I spent my early childhood living on a farm in rural Ohio in the States. We were the only people living on the side of a mountain, surrounded by thick, lush forests. At the bottom of the garden surrounding the house was my favourite pine tree – tall and majestic! I spent many hours of my life in and around it. I even managed to build a ramp so my dogs could join me! It was here on these strong branches that I would climb up as high as I could, lay on the matted pine needles and watch the forest. Everything seemed to be alive! There were all kinds of stories that emerged during such times – about adventures, magicians, portals to different times, battles and expeditions. Though most of the time, I was happy to simply pretend to be some sort of animal! It was so much more than a tree and so much more than a forest, it was the stage for my creative exploration of what it meant to be alive.
Even now, many years later as an adult, those moments of dreaming on the matted branches of my favourite pine tree are still clear! I can feel rough wood and spiky needles, smell the pine sap, hear my dogs barking, feel the wind blowing and the warmth of the sun. Maybe I am recreating it in my mind to some extent but I believe there is still something evocative about such experiences for children. It is this belief that continues to inspire the holiday events we offer through Elemental Kids! Our most recent holiday events, focused on “The Spellbound Forest” and was based on this belief, my own magical childhood associations and something I found on the internet, an endlessly amazing resource. You can read about the event that inspired me here: The Spellbound Forest. The facilitation team was also inspired by the concept and together we crafted a new holiday event which provided the participants with an opportunity to create, tell and perform their own stories against the back drop of a magical forest!
The first holiday event took place at the Kirstenbosch Stone Cottages in Newlands, a wonderful venue surrounded by loads of trees and greenery, more than enough to inspire story telling and fantasy play! So what happened, you ask? It is hard to tell you what happened in words since it was all about the experience, but here is a brief insight into the week’s happenings:
On the very first day, Bridget (the middle group facilitator and superb performer!) performed her own story for all the children attending the holiday event! They loved it and were inspired to create their own stories after that…
We brought in loads of costumes and materials for dressing on the second day and this resulted in a fiesta of fantasy play! Children donned multiple outfits, pretending to be a whole range of different characters throughout the day. One child, Nathan, managed to wear a new outfit every hour!
Once all the children had selected a character, the groups started working on developing their stories together, which involved a lot of collaboration and team work. Children worked out their lines, created props, figured out where they wanted to be when they told their stories and rehearsed!
The older group even wrote a whole script! It was amazing watching their group rehearse, everyone holding their hand written script as they stood under the majestic oak trees they chose to be their stage.
I must mention at this point in the account of this amazing week of activity, that whittling wood was central to the children’s enjoyment and the stories they were telling. We had a veritable factory of wood whittled implements and weapons…everything from daggers, to bows and arrows, to swords and spears.
On the fourth day, it was time to share their groups stories with each other as well as with their families. Parents were invited to come and join the story walk at the end of day when they came to pick their child or children up. Part of the preparation on this day involved making food because there is simply no celebration without something delicious to eat! Each group included some sort of snack that was connected to their story.
The younger group made some intricate and delicious sausage men…
The middle group produced a mountain of carrots spears, fairy biscuits and pumpkin soup…
The older created “Snozzcumbers”…
Then it was finally time to perform and the shows were fantastic! It began with the middle group telling a story about a real birthday girl, having her birthday party with forest fairies…somewhere along the way there was a ghastly one, romans, a portal in time and even purple ghost!
The tale took the audience through the bamboo woods where they met the younger group and saw their performance, were given some fragrant pumpkin soup and a crunchy carrot spear to snack on!
The story walk concluded with the older group, telling a story which involve among others, the BFG, an annoying narrator, a walker, belligerent budgie, dragon, forest elf and snow white! It was a tale of surprise, comedy and adventure!
Everyone that came to see and hear the stories created and shared by the children, love it! It was one of the beautiful moments in time when the space is permeated by a deep sense of satisfaction and delight. The forest that afternoon really did feel as if it was bound by spells 🙂