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Puppets create bags of story fun

TES writers look at the latest classroom resources to be demonstrated at next week's exhibition. Carolyn Worth (below) reports on how toys and tapes have been luring pupils to a magical world of books.

Cleopatra, Alice in Wonderland, Hiawatha and Elizabeth I have been helping primary school teachers and parents to introduce pupils to the wonderful world of reading.

Teachers and parents dressed up as Blaenhonddan primary in Neath, south Wales, launched its storybags project at the beginning of this month.

"When we do something we don't do it by halves," said acting headmistress Gill Lloyd.

Storybags was Swindon teacher Neil Griffiths' answer to the vexing question: how in these days of video, computers and TV do you encourage a child to read?

Instead of children just taking home a book to remain unread, he suggested putting together bags with a book as well as a related tape, non-fiction book, toy or puppet. The props enable parents to bring the book to life and expand on its theme.

Helen Wright, reception teacher at Blaenhonddan, was impressed by Neil Griffiths' idea. She says: "It's a wonderful aid to early literacy. I could at once see the potential of the bags for encouraging children to read."

She enlisted parents to "the daunting task" of making 80 storybags for the school.

The school library was then converted into a Storybag castle - with painted cardboard grey stone walls, trailing ivy, and an archway at the entrance. Children hang the storybags here, each with its own number. The bags are catalogued with a title, number and photograph displaying the contents.

The local community also became involved, raising cash for the project through coffee mornings, discos and raffles. A local business donated toy bears for the "Teddy Bears' Picnic" bag; an embroidery company agreed to put the school logo on all the bags.

Parents donated toys and charity shop finds which were cut, sewed and embroidered until they resembled storybook characters. Hours were spent painting and decorating the castle.

For the book Laura's Star, by Klaus Baumgart, the tale of a lonely child who befriends a broke star, mends it and in doing so finds a friend, the bag includes a Laura doll, silver star, a tape of the story, and a non-fiction book entitled, I Wonder Why Stars Twinkle by Carole Stott. There is also a list of the contents and an ideas page for parents, with suggestions for discussion topics and things to do.

Rhiannon Collins, a Blaenhonddan parent, has been using the storybags with her two daughters. A particular favourite is Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne, the story of an African girl who has fruit stolen en route to market by different animals until nothing is left.

As well as the book and tape, the bag contains animal puppets with a painted backcloth for a puppet show, a basket with felt fruit and the non-fiction book, Let's Look at Fruit by Nicola Tuxworth.

"The puppets helped bring the book to life," says Rhiannon. "We talked about the animals and the fruit and what part they had played in the story and afterwards we did our own little puppet show, first with bits of the original story. But then it went one stage further and the children started making up their own imaginative stories.

"We also looked at the non-fiction book and discussed where fruit comes from and how it gets here. It gave us so much more to talk about. I wouldn't have thought about fruit production and markets. Some children don't have huge concentration spans and it gives them something active to do, which is about the book."

So far Blaenhonddan school has 40 Storybags to use with its nursery and reception children, but Helen Griffiths wants to see that number at least doubled, and also has plans to expand the project to other age groups and to make maths and science bags. "We've only just begun," she says.

For more information email Helen Wright on The National Support Project for Storysacks which is funded by the Basic Skills Agency offers free training workshops and advice. Tel: 01793 421168 or go to: Schools are encouraged to make their own bags, but, if they don't want to, Storysacks Ltd can provide readymade items. Tel: 0161 763 6232. Stand: 272

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