Years after I started following in the footsteps of Vivian Paley, I asked Da’Shawna if she had a story for me to write down. She answered with a drawing and several questions, one of which was “Do you know how to see into the conversation?”
These days, adults frequently ask or tell children to “use their words.” Which words and for what purpose? children wonder. “Seeing into Conversations: Children Using Words in Stories” is the title I came up with to build a bridge between Da’Shawna’s words and the adult instructions.
Paley’s signature activity was storytelling and story acting because she recognized the ways in which children use stories and play to work on their thinking. She used her books to document the thinking, as well as the need for adults to proceed with care when thinking about children’s thinking. In On Listening to What the Children Say, she wrote, “The conversation ended and we ate the cookies, but clearly nothing was settled. Their premises and mine did not match.”
“Premises that do not match” also applies to the field of early childhood, where one side thinks the focus should be on academics while professionals continue trying to explain the importance of story and play.
Paley recorded and transcribed conversations with and between children, and connected them to her reflections about universal themes and the challenges of teaching and learning. She untangled and made clearer the connections between story, play, fantasy, emotional regulation, communication, and the challenges children face as they attempt to understand what it takes and means to be a friend.
Seeing Into Conversations: Children Using Words in Stories contains more than 20 stories told by children. Sometimes the words are those of children thinking on their own. Other stories emerged as answers to questions whose purpose was to help translate, clarify or extend a story. Each page includes space for additional words and drawings.
The book, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, lists the three critical tasks of early childhood as self-regulation, communication, and making friends. Seeing Into Conversations also includes a peek at the three tasks, to help, we hope, make additional connections between the thinking of adults and children.
For short video clips of Paley demonstrating storytelling and story acting, begin here.
Buy the book here.