Do mice read?

by Sara Stanley

The PRAESA team visited the Educare Centre at the University of Cape Town in early October for day 2 of a Storyplay session using Frederick by Leo Lionni. Sive, Nolu and Nadia had already started the mystery on day 1, with the children discovering a trail of seeds and a paper mousehole in the skirting board. Today’s session focused on dictating and listening for the stories that unravelled as the mystery continued.

Firstly the children discovered an adult eating flowers at the picnic table, leading to puzzled looks and comments that people don’t eat flowers

‘But I am a mouse,’ the adult replied. This made perfect sense and soon we had many mice of all sizes nibbling artificial flowers. One child then commented that actually these flowers were not real and went in search of leaves and grass and distributed them among our plates.

A child started to talk in tiny chatters and clicks and another child asked, ‘Are you talking English mouse or Xhosa mouse?’

‘Just mouse’ was the response.

The children were then called inside to listen again to the story of Frederick and discovered a note inside from the mouse family asking for more stories to last them throughout the cold winter.

One child volunteered a story, which Nadia dictated. The children then acted out this story inside the marked-out space of the giant picture book.

The children then went into free-flow play activities. Some chose to make mice from dough, others went in search of food and colours, others found little paper booklets ready to fill with stories.

In the book area, one child discovered a toy mouse reading a doll’s house miniature book.

He asked the adult, ‘But why is there a mouse just reading a book? I don’t think mice have brains to read!’

Adult, ‘Hmmm, I wonder do mice have brains at all?’

Child, ‘Yes they do but they have different eyes so they can’t read.’

Adult, ‘So do you think our eyes read or our brains?’

Child, ‘If we have no eyes we can’t read but this mouse has eyes so maybe he can read?’

Adult, ‘I wonder if mice might go to a library then? Shall we make a mouse library?’

By this point many children had gathered to see what had been discovered and enthusiastically began to fetch blankets and fabric to build a dark cosy place for the mice to read in. Paper and pens were sought out and suggestions for signs offered by the children. There was a reluctance to write these signs however, as the children stated that they couldn’t write. I explained that I thought mice could read any writing and soon mark making was established with confidence.

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Children wrote messages to the mouse family and taped them to the walls of the mouse library. The children also went to write stories in the little blank books to add to the library collection and displayed them on the shelves.

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Children returned frm outside with buckets full of food for the mice.

One child suggested they needed a snack bar in the mouse library.

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And just look at Frederick choosing a book.

One child said he was reading a story about Winter. Another had written a story about a bad cat that he wanted Frederick to read.

The child who had discovered the reading mouse in the first instance said, ‘Now I know mice can read they must have brains because they are so clever.’

I wonder what Philosophy was happening and how we can develop thinking?

How do we know if animals can read?

Do you think it is important to read?

What makes us clever?

Do we need books to make us clever?

Would we still have stories without books?

Where do stories come from?

Can you tell stories if you cannot imagine things?

What is imagination and where does it come from?

Can you ever have no imagination?

• Sara has spent almost 30 years in the Foundation Stage classroom as a teacher, foundation phase leader and teacher educator. Since 2013, Sara has been involved in early childhood projects for the development of literacy and imaginative Storyplay with PRAESA. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Cape Town and a research associate and collaborator in the NRF project Decolonising Early Childhood Discourses which uses examples of her practice as research data. Sara volunteers in the refugee camps of northern France where she has created play spaces for young children.

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