Tag Archives: Flash fiction

Navel contemplation

In a recent post But Why? I wrote about the importance of curiosity, imagination, and creativity. I included all three in a flash fiction story that included an imaginary friend.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I thought I’d try for all three again.

Navel contemplation

Billy watched Mother bathe Baby.

“What’s that?”

“The last bit of his umbilical cord. Soon it will fall off, and he’ll have a belly button, just like you.”

Billy lifted his shirt to inspect.

“What’s billy cor?”

“Umbilical cord – it’s where Baby was joined to me before he was born. Everyone has one.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone with a mother.”

“So, Silas don’t have belly button.”

“Silas would have a belly button. Everyone has.”

“But Silas don’t have a mum.”

“Oh. But he would have had a mum. When he was born.”

“Nope. Not born. I made him up.”

What do you think? Did or do friends, born of imagination, have mothers if we choose to not give them one? Does the answer to this question impact the existence of belly buttons in imaginary friends?

At the conclusion of the previous story, I suggested that “Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?”

I thank you for your responses, especially one questioning whether I have ever killed an imaginary character in a story. Something for me to ponder. I don’t think I have. Would I do that?

In her post, Charli also writes about dying, or what happens afterwards anyway, especially with cremation and “wildcat scattering”. I often, occasionally, sometimes, contemplate what may happen to my body when I’m finished with it, or it’s finished with me, whichever comes first. Or is it the same thing?

I would like an environmentally friendly disposal of my remains and hope that, by the time action needs to be taken, there are many such options available. At the moment, there seem to be few, so I was interested to listen to this TED talk. I thought you might enjoy it too.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Are you coming or going?

© Norah Colvin

My mother used to sometimes say that she didn’t know whether she was coming or going, meaning that she was a bit frazzled with too much to do and too little time. With a small house filled ten children, is it any wonder?

Sometimes when asked “How are you going?” meaning “How are you going in life?” or simply, “How are you?” people respond, “Getting there”. Sometimes I wonder where they are getting, and wonder if they know too.

But does it matter? Is it important to know where we are getting? Is not there joy in the journey itself? What if the “there” turns out to be totally unexpected, a surprise? I have no idea where I’ll be after the door on this life’s journey closes. I hope it’s a pleasant surprise, but I’m more inclined to think it will be no surprise at all. This convinces me that it is important to enjoy the journey whether we’re coming or going or anywhere in between.

One of the purposes of education is to support people along their life’s journey, regardless of where they came from or where they are going.  I previously wrote about some issues affecting itinerant families in This too will pass. Saying goodbye to friends, if indeed there has been time to establish friendships can be difficult; so too the establishment of new friendships at each next place.

Robbie Cheadle, who blogs at Robbie’s Inspiration, recently shared her experiences in a comment on the readilearn blog. She said, “I changed schools 14 times during my primary school years and it was very hard. I was always the new girl and always having to start over. It does teach you to get on with people and to be resilient.” Robbie obviously learned to do so, but it doesn’t happen that way for all.

Sherri Matthews, another friend from the S.M.A.G. community, who blogs at A View from my Summerhouse recently shared her excitement at the publication of her essay Promise of a Rose Garden in Lady by the River: Stories of Perseverance, “a collection of  personal stories about facing everyday challenges”. This is a wonderful book and I have no hesitation in recommending it to you.

In her moving story, Sherri describes “having her heart ripped out” at ten years of age when she realises that the goodbyes exchanged between herself and her father as she left for school were more permanent than she expected. She says she kept her feelings inside, telling no one how she felt about her mother leaving her father. She says, “I cried alone at night, missing my dad so much that I thought my heart would break”.

These two experiences alone demonstrate that we may never know just what the children in our classrooms are experiencing. They may keep their feelings inside, not wanting to share. This is particularly so when the time that could be used for getting to know each other is pushed out to accommodate more drill and practice and standardised testing.

No child’s situation is the same as any other. There is no standard experience that puts everyone in the same spot on the graph at the same time. We need to make the effort to get to know individuals and to tailor the situation to their needs. This means providing opportunities for them to share their experiences, discuss their feelings, and follow their interests.

