December 11, 2013, by Malvika Johal

How the Cascade funded Lakeside Literacy project inspired me to teach…

Written by Abigail Blaylock 

When I was small, I had this favourite picture from The Wind in the Willows. It was of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad having a picnic in the middle of a hollow tree. For children, hollow trees were everywhere, in the chronicles of Narnia, for the Famous Five to hide in, for the animals of Brambly Hedge to nest in, for the Rats of Nimh to build secret labyrinths in; last term, I got to see the trees I’d always wished I lived in be turned into a space for creating stories by school children from around Nottingham at the Djanogly art gallery.

The art exhibition was made entirely of paper, which included one room in which giant translucent leaves, greenish-yellow and seaweed-veined, hung between the floor and the ceiling, creating a forest. We used this space as part of the Lakeside Literacy project, which takes art exhibitions as stimulus to help children create fictional writing pieces. In this case, we gave the children human figure shapes (A4 sized) made out of maps and asked them to write about a made up character on the back. Then they took their character “into the forest” to write them into a story.

The children wrote their stories on chains of paper dolls, sat in the paper forest, lying on their elbows or sitting cross-legged making up their narratives. I heard amazing storytelling every time we ran this workshop, and saw great writing come out of it. Around the hours spent in the seaweed forest, hectic things were happening in the outside world. I was nearing the end of second year and becoming increasingly aware that I needed to have a plan of what to do once I graduated. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to find myself a really giant tree and curl up inside it with a blanket and a book and never make any grown up decisions anymore.

One day, I was walking home from the gallery thinking about what I wanted to do; and half thinking about how the workshop had gone – and I had a thought that cut above the others, catching my attention. It was less like a thunder bolt, really more like a falling leaf: I thought

“This is what I want to do.”

I’m now part way through my PGCE application, and without a doubt, I owe the Lakeside Literacy project that moment of decision. I’m not able to articulate quite what has made me so certain that I want to be a teacher, and so instead of trying to, I’ll leave you with a story, written by a ten year old, retold as best as I can remember it:

“Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a busy city, and he dreamed of finding a peaceful quiet cave to sit in all alone. He knew he could find this place, so he crept out of his house when his Mum was busy and not looking. He walked down his street, and into town and as he walked through the city people asked him

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to find a cave where there is peace and quiet.” Said the boy, but nobody believed he would find one, they all laughed at him. Some people even got violent, and wanted to stop the boy from looking.

But the boy carried on, he walked right through the city and out the other side. Finally, he found his cave. It was just as peaceful and silent as he’d dreamed. The boy sat in the cave all alone, and he was happy.

Later, the boy got up from the cave and went back to the city.
“Did you find anywhere peaceful and quiet?” the people asked him.

The boy showed all the people in the city where the cave was, and then he went home, and after that, whenever anyone needed some quiet space, they just went to the cave.”

Posted in Cascade fund