© 2010 Marla McLean fredric

Objects can tell stories, if you learn to read them.

(Warrior by Fredric R.) On 2/23 and 2/25 I led each Kindergarten class, with their teachers and parent volunteers to see The Terra Cotta Warriors at the National Geographic Exhibit Hall. On the metro bus back to school, teacher Hannah Birney asked me, “What made you choose this as a fieldtrip?”TCbusride Objects can tell stories, if you learn to read them. The thread of “storytelling” has become strong and evident in a multitude of forms this year. However, there is more than one way to read a story. Developing both observational and comprehension skills is not limited to text. Over 2000 years ago, over 7000 sculptures were  buried in China. They were found just 30 years ago. While a written record of the tomb of the Emperor was discovered, the life size figures were a mystery, because the only clues left were the sculptures themselves. Before we embarked, we spent a lot of time handling clay. I told the story of the Emperor who believed that when he died, he would have another life, and did not want to be just anybody in this next life. He wanted to maintain his status as the strongest and most powerful. And so he had artisans create replicas of officials, warriors, chariots and more to be buried with him. Thus far, only male figures have been discovered. This part of the story, plus ideas of power within the empire created a dynamic “boy tale”. One of the many negative consequences of NCLB and drill and kill assessments within our national school system is the increasing incidence of boys failing in our schools. Play, outdoor time, drama, music, art, and a dynamic that supports socialization skills are being deleted in early childhood programs. Fostering boys social emotional development is vital to school success, more so than IQ. ( Raising and Educating Healthy Boys) One of the many wonderful classroom strategies to support boys is having a wide variety of books and experiences that show a range of emotions with boys as protagonists. While this fieldtrip and experience lends itself to boys, it is also such a wonderful mystery and thing of beauty, that all children were wide eyed. The connection of “story” also encompassed all. I showed examples from the companion book, Terra Cotta Warriors, Guardians of China’s First Emperor by Jane Portal. I moved my body and showed how gesture and stance also told the story by asking, what am I? How do you know this? Headwear, (Elaborate hats and hair styles show importance , as Ellie has drawn) garments, (Casey shows folds of fabric as well as scarf bows around the neck. “He’s an official.”) footwear, (Miles went back and put shoes on his Warrior, while Frederick P. showed below-right, the elf-like shoes which describes an elite official.) milesFrederick mark hairstyle & armor  are all a part of this story without words. (left)Mark drew the armor on the chest and shoulders. Children noticed that armor was on different parts of the body for different types of individuals. Teija noticed and verbalized what she called “puffs” (a type of hair knot or bun swept on top of the head) as the hairstyle for some of the warriors. You can see it in Mark’s drawing. jonas1(left)Musician and dancing crane. Jonas depicted the simple clothing and position of figure and hands that told the story of this entertainer, since their was no instrument on display. Estelle depicted the gesture of a warrior that shows  “he’s an archer”estelle archer I told the children for this trip, they would be investigators and artists. Their job was to sketch figures, and most importantly, draw the symbols that told the story of who they were. From our retreat with Patsy Cooper (which specifically addressed literacy and the use of stories and storytelling in curriculum), we learned that a key component in literacy that many children lack is comprehension. I was asking children to extract factual information from the sculptures. This skill is the same as extracting information from text. It is different from making a personal connection (i.e. I saw Mulan! It’s in China.) While crowds of teenagers hurried by, the Kindergarten students sat staring intently at the figures, discovering the stories. “Hey, look at these little kids” “Wow! They draw better than me!” exclaimed many of the teens.  (Maggie’s Warrior and Horse, right)P1050783 The docents were right on hand to answer questions. Estelle wanted to know where the body of the Emperor is. Ms. Lawrence, a docent, explained that they have not yet opened the tomb, but might one day. Eventually the Kindergarten students will plan to make themselves out of Terra Cotta. Moving from comprehension of the exhibit/story, back to the idea of reading symbols to tell a story. My question to them will be, “What is the story you want people to know about you? How will you show your story within this sculpture? TCWarriorkidChap TCWarriorkidscofld
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  1. Posted February 25, 2010 at 10:50 pm | #

    I’m going next week to see the warriors with my own two children. Can’t wait. Thank you for pointing out the impact of NCLB on boys. I think a lot about NCLB and its consequences, but I hadn’t considered this angle.

  2. Kirsten Leckszas
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 5:43 am | #

    What powerful, meaningful experiences these children acquire through the thorough “study” of topics like this one. It was amazing to watch the children study the figures so intently; I watched each in my group as they carefully chose the perspective to record. As I recounted the trip to several parents, I couldn’t help but remark on how quiet the children were during our time at Nat’l Geo. They were completely focused and met their investigative task with purpose. Thank you, Marla.

  3. Posted February 26, 2010 at 6:11 am | #

    Thank YOU. You were such a wonderful facilitator on the trip. You also have such a great relationship with all the children, they really responded to your kind guidance.

  4. Posted February 26, 2010 at 7:08 am | #

    This is a very inspiring post, Marla. When my daughter was younger we used to go to art museums and sometimes just sit in front a single painting trying to figure out the story (or make up our own based on what we saw), but that was nothing compared to how fully integrated you’re making this experience for your students. Bravo!

    (And another bravo for your “Raindrops” piece, which I admire very much. I also took the time to investigate the rest of your work. You’re a talented and thought-provoking artist. I’m going to go back and work on figuring out the story you’re telling!)

  5. Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm | #

    That teenager is right, those little kids draw better than me, too. Excellent field trip!

    ps if Teacher Tom figures out your story, I want to hear it.

  6. David Loitz
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm | #

    I think you have quite a point here. Great focus! Really love your idea that objects can tell stories and that we most remember to develop observational tools in all aspects of life. Looking and seeing life is the part of being mindful. Nice work by the students! I learned a lot from their pictures about what they learned and saw!

  7. Posted February 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm | #

    My favorite part of this story is the photo of your own warriors in their poses -quite fierce.
    And I think it is very meaningful that you took the children out into the world and people saw and noticed their work, their thinking and their passion for ideas and art. That’s how we’ll make change, don’t you think? Bravo!

  8. Posted March 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm | #

    What wonderful details they have captured. They are so lucky to have such an inspired teacher. Don’t they keep you that way?Inspired, that is.

  9. Posted March 2, 2010 at 7:10 pm | #


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