Of course, children should never be pressured to share more than they are comfortable with, but an open, welcoming, supportive classroom will provide them with a refuge from other issues that may confront them. I seem to keep returning to this point: the importance of a warm, welcoming, supportive classroom. I’m like a broken record, stuck in that groove. But it is the relationships that are vital and of greatest influence to a child’s ability to learn.

There are many simple activities which can be incorporated into the school day to help build community. I’ve talked before about the way I used to do the roll, with each child standing in turn to greet classmates. How much more effective it may have been had children said “good morning” in their mother tongue, teaching others the greeting, and receiving it in response. Children enjoy learning words from other languages.  What a great celebration of diversity this would be.

It was these thoughts that went around and around in my head this week when Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hello or a goodbye. You can pick any greeting that grabs you from howdy to fare thee well. It will be interesting to see how the collection intertwines the opposite greetings. Charli herself has experienced a series of hellos and goodbyes in recent times, with another goodbye imminent.

For my goodbye story, I have taken another turn and gone full circle. I hope you like it.

Round and round

He felt tall, grown up, sitting in the saddle, holding the reins, feet in the stirrups.

Mum was watching.

“Hold tight,” she whispered. “Love you.”

He smiled.  Then they were off. He turned, letting go quickly to wave one hand.

“Goodbye,” he called. His lip quivered. How soon before he’d see her again? He turned, but she’d disappeared.

Suddenly she was in front of him.

“Hello,” she called.

“Hello,” he smiled.

Again, she was gone. “Goodbye,” he heard; then “Hello again!” He giggled.

“Going around in circles,” she thought. “Life’s like a carousel. You’ve got to enjoy the ride.”

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Can you imagine a world without The Arts?

Salvador Dalí [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How much time do you think should be devoted to the creative arts in school? How much time do you think is spent on creative arts in school? Is it a match?

The arts include such things as:

  • Visual Arts
  • Drama
  • Music
  • Dance

Educational policies promote The Arts for their potential to develop creativity and critical thinking. For example, the rationale for The Arts in the Australian Curriculum states that

“The arts have the capacity to engage, inspire and enrich all students, exciting the imagination and encouraging them to reach their creative and expressive potential.”

Creativity and critical thinking are mentioned first in the aims.

How do The Arts contribute to our world?

If nothing else, they add beauty to uplift and inspire. In many ways, they are time capsules, carrying stories from the past through our present and into the future. While I am neither artist nor art connoisseur, I see the value in each form and the importance of sharing them with younger generations.  I also consider it important for young children to have freedom to explore each of the arts as a medium of self-expression.

I have shared some thoughts about each of the arts in previous posts, including

Let’s Dance!

image courtesy of openclipart.org

I’ve got the music in me!

Imagine that!

and introduced you to some amazing illustrators including Jeannie Baker, Kim Michelle Toft, Narelle Oliver, Helene Magisson. Today I have received two beautiful picture books illustrated by the very talented Muza Ulasowski who I’ll be interviewing later this year.

At the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills challenges us to consider what a nation may be like if art was gone. The picture she creates of a possible “post-truth era dystopian” future is not pretty. I’m not into dystopian futures where “everything is unpleasant or bad”. Tell me, we’re not there yet, are we?

Although The Arts get a good rap in the Australian Curriculum, and other curricula too I’m sure, many teachers grumble that time for creativity and the arts is pushed out as schools focus on the formal tests that pit school against school, state against state, and country against country.

Hopefully that situation is not as dire in early childhood situations. Fortunately, young children are constantly exposed to some aspects of the visual arts through beautifully illustrated picture books. Hopefully they also enjoy copious amounts of music, song, and movement each day, and lots of time for imaginative play. How much more than that, and how much time for self-expression, may vary from school to school and teacher to teacher.

Involvement in art programs can also be therapeutic, giving children opportunities for quiet, almost meditative times, in which they can turn off their brains for a little while, relax, and express themselves.

For Marnie, a character I have been developing through responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, art is more than just a release. Art classes with her favourite teacher Miss R., who sees and encourages the possibilities and potential that lie within, offer her welcome respites from the harshness of her reality.

I introduced this notion in a flash piece Safety, and extended the idea in a longer piece The story behind brown paint.

