How to stir the imagination?

SOL Tuesday

My writing students are not writing in their own language.

At home they have no books, but they do watch TV, mostly Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon from what I gather and a few even believe that fairy tales are how we live in the privileged west (in castles with gorgeous gowns and handsome princes and we’ve always got the wicked stepmother sorted!)

They wash clothes, sweep, tidy, clean on a regular basis, they carry younger siblings around, tied to their back with a cloth, sometimes they fetch water as they don’t have an inside tap and their toilet and bathroom are rudimentary.

Do they ever look at an amazing sunset, or a rainbow or the stars twinkling brightly on a clear night? They tell me they do, but does it stir their imagination?

Do they touch the soft petals of an opening flower or marvel at the shape of a leaf on the ground? Do they pick up sparkly bits of stone or notice an interesting stick insect suspended on a branch or dew glistening on a spider’s web? I constantly remind them to do this and I think they do occasionally, but does it stir their imagination?

At school we have a small library and they love to read, but when I ask them to write a story from their imagination, it invariably contains the plot and characters of the last book they borrowed from the library. I nudge them to consider some small changes, but they seem to find it quite difficult. It becomes a step by step individual process of collaboration with each writer which often takes more time than is available.

No other school teaches or asks them to use their imagination. Should I just give up?

Is it that their imaginations have never been stirred because they have never been read to? My understanding is that there are few fiction books in their own language and their native vocabulary is limited. I can’t believe their imaginations could possibly have shut down completely, but I am finding it hard to open the door, so they can begin to think and write with feeling and pleasure, rather than just transcribing a list of daily chores or games they have played recently. So they can weave a small tale with characters and a simple plot that is interesting and that other kids will enjoy listening to or reading.

Don’t worry, I will keep persisting!

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I do so love these kids and treasure the time I get to spend with them, but I so want to see their minds opened and their imaginations soaring!

 

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Unexpected Visitors!

This story just fell into my lap. I was walking down the main street of our little town yesterday to do some shopping. We are the only ‘white’ people here and I was surprised to see two foreigners riding past on bikes….BIKES! Where had they come from…?

I asked the question when I caught up to them as they stopped at a shop in front of me. We’ve come from Bangkok, they told me, we’re riding back to Germany. I was in awe. They had already biked 8,000 km (4,000 miles) since they started last October to here.

Where are you staying tonight? I asked.

We will stop and put a tent up somewhere out of town.

Would you like a bed for the night?

They thought that sounded great.

We had visitors!

We’ve had a fun day filled with laughter and exchanged dozens of stories. They’re going to stay at least one more night.

The kids at school have been over the moon, they love visitors and we hadn’t even announced these ones were coming! They’ve watched them demonstrate how to put up their tent, even tried out their bike. They’ve asked countless questions and enjoyed meeting people from a part of the world they will probably never get to visit.

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Nothing quite like unexpected visitors!

 

Thanks for the Ride!

Day 31 SOL 19

It has been such a fun month and I’ve so appreciated being stretched to write every day, sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty. I have looked forward to reading comments from other slicers and in turn enjoyed leaving comments on as many of their slices as possible….power and internet supplies permitting! THANK YOU everyone!

Right now, we’ve just had a massive storm and the internet is switched off for fear of lightning strikes, but I’ve finally realised I can hotspot my laptop from my phone…! Better get this done before my 4G connection disappears too!

So on reflection, this month has been a bit like travelling along a highway, never quite sure what’s around the next bend or over the rise ahead. In light of that I felt to share some of the sights from our trip home earlier today.

We drive 50 miles along a two way (not two lane) road but it is still a highway, part of the country’s National Highway 44…It used to be mostly potholes, but now thankfully it is almost all black top.

On our way out of town, we came across a yellow road sign that read – “DON’T GOSSIP, LET HIM DRIVE”… haven’t noticed it before, so the preconceived notion made me smile.

A little while later we drove “through” a group of boys playing cricket, the game was being played DIAGONALLY across the highway … when a car came along they just moved the stumps and stopped bowling till it had passed.

Next we came up behind two scruffy black sheep standing on top of a Mahindra jeep, in its roof rack, the poor things had a lot of difficulty negotiating the bends …I love the book Sheep in a Jeep but had no idea it could be literal.

Shortly after we negotiated a cow standing and blocking one entire laneway while her companion lay on the verge chewing her cud …. over here people often refer to cows and buffaloes as ‘speed breakers’.

