Posted on Leave a comment

A healing story for children in the fire crisis

Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020 will forever be remembered in Australia for the impact wild bushfire has had on EVERY Australian’s lives. We want to share with you a simple but effective story we use as a base for storytelling to help children find some healing and understanding in this situation. We’ve used it a few times over the last 6 months. Here on the Gold Coast, our 2019 winter experience with bushfires saw the hills of the hinterland in flame with fires spotting all over the place throughout south-east queensland and smoke filling our sky. We shared how we supported our children during this time in our post “Storytelling and Trauma: supporting children in times of stress“. Our Gold Coast fires are under control now but others have swirled into a hungry beast that is currently stretched along the east coast of Australia, and in every other state. Now our Qld Rural Fire Brigades are supporting other states. As a nation, we are burning and hurting and it is all we can talk about.

Children will need to talk about the bushfire too. They will need to explore this topic in every playful way in order to make sense of the experience and their emotions attached to it. At Birdwings we use oral storytelling, drama and art to help children process the experience. Storytelling easily crosses over and carries on through play, and formal storytelling can also provide children with a stage to share their understandings. First, we model stories about fire by telling stories with simple props that children have access to in their place space: art materials, scarves and water. This way, the stories can easily  be played out by the children together, and we can observe and echo their play themes by reflecting them back with more storytelling. In this way we create new stories together, and also affirm our understanding of the experience and of each other.

storytelling 1
Storytelling at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy

The poem included in this post is a guide and a base from which our storytelling about fire begins. It is a simplistic retelling of a common bushfire experience and definitely does not reflect the devastation some children have witnessed. It does not need to. Use it as is, or us as a base for storytelling. We don’t retell it exactly but we tell and retell the story with props, with children acting, with art materials. We tell this story in a way that children are actively powerful in putting the fire out. They are masters of the fire.

70811052_940609939629151_7705319144618459136_n
Storytelling at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy September 2019

We tell it with little props in a small landscape on a story table. We act it out. We use big shiny cloths of red and orange and gold to swirl around as flames, plenty of water in spray bottles to spray over everyone to make the flames go away, green cloths, flowers and branches with green leaves for the forest to re-grow. We retell it with art materials, and let the story wander and change as we hand it over to the children – for the therapeutic benefits come from providing children with the opportunity to explore the theme in their own way.  Provide open access to art materials and model how art can be used to express feelings and stories. Tell your own and then leave the children to engage if they wish.

IMG_20190919_072308
A spontaneous collaborative drawing between children aged 2 – 4 years. It ended up being a story about a snake who needed to flee the bush because of a fire. It left the trees and went straight to the green grass and to safety. Echoes of our conversations with children about our fire plan at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy have come through here.

Tell the story in your own way, take it and change it to retell what happened in your locality, making children the central characters, who observe what happens and take some decisive action. Set the scene: how did the children in the story know there was a fire coming? Did the animals flee? Did the children help care for animals? Put some animals in your story. Was it windy? Put some wind in your story. Did you pack the car and prepare the house? Make the children in the story do that too.  At this point you can ask your children what happens next, and let them explore it. Or you can guide them to safety and continue the story from the point of view of those who came to help.

66633482_2146673498965699_2569643220543733760_n
Birdwings Forest School 2019

When it is safe to do so, being playful with fire may be powerful here too. We use fire in our program, so the children we work with know about fire and how to be safe with it. In this situation though, it may be best to start small with tiny fires only.  Light candles and have children blow or snuff them out. Light bits of paper in a tin and drown it with water. When it is appropriate, try a kelly kettle, or a small fire in a colander or a fire bowl outside. Boil some water and make tea to re-establish a sense of purpose and joy in fire. Roast apple slices and marshmallows.

It will take much more than this to heal our nation, however young children need to play it out and make sense with it. We recommend any children severely affected by fires be able to access some professional therapeutic support, but in the meantime simple play is the greatest therapy. From Birdwings Forest School, we hope you are all safe and well and wish you the very best with your healing and recovery at this difficult time

birdwingswinterfestival2019_sm-0151
Photo credit Cameron Neville 2019
SUMMER BUSHFIRES, Written by Jennifer McCormack, 2004

The wind whips and roars, rushing by
The grasses and bushes are brown and dry
The trees wave crisp leaves at the sky
Bring us rain!

A spark of heat from rubbish on the ground
Is blown into life from the wind all around
Consumes all it finds with crackling sound
Bring us rain!

Quick as a flash the fire has grown
Animals flee from their burning homes
Fire fighters arrive with the water and foam
Bring us rain!

