Saturday, January 18, 2014

The story of the extraordinary helping elephants

My feeling is that play and storytelling are closely intertwined with a child's social and emotional development. What might seem repetitive or boring to us, is an important exploration for the child of an idea or problem until there is resolution or understanding. I would like to share a story that my nephew Noah has been working on recently, starring a trio of wooden elephants and some adult friends playing minor roles as assistant puppeteers and storytellers ...

The director and storyteller with his elephants

Once upon many a time there were three elephants; a mummy elephant, a daddy elephant and a Noah elephant*. This happy family liked to bound exuberantly over the African plains. Then, suddenly and tragically, during the course of such joyful bounding, one of the elephants falls over. 

"What happened?" the mother elephant asks in a very concerned voice. 

"I falled down" explains the Noah elephant, or the Daddy elephant, depending on who fell. 

"Don't worry" soothes the mummy elephant, "I will rescue you", and efforts are immediately made to help. If the other two elephants can't put the fallen elephant back on its feet, a large rescue truck or fire engine with a crane can be brought in to assist.

The family bound off happily again, until another calamity erupts. This time the daddy elephant, because he is actually a puzzle, falls apart and find himself bounding off without his rear end. But again, disaster is averted with the assistance of puppeteers, match box cars or a dinosaur figurine, and all is well again with the world.


This story, in all its variations, says a lot about the story teller's own world view. Just last week he adopted a kitten that was found abandoned on a bus. whenever it cries he says "don't worry meow". A few weeks ago he became distressed when at the aquarium, having noticed a lobster that seemed stuck against a rock and wondered whether in fact he should help this lobster out of its predicament. It was only when he was reassured that the lobster's friends would probably help him out that he was satisfied and able to move on to the next exhibit.

As I delight in this stage, I wonder how I can foster and encourage the empathy that I see emerging in my young relative. Probably adding variations of the story that involve the elephants farting loudly and saying "excuse me" probably wasn't the best way to do this, in retrospect, particularly when I am told he now likes to insert this variation into everyday tasks at shopping centres and other public places, much to his grandmother's embarrassment! But on a more serious note, I hope I can join in modelling good helping behaviour, and I applaud Noah for his dedication in tackling such an important theme. I recommend the helping elephant show as a must-see for all ages!

*Any reference to real people is purely co-incidental.

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