We saw many groups of little girls in red, pink and blue, chiffony dresses, fluffy enough to make Barbie envious and accessorised with lacy socks and shiny shoes, striding out to church with their families along the rubbish strewn footpaths.

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Every so often, we drove past young goats nibbling, headbutting and prancing along the sides of the road, sometimes darting across, but they are nimble and gracefully avoid any oncoming vehicles.

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At one point we met a couple of laboriously plodding buffaloes (every step looks to be such an effort for these beasts) slouching along the roadside with their driver … in this region buffaloes are mainly used to pull logs off the steep hillsides using a yoke and chains, but the two we passed were on their way home.

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It is inevitable that you will overtake several broken down trucks, usually taking up most of one lane and often on a blind corner. How to tell that they’re broken down … check for a bush or leafy branch sticking out from the side of the vehicle closest to you.

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(Not my photo, but spot the branch?!)

So here’s to all our journeys along life’s highway and that we all may continue to look for the “road less travel’d by”…..

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Distant Memories

Day 30 SOL19

Today I heard the cuckoo
Calling from afar
Its silver notes herald
Memories of growing up
On a distant tiny island
with four distinct seasons.

The land that shaped lyrical poets –
Wordsworth, Keats and Blake,
A wealth of exquisite painters –
Turner, Hogarth and Reynolds,
An endless feast of renowned authors –
Dickens, Austen, Hardy and Lewis,
All so quintessentially English.
Not to mention SHAKESPEARE.

I miss ‘seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness’
And ‘the host of golden daffodils’.
I miss carpets of primroses
blooming in springtime woods
and redbreasted robins, larks and linnets
fluttering over fields of bluebells
and flurries of snowdrops.

When the cuckoo calls
I miss the land where I grew up.

                 snowdrop-poisoning

A Note on this Piece

I grew up in England which is where I last heard a cuckoo, there don’t seem to be any in Australia. I’d almost forgotten about them till we came here to north east India.

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An extraordinarily ordinary tabby!

Day 29 SOL19

So I’ve decided to bring her out in a slice, this fairly nondescript little cat, who if she doesn’t exactly rule my life, certainly gives me panic sessions when she goes ‘missing’ or disappears for too long, especially around meal times.

Because this is the wild west as far as pets are concerned. No one really understands what a ‘pet’ means. They have an animal, usually a dog and it hangs around their house, supposedly to keep thieves and strangers away and it’s fed on rice and a few other leftovers. Worming, defleaing, vaccinations, even a collar? I tried to buy a collar for our dog once and no one knew what one was. Dogs roam the streets here and cats are often tied up in shops to keep the rats and mice at bay.

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I have lost one cat, hit by a truck when they finally put down black top on the road below us and he misjudged the distance because the truck was now moving much faster; I’ve had a kitten stolen (someone saw a man putting our kitten with his shiny blue collar and bell into a bag and never thought to stop him); I have a teacher whose neighbour used to put out rat poison and three of her cats have died. I think he’s stopped doing that, as she now has my cat’s brother and he’s still alive.

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So I’m pretty thankful this one is very ordinary to look at, but I still think someone has tried to get/has got hold of her a couple of times, as she’s come back hours past her dinner time, scared and jumping at shadows. Our house is full of places where she could escape, so it would be hopeless to try and keep her shut in. So I let her go with a fervent prayer she’ll return.

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I know when she’s on her way home, because she starts announcing her arrival about 50 yards from the house, even at five in the morning (her usual time) and again in the evenings. It’s a sound that delights my ears, because I know she’s safe. I think she just wants to reassure me!

I usually buy her fresh fish from the local market and as the guy chops it up on his block made from a tree stump, I wonder what he’d say if I told him, this is to feed my cat?! Cats usually get fed rice and scraps of dried fish here. I can’t stand the smell of dried fish when it’s cooking, so Ruby gets fresh fish! I supplement it with dried food and sometimes packet food that are available in the capital (two hours drive away).

Yes, she is the best fed cat in town and the only one who has been desexed, so she can’t populate the neighbourhood with more skinny, scrawny, flearidden kittens. Fortunately there is a very good vet in the capital where people have a little more idea how to care for pets and quite a few have pedigree dogs, bought at enormous expense! I sometimes get asked if we brought her with us (how to tell them that we just know how to look after animals?) I do use it as an example in the classroom of being responsible, so if you have a pet you must take good care of it.

