus? And my doggie?

This was a story challenge from one of the Numala Jarjums today. Our Monday group are all four years old, and they love stories of all kinds, especially the made-up ones. Mondays are often rich storytelling days at the moment. They love to tell stories themselves too (especially made-up ones) and so our story time tends to be a collaboration.

We have fallen into the rhythm of creating a story from a few found items, from wherever we happen to be. Sometimes we are in the playroom, sometimes at the park, on the riverbank, or out wandering. I often begin to tell the story, choosing something to be a central character, but generally not really knowing where to go with it, or how it will unfold. Then my little friends start to chime in with their suggestions, or they take over for a bit then hand it back to me. Sometimes they sit and listen to my story, and then when I am finished they have a go on their own – and tell a better version of it 🙂 In this way everyone has a voice, an opportunity to be a creative participant, or a listener/observer, and our stories become refined. We are definitely getting lots of practice.

Our stories, especially our story challenges, are also generally not quiet, sit-down-and-listen affairs either. They are always interactive. This is why I like to tell stories outside. Outside, we can get up and move, we can wiggle and stare off into the clouds as we listen. We can leave the confines of the mat in pursuit of the story, or we can sit and draw in the dirt as the story unfolds. Outside we can act out the story with as much volume as necessary. We can be loud and scary if required, without being too much in other’s space. We can be quiet if the story needs it too.

Outside we also need less ‘stuff’ to tell stories with. We use what we have gathered. For a story challenge, we each find one or two interesting things around us and bring them together, the story comes from their gathering and collection. I discovered a long time ago that it isn’t necessary to have actual toys, props and figures to represent every aspect of the story, when you are telling stories without books. Props help engage children, they help move the story along, to set the scene and invite wonder. We tell those stories too. But outside, we tell stories of our own experiences, and we can act those out if we need to. All we need is a few bits and pieces, ourselves, and the children fill in the gaps beautifully with their own ideas, imagery and actions.

Not every story we tell together is a best-seller. Sometimes we just are not up for the challenge, and yet at other times we have so much fun with it. Today was one of those times. Today’s story invited participation with movement and sounds, engaging with the props and environment, and it turned out to be a funny one too. The girls giggled and barked and took off running several times throughout. Plus today’s story was about a real dog belonging to one of our Jarjums, represented in the story by her own toy doggie, who stayed by her side all day today. It was her story and she shaped it as we told it. When we told it together, the three leaves in the story were herself and her siblings. Her family became the keen observers with a sense of humour.

In writing the story up for the blog, I have read it out to the girls for their feedback. They have reminded me of bits that I missed, and added bits they thought should be mentioned, and haven’t minded my own edits and additions to make the story flow. Here is our story – the story of a dog called Kai, who learned how to fly.

The Dog Named Kai, Who Learned How to Fly,

A collaborative story challenge with a toy dog, a plastic stegosaurus, and three leaves. Authors – Jennifer McCormack, Chaiya Pema-Chawhan (4.5 years) and Linden McCormack (4.5 years)

Kai can run fast,NKOnce there was a dog called Kai. He had golden fur, big floppy ears and a waggy tail. His tongue hung out of his mouth when he was hot. Kai had a friend called Stegosaurus. Stegosaurus had a small head, a long tail, stumpy legs and large, strong plates poking out of his back. They lived together and played together.

Kai was a great runner. He could run so fast when we went to the park. He could run so far away, so quickly! He chased and zoomed all over the place. He always made himself so hot when he ran that he had to come back and rest, panting with his tongue hanging out, to cool himself. He’d slurp up some water and pant some more, then go for another run.

Stegosaurus was not a fast runner. He moved slow as a turtle. He didn’t even want to run, but was happy to munch on the grass as he watched his friend Kai race about. “You are a fast runner”, said Stegosaurus to Kai, as he came back to rest and drink.

“I am,” said Kai, “I can do lots of things. I can bark (listen to me BARK!) I can chase my tail (look at me SPIN!) I can wag my tail (watch me WIGGLE!) Can you do those things, Stegosaurus?”

