This story has evolved over a few weeks of play. The jarjums have been playing Ninjago and Ninja Turtles for a few weeks. Initially there was some great cooperative play and action, soon though, their play became a little bogged down in specifics (which character had which colour and power, who would be which character, why there couldn’t be more than one of each character …) We had a good discussion about it and have explored ninjas in a few ways, documenting our discussions in our group book, and also undertaking a little ninja training of our own: we looked at a few youtube martial arts clips and incorporated a little of the basic white belt taekwondo forms into our morning circle – a business that has been taken on very seriously.
This story came about after spotting a turtle in the river, who was just hanging there with its nose above water. We could see the shadow moving under the water, then it just disappeared. I said to the children, “It moves like a ninja!”, and they all enthusiastically agreed. This story evolved from here, with the children and I exploring it in painting, puppet play, cooperative play and conversational ‘wonderings’. I saw it as an opportunity to incorporate the ninja play in a purposeful and skillful way, taking the focus away from the specifics of the commercial characters, and appreciating the skills we can observe in our own native creatures. The Eastern Water Dragons are a common sight around here and we love the way they run straight into the river with barely a splash when they spot us.
This story also carries a therapeutic value as it explores how Pingin (Yugambeh word for river turtle) finds the courage to move into play with others, surprising himself and his friends with his own unique expert skills.
PINGIN AND THE RIVER NINJAS
A Nature Story written by Jennifer McCormack in collaboration with the children of Numala Kinder, February 2016
Two little nostrils popped up above the water line, and hovered there for a moment. The nostrils were attached to the nose of Pingin, the saw-shelled river turtle, who could swim in the same spot for a long time, his little flippers moving back and forth to keep him afloat. At the top of the river he could see what was going on at the riverbank, but he rarely came out of the water, except occasionally to rest on a log or a rock for a moment. Mostly he hid under the water, stalking the fish and frogs who were to be his lunch.
A pair of Eastern Water Dragons, who were sunning themselves on a log nearby, called out to the turtle “Come on – show yourself! Why is it always just your nose? Why don’t you come out and hang on the rock here with me?”
Feeling shy, Pingin took a big deep breath before slipping under the water and disappearing like a shadow into the river weeds. The Eastern Water Dragons shrugged, “Oh well, he has to come out sooner or later”.
Pingin swam around behind the log the Eastern Water Dragons were sitting on, and climbed onto a rock next to them. “It’s not true. Sometimes I come out and watch”, said the river turtle.
The Eastern Water Dragons, who hadn’t heard the little turtle climb out of the water behind him, jumped with surprise! One of them fell into the river with a great splash by mistake. “Hey! You startled us! You are one stealthy river turtle, do you know that? We’re going to go play do you want to come?”
Pingin shook his head and said “I’ll watch from here.” He tucked his head into his shell, so he could only just peek out, tucked in his feet too and made himself look like a rock.
“That’s a neat trick too,” said the Eastern Water Dragons appreciatively.
Pingin watched as the Eastern Water Dragons ran up on to a tree branch overhanging on the riverbank, the tips of its twigs dipping below the high tide. The quick lizards didn’t stop, though! They kept running along the branch and diving off the end into the river with hardly a splash, tucking their legs flat beside their bodies as they smoothly swam back to the river’s edge.
“That was a great dive” said Pingin, “I hardly heard you enter the water! If I hadn’t seen you, I might never know where you disappeared to!”
“It’s so fun!” replied the water dragons, “have a go!”
“I’ll just watch from here right now,” replied Pingin.
The next day Pingin was swimming about in the river, popping up to take a breath and then sinking down again for a swim. Sometimes he stayed with his nose above the water, looking about at what all the other river creatures were up to. Sometimes he’d follow a dragonfly as it flitted about the surface of the water, or a school of small fish through the weeds growing through the rocks on the riverbed. At this moment, Pingin was following two dragonflies, watching as they danced together, landing here and there. He climbed out, ever so slowly, on to the overhanging branch to get a better look.
Pingin crept down the branch, sneaking up to the dragonflies. He stuck out his neck slowly, as long as it could go, to see if he could snap them out of the air for a little treat, however in leaning forward, he overbalanced and tumbled into the water with a splash!
“Yeah!” cheered the Eastern Water Dragons, who had just shown up. “Did you see that dive? We knew you could do it! Missed the dragonflies though, little turtle.”
Pingin grinned to himself. It was fun to dive off the branch.
The Eastern Water Dragons thought it was fun too, and admired the way the turtle had crept up behind the dragonflies, “You are so stealthy, little turtle, when you crept up on to that log – you are like a ninja! But you have to work on that splash. We totally heard you dive. Hey! Here’s an idea! You teach us to ninja-creep and we’ll teach you how to ninja-dive. You can teach us that looking-like-a-rock trick too. We’ll do our ninja training together!”
“All right,” said Pingin. Together Pingin and the Eastern Water Dragons practiced creeping, diving and camouflaging until, before long, they were sneaking up behind all the river creatures and giving them a surprise. No one ever knew where they would find Pingin and his Easter Water Dragon friends next, and soon they were known all about as the River Ninjas.