Her best friend is our dog, they have a great relationship and she keeps Molly in her place although sometimes she humours her with a playful chase around the house or outside. Together they love snacks and crumbs of toast at mealtimes.

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She is a great lap warmer and fairly friendly, though wary of strangers. Occasionally she comes into one of the classrooms, though too many loud squeals of delight at her presence tend to scare her back out. Currently, bird watching is her favourite pastime as it’s nesting season. Depending on the time of year she catches quite a few rats. Generally her night time victims are deposited somewhere inside for us to discover at breakfast time.

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If only I could pack her in my suitcase and take her back when it’s time for us to leave.

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Anyone for speedgolf?

Day 28 SOL19

Our younger son has always been a sportsman and a natural comedian. He makes me laugh a lot, although his humour can be frustrating, especially when he doesn’t give you a straight answer.

He is a maths and PE teacher at a boys’ high school and I’ve seen how the students really admire him and enjoy having him as a teacher. He has played and coached a variety of sports over the years, in and out of school, including rugby, Australian rules football, soccer, tennis and golf. He also loves running.

The sport he loves more than any other is golf which he took up about ten years ago and plays whenever he gets the chance. His handicap is not great, despite putting in as much practice as possible while being a husband, dad to three small boys and a teacher.

A few years ago, he discovered a form of the game called speedgolf, so now he combines his running skills with his lesser ability to hit the ball! The final score takes into account both the time taken to complete the course plus the number of shots played.

So when he goes for practice, it’s usually early in the morning, as he needs to be the first person out on the course, so his round doesn’t get held up by others! He has taken part in a 100 holes in a day competition to raise money for charity a couple of times. He holds the record for the fastest round in that event to date. Last year he attempted to do 150 holes in the one day, but that proved just beyond his reach.

He recently took part in a Speedgolf Open international competition held over two days. His combined times were the fastest overall (even faster than the winner) but his total number of shots let him down.

I know he can be determined and focused when needed, so I’m sure he’s going to get better scores in the future!

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Two of his sons are also showing signs of following in his footsteps. For his third birthday, Henry just wanted to play 18 holes of golf. And he did!

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The Art Of Persuasion

Day 27 SOL19

I am teaching my Class 1 students how to write in a persuasive style.

I don’t think they have much clue about the art of persuasion in their daily lives. I am fairly sure all they know is being told ‘do this, don’t do that’ and they either do it or they don’t. I’m sure there is no talk in their homes of  “………., don’t you think you should eat some more rice?” or “Wouldn’t you like to help me by carrying your little brother on your back for ten more minutes while I finish cooking dinner?”

So I am trying to show them what it means to write persuasively. I think it might be good to look at advertisements and then they can try to write their own advertisement and persuade someone to buy their product.

Hmmm, problem, where do these kids see an advertisement? The only one I’ve seen in town is a huge billboard advertising cement (because everyone dreams of building their house out of concrete, as that means you’re successful and rich – even though concrete houses here look like big ugly boxes to me). This advert has a picture of the most recent Indian athlete, originally from this area, to win a medal at an international event, usually in weightlifting or boxing.. Because cement equals STRONG. But my kids don’t have concrete houses and are not really aspiring to or interested in such a concept.

If they watch anything on TV it is Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon and all of the commercials are totally mindless and aimed at the middle class, so forget about those.

The only things I can think of are basic items like food and drink or soap or toothpaste –  stuff that they will see in the local stores. I discount sweets as a bad idea and tea, even though everyone drinks it, because as a non-tea enthusiast, I’m not sure how to advertise packet tea in an exciting way! (Any ideas or thoughts on other items for the future would be gratefully accepted!)

So we prepare to write.

If I give them a choice, they would most likely all select the same item, so I divide up the available choices around the table, you write about juice, you write about biscuits, you write about jam, you can write about toothpaste, you can write about soap and so on.

Pencils poised above their notebooks.

“So now, you need to think of a good name for your juice, what are you going to call it?”

“Juice?”

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We get through that one, with quite a bit of assistance.

“So now you need to tell everyone why they need to buy your jam, what’s so special about it?”

“It’s sweet.” Yes, we’re getting there! We brainstorm a few more words like, tasty, crunchy, sparkly, yummy and we’re on our way!

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After writing out and illustrating their advertisements, they present their persuasive writing to the rest of the school. They are a little rushed and breathless, but it goes well.

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These kids are just the best!

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