During the school year the Horizons (ages 5 and 6) were having trouble with sharing. This culminated with the arrival of seven brand new bikes! These bikes were promptly named “monster bikes” by the kids and they were the fastest, coolest, most desirable bikes on the face of the earth!!!! Everyone desperately wanted a turn! Everyone was distraught when their turn was over! It was an ongoing crisis, day after day!
This daily dilemma inspired a unit on fables. The Horizons teachers were hoping that by studying fables, the children could become less egocentric and a little more compassionate toward their friends. We began by reading some old favorites like the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. We read many different versions so the children could compare and contrast the stories. Was the wolf the bad guy in every story? Could Goldilocks learn from her mistakes? Because these stories were so familiar, the children loved acting them out. They loved being the big bad wolf and then later becoming the pig with the sturdy brick house. This helped them explore various viewpoints.
We read other fables like Bat’s Big Game, Chicken Little, The Hare and the Tortoise, Peter Rabbit, Where The Wild Things Are, and Abiyoyo. Bat’s Big Game really held the children’s interest. The story is about a bat that keeps changing teams depending on who is winning. Horizons are all about winning! They are not too worried about following the rules nor are they bothered by the notion of cheating, unless it’s done by their opponent. They just want to win! This story explored themes of loyalty and playing fairly, concepts that are relevant to pre-k and kindergarten aged children.
Gradually, the Horizons began creating fables. During small group time, we brainstormed what our fable could be about. Immediately the kids discussed that hitting and kicking and even biting can be a problem in our room. Other problems that came up were name calling and being mean to others. One little boy talked about how other children sometimes knocked his buildings down when he was still working on them or playing with them. I probed a little bit and said, “Why do you think kids might do that?” There was silence and then, “because they are mean!” This, I soon realized, was a very difficult question for a five-year-old boy. Getting into someone else’s perspective is difficult when still learning about your own feelings and wishes. So I offered a possible reason. I said, “Maybe it is fun for them to knock your building over, but they aren’t thinking about your feelings and all your hard work. Later I thought I could have added, “next time someone knocks down your building, tell them how you feel about that. That could help them not do it again.”
Eventually, sharing toys and materials evolved as an important and major theme to write about. After all, hitting and other forms of aggression are often a result of issues around the toys and materials in our room. We also brainstormed about what animals could be in our fable: mice, foxes, monkeys, cats, and pigs.
One small group wrote (through dictation) a story about the fastest bikes on our playground. (Download fable as pdf) Another group wrote about a fox wanting a fire truck that a cat was playing with. The last group wrote two mini fables. Three students wrote about sharing flowers that were found in a meadow and three other students wrote about how to share rocks found on a hike through the woods. They all contributed illustrations. When the books were completed, they became the favorite reading material in our class library.
To make the fable experience a little more concrete, we asked the children if they would like to act out their stories while we photographed them. They enthusiastically agreed. It was in this stage where some transformation took place. For example, in the fable about the new “monster” bikes, the children took turns being the kid who “really, really wants a turn,” as well as being the kid who “just got this bike!” They had worked out solutions to various scenarios in their illustrated version, so the skits provided practice for finding solutions that were respectful and fair to those waiting and to those who already had the bikes. When these photographed versions were included in our library, the children studied them daily.
Through this unit the children were immersed in literacy. They read traditional and non-traditional fables. They used oral communication when expressing their ideas and concepts. They became illustrators and authors. They became playwrights and actors. Coming full circle, they became readers again when they read and retold their fables in the library.
Values and Character Development:
At 5 and 6 children are becoming more capable of recognizing their own feelings and the feelings of others. The fable unit helped strengthen those skills, which in turn helped the children share the most prized toys in the classroom and on the playground. They became more empathetic.
One little boy was especially devastated if he did not have a monster bike before our fable unit. It was unbearable for him to wait for a turn, and after even a long turn he was again devastated when his turn was over. By the end of the project, he became a leader in turn taking. He would ride a bike for a while, and then say to a friend, “free monster bike! Do you want a turn?” Soon his friends were following his example.
Slowly, the anguishing bike problem faded. Horizons did become less ego-centric. The children understood that their friends desired the monster bikes as much as they did. They were able to negotiate solutions, and those waiting became more trusting that they would, indeed, get a turn.
Children at this age are learning to regulate their feelings. Sometimes they feel like the monster in Abiyoyo. In one small group activity, the children wrote and illustrated their favorite part of Abiyoyo. One girl turned Abiyoyo into a girl-monster who has to eat sheep because she needs energy to dance at the ball! This little girl has powerful emotions that she has trouble regulating. She identifies with Abiyoyo because the monster has untamed impulses similar to her own untamed emotions and impulses! Feelings are powerful and children want to feel powerful. Through writing and acting out fables of sharing, the children learn ways to be powerful in appropriate ways.
Post by Val
Teacher in Horizons