“Yes,” said Stegosaurus as he chewed slowly on some long grass, ” I can do them, but I do them slowly. You can do lots of things very fast. I can do lots of things very slow.”

“But I can’t fly”, said Kai. “I wish I could fly. I’ve tried lots of times.” Kai had tried many times to fly. He had watched the birds so easily lift off the ground by stretching out their wings. He looked at his paws and forelegs and tried once more to flap them. It wasn’t very easy as all that! He flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped! But he didn’t get anywhere. He was so hot he had to slurp noisily from the river and lay down next to Stegosaurus with his long tongue hanging out to cool down.

When he was cool enough, he tried again. This time with his tail! He wagged and wagged and wagged and wagged and wagged and wagged! But he didn’t get anywhere. He was so hot he had to slurp noisily from the river and lay down next to Stegosaurus with his long tongue hanging out to cool down. “It’s no good, Stegosaurus, I just can’t get off the ground. I just can’t fly.”

Just then three little leaves fluttered down from the tree and landed in front of him. Kai didn’t notice them because he was staring out into the distance, thinking of ways to get himself off the ground and up into the air. Stegosaurus noticed them, and in his considered way, he had an idea. “Why don’t you ask the leaves, Kai? They spend all day up in the branches of the trees, watching the birds fly and land. AND these three leaves just sort of glided out of the tree and landed in front of you. They must know something about flying.”

“We do!” said the three leaves, who had also been watching Kai, and had fallen off their branches because they had been shaking so much with giggling at the sight of a dog trying to fly. The leaves shared with Kai the things they had noticed about the birds. “The birds’ wings are long and flat and thin. The air can glide over the top of their wings, and flow under their wings, same as it does for us when we fall gently out of the tree. But we can’t make ourselves move, whereas the birds can flap their wings to keep themselves in the air. Why don’t you try flapping your great big ears? They are long and flat and thin!” The leaves twittered to each and giggled again.

Dog and Steg.NK

Kai thought about it for a moment, and then decided to give it a try. He wasn’t used to moving his ears. Usually they flapped about by themselves when ran fast, and at other times they just hung there. But after a bit of practice he was able to wiggle them a bit, and with a bit more practice he was able to flap them beautifully! He flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped and flapped! And this time he began to lift off the ground! He hovered above Stegosaurus until one ear flopped instead of flapped. He fell down on top of Stegosaurus’ back, which wasn’t very comfortable, due to getting stuck in the plates that grew there. He rolled off Stegosaurus and felt so hot he had to slurp noisily from the river and lay down next to Stegosaurus with his long tongue hanging out.

The little leaves giggled and twittered to each other on the ground. “Stegosaurus! I can fly!” Kai barked in delight.

“Yes,” said Stegosaurus,” now try going somewhere, and landing somewhere else!”

The three little leaves told Kai that the birds also use their tail to steer and they twist their bodies to change direction, so Kai thought he’d give that a go too. He lifted up his tail and wagged and wagged and wagged and wagged, and at the same time he flopped and flapped and flapped his long ears, and soon he was up in the air!

Making Kai Fly. NK

He could choose where to go! He wasn’t quite as fast as he was when he was running on four legs, but he didn’t have four ears, only two, and he was so delighted to fly at all. He flew all about the park, up through the trees, over the river. He looped the loop and whooshed over the rooftops. When he finally landed again he was so hot he had to slurp noisily from the river and lay down next to Stegosaurus with his long tongue hanging out to cool down.

“Stegosaurus!” barked Kai happily, “I can fly!”

“Yes, Kai, you can.”




One thought on “Story Challenges, How Kai Learned to Fly, and Why You Should Tell Stories Outside

  1. This is a wonderful story! I am teaching a workshop on nature play soon and have been looking for a practicing teacher’s account of how to do it outside, engaging children. I would like to share yours – I hope that is why you have it here, and that is ok?
    Many thanks!


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