“A leaf man’s got to go where the wind blows.” – Lois Ehlert
After reading the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, we gave the children opportunities to make their own leaf people (and animals) using laminated leaves. Then, we invited them to dictate a story to accompany their leaf art. This is one of the ways that we integrate our school’s focus on integrated art and science into the classroom.
Over the years I have noticed that children’s story dictations have fairly predictable characteristics, and like all development, they tend to follow a progression over time. First, children write lists of often unrelated things or actions.
Once upon a time, a leaf. A Book. Trees. Eye. It’s a eye. Leaves. They fall down. Paint all over. Paper. A door. Lights. There’s lights. Hair. Mouth. A clock. Glasses.
Then they write lists that are somewhat more coordinated.
The wind blowed him away. Past the chickens. Past the people. They were going in their house because it was really windy. Past the houses. Past the big pumpkins. Past the big trucks. Past the leaves.
With practice, and exposure to stories, children begin to incorporate language and storyline from a familiar book, attempting to re-tell the story.
Once upon a time, there was a leaf person and she was so cute. She flew away, then she flew back to her home in a leaf pile. She flew away again. The wind came and blew her away back home. And then she lived happily ever after.
With more experience and maturity, children begin to add descriptive vocabulary and plot to their stories naturally.
Once upon a time, there was a castle and the leaf girl was a princess. A king and queen comed and got the princess to stay in the castle and not go outside. And she didn’t listen and she went out. Then a boy came and took her to a place and bad guys found her and tried to get her and they escaped. Then she went back to her castle and at the night, there was monsters. The monsters tried to hanged her up and put her in hot lava and it had green, stinky water and stuff. The prince saved her, and they lived happily ever after.
Finally, children plan their stories with intention, retaining much of their storyline and language even over several days or with interruptions. (We’re still working toward this, so there’s no clear example to share.)
Watch for these variations. Sometimes children are just waxing poetic. (Well, to wax, in this case, means to grow, but our kids are just closer to poetic-ness if there is such a thing. They certainly aren’t growing into it. They’ve already got it.)
The Leaf Man was talking.
Other times, they write from their own experience.
There was only one and everybody got it. They said, “Ehh.” They said, “Give me back my leaves.” And they go to their home. Everybody got one. I was so happy, and they grabbed. I grabbed one leaf, and I grabbed it out.
In the Leaf Man inspired stories, you will read the child’s voice, exactly as they have told me the words. You will read improper grammar. (Notice how children’s first “mistakes” in grammar are actually made because they’ve generalized a rule such as: all past tense verbs end in -ed, as in “He runned away.” Later, we have to explain our screwy language to beginning readers and writers.)
You may ask, “Why do you focus so much on writing children’s dictations verbatim?” Well, because writing down a child’s words can be both empowering and validating. Yesterday, I was taking a dictation of a child who had not written in class before. I hesitated before writing one of her words, and she insisted, “Write that down!” The expression of smug satisfaction as I read the words back to her reminded me exactly why I continue to do this. So, while editing is an important part of writing, letting the child hear her own words in print first, is an important step toward understanding the power of the written word.