In this response to Charli’s prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? I have considered what it might be like for Marnie should her should she be robbed of her treasured art class. I hope you enjoy it.

No Art

She’d survived! In just minutes, art class with Miss R. Without Art today, she’d be somewhere else; anywhere. Or nowhere. Breathing deeply, imagining sunshine and calm waters, as Miss R. taught, helped quell the warmth rising from her feet, threatening to explode her heart and head. Somehow she’d avoided Brucie and his bully mates, escaping their lunchtime taunts. Now Art: sanctuary. Suddenly, tears obliterated hope as she read: “No Art today. Classes cancelled.” Where was that white rabbit with a hole down which she could disappear?

Later, during class, Miss R. asked, “Has anyone seen Marnie?” Brucie just smirked.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Safety in friendship

With Australia’s National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence occurring  this Friday 17 March and Harmony Day next Tuesday 21 March, it is timely to consider what we can do to ensure our schools and communities are safe places; places where everyone is included, diversity is appreciated, and others are treated with compassion and respect.

I recently wrote about the importance of teaching children strategies for making friends and getting along with others.  As for children in any class, these strategies would be very useful for Marnie and others in her class. Marnie, a girl who is abused at home and bullied at school, is a character I have been developing intermittently over the past few years in response to Charli’s flash fiction challenges at the Carrot Ranch. I haven’t written about her recently as the gaps widened and the inconsistencies grew and I felt I needed to give her more attention than time allowed.

You may wonder how I got here from the current flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story. But my mind will wander.

Sometimes, when children are having difficulty settling in and making friends at school, are being bullied, or are bullying, it is easier to point the finger, allocate blame, and attempt to place the responsibility for a solution on others. Firstly, I think we, as a society, need to realise that we share responsibility. Secondly, we need to be the type of person we want others to be: compassionate, kind, accepting, welcoming, respectful. Thirdly, we need to teach the attitudes and behaviours we wish to encourage and make it very clear what is and is not acceptable; including “Bullying.No Way!”

We are not always aware of the circumstances in which children are living or the situations to which they are exposed which may impact upon their ability to learn or to fit in. I wondered why Marnie might be abused at home. Although I knew her parents were abusive, I hadn’t before considered why they might be so. Charli’s honeymoon prompt led me to thinking about young teenage parents, who “had” to get married and take on the responsibility of caring for a child when they were hardly more than children themselves. I thought about broken dreams, lost opportunities, and definitely no honeymoon. Such was life for many in years not long ago.

Blaming is easy. Mending is more difficult. Safety and respect are essential. I’d love to know what you think.

Honeymoon dreams

Marnie sat on the bed, legs drawn up, chin pressed into her knees, hands over her ears. “Stop it! Stop it!” she screamed inside. Why was it always like this? Why couldn’t they just get over it? Or leave? She’d leave; if only she had somewhere to go. She quivered as the familiar scenario played out. Hurts and accusations unleashed: “Fault”. “Tricked”. “Honeymoon”. “Bastard”. Marnie knew: she was their bastard problem. He’d storm out. She’d sob into her wine on the couch. Quiet would reign, but briefly.  Marnie knew he’d be into her later, and she? She’d do nothing.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Remember to catch up with Karen Tyrrell who writes about empowerment in my interview on the readilearn blog this Friday.

Rocks in her head

charlis-challenge-february-2

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about rocks; rock formations in the landscape and rocks in the middle of the road, literally and figuratively.

She talks about the mesas in Zion National Park near to where she is living in Utah.

She describes it as 250 million years old with sandstone cliffs reaching ¾ mile, or 1207 m, high.

Uluru © Norah Colvin

Uluru © Norah Colvin

Of course, I can’t think of large sandstone rocks without thinking of Australia’s Uluru/Ayers Rock, the world’s largest sandstone inselberg or “island mountain”, which I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago.

We’re not going into competition here, but Uluru is estimated to be about 600 million years old. Reaching (only) 348 metres high, it is not as high as Zion’s cliffs.  However, it goes deeper under the ground than above.