The fire fighters work hard, and do us proud
But now in the sky are big dark clouds
A thunder storm arrives, heavy and loud
Here’s the rain!

New little green shoots are given birth
Life starts again in the damp black earth
The fire was bad, but it could have been worse
Thanks to the rain!
birdwingswinterfestival2019_sm-0116
Photo credit Cameron Neville 2018

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Storytelling and Trauma: supporting children in times of stress

Written by Jennifer McCormack and Narell Neville, 2019.
Sometimes children are exposed to tragedies. Traumatic events such as natural disasters, illness and accidents won’t wait for children to be tucked away to protect them from worry. Children may be involved directly in traumatic events, or perhaps as onlookers observing the processes of others while emergency preparations occur, feeling the impressions of the fear and concern of the community, or surrounded by conversations about about the progress of events. All of these impressions can quickly become very overwhelming for children as they strive to organise their thoughts and feelings, and work out what it means to them.
Close to home, right now, the Scenic Rim, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Northern NSW communities are currently amidst the tragedy of bushfire which is having devastating effects upon natural bushland, private properties and the loss of many structures. Locals have had to enact emergency plans to protect homes, livestock and evacuate their families. Other families have members from emergency services who are helping to support those in trouble. Children all over these areas have seen and breathed the smoke, dust and hot winds. They have heard the emergency vehicles and seen the water-carrying planes and helicopters that have been working around the clock to settle the fires. Children in rural areas may have a parent who is volunteering their time to help with the crisis, working long hours and coming home tired, dirty and smoky.

birdwingswinterfestival2019_sm-0115
Photo Credit, Cameron Neville, 2019

We have many families in our local Birdwings community within this area (who are all safe) but who have been on high alert in preparation for the possibility of wild bushfire changing their lives forever. This week, the children will be talking about the fires, they will be sharing experiences, discussing the things they know, and watching each other for shared emotional responses as they talk to understand what has happened in their world.
We plan to allow children the space to talk about it, and we will explore it creatively together if need be through our Ecological Storytelling approach. The sooner the better. We find storytelling the most successful way to help children understand big events in their lives. Storytelling allows children to listen and identify with the parts of the story that makes sense to them. Even the act of listening to a story about their experience is an empathic acknowledgement that this is a thing that happened and that the child was a part of it. Traumatic events presented in the form of a metaphor helps to separate the child from the direct experience but will still tap into the emotions and offer support in the form of courage or some ideas that children could try for themselves outside of the story to find resolution and understanding.

img_20180805_063505_195580168347.jpg
Photo Credit, Narell Neville, 2018

Storytelling may be presented in various modalities and telling stories through many forms of creative art will offer a range of access points to children’s emotions and understanding. Painting, drawing, clay, dance, drama, even jokes, will help children to find their place and organise their thinking, recognise their emotions. Playing with the elements gives children an open-ended experience to explore their thoughts. In the case of fire, we are fortunate that our Birdwings children have had experience already with fire: they know how to light it, to tend it and keep themselves and the environment safe. They have made fires of their own and enjoyed the big bonfire at our Winter Festival. They know what to watch out for when a fire is lit, and how to care for it and the space around it so that it doesn’t go out of control. We are not going to explore fire again in our current situation, until the crisis is gone (and the fire ban is lifted!) but this background of knowledge can be easily explored in story to remind children they have some power in their experience.

65214614_2133437363622646_8858212663218405376_o
Photo Credit Jennifer McCormack, 2019

At Birdwings we have faith in children’s abilities to learn and process information. Children are very capable about communicating their knowledge and ideas, given the space, time and trust to do so. Children have so many ideas of their own about how to help in times of crisis, and storytelling may be one way to begin a conversation with children to hear their suggestions about what to do, how to avoid danger, how to create a plan to stay safe.
Through playful and gently therapeutic approaches we know children will take what they need from their experience. We have a story that we like to tell in high fire danger, however the whole experience will be guided by the children, with the children taking control of the situation. After we tell the story, we often invite the children to retell it to each other, and that’s when we hear so many great ideas, solutions and deep thinking about the situation.
We hope your families and homes are safe, and that you might consider asking your child to share their experience and knowledge with you. You may be surprised at the depth of wisdom they hold, and the relief that someone is there to listen. Here are some other useful resources to explore bushfires with children:

For more information about our storytelling approaches at Birdwings, we have upcoming training in Ecological Storytelling and Advanced Forest School Mentoring. For more information about our programs, please visit Forest School Programs

birdwingswinterfestival2019_sm-0148
Photo Credit, Cameron Neville, 2019