May 11, 2009

"I like elephants. I like how they swing through trees."

I love this kids' song, by Eric Herman, where the father keeps getting the facts wrong, prompting the child to say the right answer.

Do you have something like this with your kids, a structure for a song or a story that moves the child to speak at intervals and to feel — along with the entertainment — a sense of participation and accomplishment?

When my son John was quite young, I had an ongoing bedtime story that I called "A Boy Named John." I'd start with really nothing at all and get as quickly as I could to the question: And what do you think happened next? Whatever answer he gave, I'd express amazement that he got it right and go with a few details and stop again with the question. His answer would always be right, and the collaborative story could go on forever.

IN THE COMMENTS: Henry Buck said:
I'm trying the opposite with my kids. I start a story, ask what happens next, then, whatever answer they give, I say: "What are you, an idiot? Geesh, you'll never amount to anything." Then I take the story on a different track. I'm hoping it will toughen them up for a bleak future.

30 comments:

mcg said...

Kid's Rock by Tim Hawkins. (The video is an amateur fan effort; just listen to the music )

mcg said...

We don't have to lead my 5-year-old daughter in storytelling; she leads us. My daughter is a big fan of fairies. (For those that require clarification I am talking about the 5-inch-tall Tinkerbell and friends variety.) She will assign us a character and we'll role-play.

mcg said...

Here's a fun challenge/response song my daughter and I like: What Kind of Cat Are You? It starts out absurdly easy but it gets fun.

Jen said...

We use the cello. My daughter tells the story and waits for my interpretation on the cello. The stories can go on for hours.

MadisonMan said...

I'd love to hear if John remembers this the same way. My own mother remembers nothing of what I remember from when I was little.

My kids can still sing the songs I sang them to sleep with. (They were made up). I once dreamt I sang them at their funerals. I don't wish to outlive them.

Beta Conservative said...

I remember after seeing the Fievel Mouse Movie singing the song "There are no cats in America" while driving with my daughters in the back seat. I would always replace the word cats with a different animal and they would correct me in full voice.

I guess it wasn't particularly instructive, but it was great fun. As with all simple, repetetive, juvenile games and jokes, they tired of it before I did.

Luckliy I have a 2 1/2 year old grandson to play with now. It's easier to get new kiddies than it is to get new material.

yirmi said...

I also love that song. I also love the story behind it:

The first song I specifically wrote as a 'kids' music artist' was "The Elephant Song", which is still a favorite of many (I may spend the rest of my career trying to equal that!). But the original idea and intent for that song was completely different than what it turned out to be. My wife Roseann and I had watched a PBS documentary about two elephant friends who had been seperated at a young age to go work in circuses in different parts of the world. They were reunited many years later and instantly remembered each other and still had an incredible bond. It was more compelling and touching in the presentation than how I'm describing it, but it stirred an intense "reuniting, reconciliation, rebirth, resurrection" kind of emotion in me and made me want to write a song about that, more in a metaphorical sense than anything literally about elephants. Picking up a guitar at that moment the music flowed right out, and I quickly came up with a first verse of lyrics that went something like, "A long time/ I missed you so much/I finally got these chains off of me". And there was another line or two, but I can't remember any more than that. But much as I tried, I just could not get past that first verse of lyrics. Roseann, knowing the source of the inspiration for the music and hearing me trying over and over again to get past that point with the words, started jokingly singing along, "Elephants, I like elephants" when she'd hear me playing that. I sneered and said, "Very funny..." But the way she sang it was catchy and soon I was singing that to myself in the car one day, and for reasons that I can only call some bizarre kind of inspiration, I then added, "I like how they swing through trees." It didn't make any sense at all, of course, but suddenly I stopped and thought, wait a minute, that could actually work... And thus "The Elephant Song" was born.

reader_iam said...

something like this ...

Heh. I think something like 65% of my relationship with my son and 75% of our homeschooling is based on that attitude and construct.

It's not a method, it's a way of life!

ghofur123 said...

Niche

Henry Buck said...

I'm trying the opposite with my kids. I start a story, ask what happens next, then, whatever answer they give, I say: "What are you, an idiot? Geesh, you'll never amount to anything." Then I take the story on a different track. I'm hoping it will toughen them up for a bleak future.

ElcubanitoKC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Beckman said...

My kids spent a lot of time an effort trying to explain to me why 2 + 2 was 4.