While indigenous peoples of Australia have lived near Uluru for at least 10 000 years, it was only “discovered” by European explorers in the mid-nineteenth century. They named it Ayers Rock after the then Chief Secretary of South Australia Sir Henry Ayers. Since 1993 it has borne the dual name Uluru/Ayers Rock.

I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for those first European explorers when they came across the enormous rock which reaches further below ground than it does above, though I guess they didn’t know that at the time. There are also many other hazards to negotiate in Central Australia.

With Charli’s challenge to write about a rock, I was tempted to innovate on Michael Rosen’s Going on a Bear Hunt.

“Oh-oh, a rock.

A big red rock.

Can’t go over it.

Can’t go under it.

Oh no! We’ve got to go around it.

Huff-puff. Huff-puff.”

But Charli moves on from the literal to the figurative as she describes challenges; the ones, unlike sand that is easy to sweep away; as “rocks in the road”, rocks that “cannot be ignored . . . (that) call us to change or be changed.”

Sometimes the rocks have been placed by someone or something else. Sometimes they are of own making. Sometimes they reside only in our heads. Often the rock’s size and our ability to move it depends on our attitude.

There is a rock in my path at the moment; small but, like a pebble in a shoe, bothersome. I have tried many alternatives but not yet found the solution. There is a popular saying that “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I’m ready and waiting.

Sometimes I feel that my attempts are a bit like those Sisyphus moving his rock, but without the physical effort. Sometimes I just think I’ve got rocks in my head. Most people don’t understand why I bother; but how can I not?

Edison said,

“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work.”

I don’t think I’m quite to 10 000 yet, but the number is growing.

As Charli says, those rocks call us to change; they give us an opportunity for new learning. I’m never against learning something new. I’ve combined these ideas in my story.

But before I take you there, I want to tell you about Charli. She has been squeezed between a rock and a hard place since she was kicked out of her beautiful home over six months ago. You can only admire her tenacity in remaining positive. With all the rocks that have been pelted at her, she still takes up the broom to sweep away the rocks that fall in others’ paths. Please check out her post and read of the J-Family, who have finally found a home after months of homelessness. Charli is hosting a Amazon Housewarming party to help them acquire basic household items. The seven-year old boy would also love some books to read.  If you can help, please visit Charli’s post for details.

Now, back to my response to Charli’s challenge to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road. It can be physical, adding to a plot twist, or it can be metaphorical for a barrier or hardship. Go where you find the rock.” I hope you like it.

Rocks in her head

The newcomer was intrigued. Every morning she’d be there, filling a battered barrow with rocks from the road. You’d think that, after a day or two, she’d have removed them all. But, every morning, even earlier, a quarry truck would rumble by, spilling more.

Longer-term residents shrugged indifferently, “She’s got rocks in her head.”

When he asked her one day, she replied, “Come and see.”

He followed into her back garden, and watched. She stood at the edge of a pit and threw in the rocks. After each she listened, hopeful of a sound, of one day filling it.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

What do you create?

symbol

I am a fan of creativity. I like to develop my own creativity, and I like to encourage the development of creativity in others.

One thing I always loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative: writing stories, units of work, and lessons plans to interest and excite the children about learning. It is this love that drives me to write my blog posts each week, and to create new early childhood teaching resources for readilearn nearly every week.

Just as exciting was the opportunity to support the development of children’s thinking, imagination, and creativity. I am more in favour of treating children as individuals, than as one of a homogeneous group from which any difference is considered an aberration.  After all, imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my tagline: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’, a tagline I previously used for an independent school I was establishing.

create-the-possibilities

Preceding both was my first independent undertaking: Create-A-Way.  Create-A-Way provided a richer educational and social setting for my young daughter than what was generally available, allowed me to share my educational philosophy and knowledge, and provided the same rich learning opportunities for other children and their parents. The development of imagination and creativity was a focus.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

One of the things I love most about responding to the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is the additional opportunity to engage in something creative and to hone my writing skills. The supportive environment of a welcoming community makes it a safe and enjoyable experience. There is something affirming about belonging to a community of other creatives, online or in -person.

karen

On Saturday I, along with a whole bunch of other women creatives, attended an excellent Book Marketing Masterclass conducted by authorpreneur Karen Tyrrell. (I am looking forward to interviewing Karen for the Author Spotlight series on readilearn in March.) The class was attended by writers of a variety of genres; including memoir, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and picture books.

