Postman delivers the plot

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Lisa Parrott of the West Yorkshire Playhouse tells Kevin Berry how she helps three to five-year-olds create stories

We send a parcel to a school, the children open it and then the fun begins.

Whatever is in the parcel is made by the prop department at the Playhouse so it will look rather good. The first parcel contained a hat but I wasn't able to get out to a school to see it opened. I did see a book of children's hat stories. A girl had made a poster and she had written: "This hat is lost so it's sad. Someone can see it and the hat can go home." One of the best comments was: "You put the hat on and stories pop into your head!" The second parcel had a slice of party cake in it with a letter. We always put a letter from the storyteller in our parcels. It said: "Dear Children, Do you know who is having a party? Love from the storyteller."

I was at Park Spring primary school, in Bramley, to see the parcel opened in the nursery and reception area. The children had the idea that something special was going to happen; they had made cakes the day before. It was wonderful to see their faces light up when the parcel came.

Their teachers, Carol Meehan and Wendy Ramsden, have been involved with the storytellers scheme from the beginning. They have worked closely with us, planning what goes into the parcels and linking with other schools.

The parcel was brought in. Mrs Meehan talked about it, asked different children to come out and help with reading the address, cutting the string and then taking the layers of paper out. She built on the anticipation at just the right pace. "Why so much paper?" she asked.

"So the cake will be more comfortable," one of the boys said.

Mrs Meehan asked them, "What can you see? Who is having a party? Why are they having a party? What sort of presents will they have? Who will be invited to the party?" The children were all suggesting things. Every idea was valued and they all had so many different ideas. Mrs Meehan had a basket with her own collection of stuffed toys. They were familiar to the children and some included them in their stories.

I was so impressed with the children's creativity and how focused they were. They were itching to get started with their stories. I sat with Mrs Ramsden's group and rather than talk to them at length she asked two or three questions and said: "Draw me your story." Then she moved around talking to each child.

Having the parcel in the classroom gave such a feeling of excitement and adventure. They knew it was a pretend cake but they were still fired up by it. "Just like a real cake," they kept saying. The children were in groups led by a "story friend", who would be a teacher, another adult or an older child. The story friend would help their story grow and write words for them.

Mrs Meehan was keen to have lists - lists of food, of presents and of characters to keep the stories flowing.

I sat with Sophie. She drew a baby whale. I asked her who was coming to the whale's party and she drew some creatures. She told me how they had put candles on the cake. She herself had been to a party where there was a bouncy castle so she put a bouncy castle in her story.

It was magical. They were all so proud of their stories.

Lisa Parrott is community andeducation assistant at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

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