And they were always on the lookout for my mistakes in reading books to them.

I was never spontaneous enough to make up a story by having them supply what happened next.

A good idea though. Maybe I'll remember it for grandkids.

ElcubanitoKC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
goesh said...

These are good tricks to play on kids to sharpen their wits. With one of my granddaughters, I would say the wrong word or the wrong color or the wrong name of a character while reading a story she had heard before. They like things right and in proper order and it instills appropriate assertiveness in a small child too.There was never any consequences for correcting Poppa, nothing to be worried about on her part.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Let's try that again:

'Dos elefantes se balanceaban sobre la tela de una araƱa...'.

Translation:.

Two elephants stood on the web of a spider.

Two elephants stood on the web of a spider.
They felt it was strong, it couldn't be tighter.
Along came their friend. They called to invite her.
Three elephants stood on the web of a spider.

Three elephants...
Four elephants...
etc...

Jennifer said...

We're big fans of the parent-says-something-weird-and-kid-says-"NOOOOO!"-with-a-big-grin-and-corrects-us game. Don't know why that's so fun for everyone involved but it surely is.

I also find myself doing something I HATED WITH A PASSION when my parents did it. I answer almost every question with some variation on "tell me what you think the answer to that is". Or, at least I hated not getting the easy answer fed to me, but often enjoyed the ensuing discussion.

Rose said...

What a great memory, and what a great idea.

HelenParr said...

But what about Christopher? What cool interactive thing would you do with him?

If the Althouse boys were the Smothers Brothers, John = Dickie and Christopher = Tommy...'Mom always liked you best.'

Big Mike said...

What a clever and creative idea. Wish I'd thought of it when our kids were young.

Big Mike said...

Our kids were treated to the "Baby Ben" books. (Mommy loved her Baby Ben, her small and precious child, but he always disobeyed her. He was reckless, rude, and wild.)

Also to the utterly subversive songs of Barry Louis Polisar, like "The Underwear Song" or the song whose name I don't remember but it features someone named Tommy who tells his mother that he will not go to school today because all the teachers hate him and all the kids laugh at him and make fun of him.

The last line goes something like "You have to go to school, she said. She hoped he'd be convinceable. You have to go to school today because you are the Principal."

Utterly subversive. Some of the Maryland counties tried to get him banned.

XWL said...

Isn't that sort of thing an offshoot of the Socratic Method?

(prepping your son for law school even as a toddler)

(I'm impressed)

Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

You are so reflective lately!

Anyway, good idea with the story telling, I'm so glad I read this now, while my daughter is young enough for me to give it a try.

Marcia said...

We do the "say the wrong word" game with our daughter (age 3 1/2). She's turned it around on us though. She'll not only let us use the wrong word over and over, she'll also intentionally misidentify things herself. (Please believe me when I say it's intentional. She really does know that an apple is not a banana and that green is not purple.)

I've played this game with lots of kids and don't remember one ever doing that before.

MayBee said...

I used to do a similar thing, but to get to the next stage of the story they had to do a little problem solving. An action adventurer would come to a fork in the road with two very different paths ahead, or a rough spot in the river with different crossing options, and they would tell me the choice that should be taken to move the character (themselves) on. The consequences would be different for the choices they made.
I don't know. I just had it in my head that I wanted my kids to learn about making choices.

rhhardin said...

Elephants swinging through the trees is a blatant attempt to interest adults with entertaining images.

The Howdy Doody show did it with Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

Who, offstage, was the most foul-mouthed teen woman ever heard to that date, and the viewing dads sensed that.

EDH said...

Whatever answer he gave, I'd express amazement that he got it right and go with a few details and stop again with the question. His answer would always be right, and the collaborative story could go on forever.
Are you sure your recollection is not confused with an Obama press conference?

AllenS said...

I read about stories like this, and I'm left wondering how well my parents could read. I was the first person in my family to finish high school.

Jennifer said...

I tried storytime a la Althouse this evening and my 6 year old and I had both had a blast with it. Thanks for a fun idea!

Old RPM Daddy said...

When reading to my kids, I'd sometimes throw in a digression, just to see if they were listening, e.g., "While Templeton gnawed contentedly on the apple core, Wilbur strolled lazily to the manure pile, where he was suddently eaten by a carnivorous plan. The end."

After a while, they learned to expect my ad libs.

Ann Althouse said...

@Jennifer. Cool.