One of the attendees Chrissy Byers has created a lovely picture book The Magic in Boxes which “aims to capture the imagination of young readers and inspire creative play.”

the-magic-of-boxes

Not only does the book suggest ways of stimulating creativity using recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, the book is made from recycled paper. I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful book with a wonderful aim.

lemons and grapefruit

For a little more on creativity; in a previous post, Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? I shared ten articles about creativity. They are still relevant and worthy of a read if you haven’t yet done so.

I also shared one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson How schools kill creativity. If yours is not yet one of the over 41 million views, I urge you to watch it. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is hugely entertaining.

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and power of creativity. I thank Charli and her flash fiction prompt for the opportunity of revisiting some of my favourite articles and talks about creativity. This week her challenge is to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.”

I’m a woman, and I create, and education is in my heart.

In response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d get a little dirty. I hope you like it.

Prize pies

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

 

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

 

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

thank-you-1200x757

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Scratching around the quarry

charlis-quarry

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.”

I usually find Charli’s prompts a challenge but, with a bit of digging around in the old brain cells, I can usually concoct something with which I am reasonably happy. This time I’ve been scratching around the surface but have found little worthy of further investigation.

I considered a story of epic proportions, as I can’t think of a quarry without thinking of Gilgamesh.

Many years ago, I took my teenage son and a friend to a performance of the ancient story in a disused quarry. Whether it was part of their English or theatre studies, or what prompted the outing, I can’t recall. I think they were no more familiar with this “first great work of literature” than I; and I knew nothing. The performance made a lasting impression, both for its setting and the repetitious dialogue. I recall little of the hero’s epic journey. We were amused rather than awed.

From Gilgamesh, I considered play of a different, but more familiar kind: play in a sandpit or the dirt with diggers and trucks.

The sandpit was always popular for play at lunchtime, particularly if diggers, trucks, and other tools were available. Often the same children would play day after day, creating and re-creating the same scene with roads, rivers, bridges, and cities. Each seemed to have a particular role and responsibility. Found objects; like leaves, bark, feathers, sticks, and stones, would also be incorporated into the designs.

This play was great for the imagination, and for developing the friendship skills of cooperation and getting along, teamwork and working together. Surely I could find a story in there? But any ideas disintegrated faster than the sandpit structures.

It seems timely then, to revisit previous discussions of the difficulty experienced by children when expected to write to a prompt that may have little significance for them, and about which they may have little opportunity for discussion, reflection or planning.

I discussed this in both Writing to order – done in a flash! and Writing woes – Flash fiction. I suggested that, rather than  using a one-piece response to a prompt to assess children’s writing, the use of portfolios would provide more valuable information about children’s writing development.

A portfolio, similar to that of professional writers, would consist of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication. Rarely would a piece need to be completed in one sitting, let alone judged for it worth on the spot.

I believe that:

  • a one-off writing assessment task does not give students an opportunity to show their best work and puts pressure on them to perform
  • a portfolio of work collected over time provides a clear picture of student ability, development, and next steps for learning.

However, that writers have a choice about responding to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, makes the process quite different from that experienced by children responding to a prompt as a requirement.

Writers have a choice whether to participate, in what genre to respond, and how to interpret the prompt.

In recent posts Charli has discussed the importance of accepting our first drafts as “raw literature”, as part of the process. She provide us with the opportunity to hone our writing skills, and share and receive feedback on our writing in a safe, supportive environment. Surely this is no less important when encouraging young writers.

Out of sympathy for the requirements imposed on children almost every day, I thought it only fair to respond to Charli’s prompt. This is it.

The Quarry

Old and disused, the bare earth was dry with no hint of topsoil or sign of life. Rock fragments, remnants of its past, littered the surface still pockmarked by tyre tracks. One wall, etched by diggers’ teeth, stood silently telling its story. Circles of ash littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts told another. But tonight it was to tell a story as old as time.  Where once huge trucks had carted away boulders carved from its interior, now rough timber platforms stood.  As darkness fell, flaming torches cast an eerie light as storytellers wove their epic tale.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.