Sunday, December 30, 2007

Storytellers and engineers

The world, they say, is divided into two types of people -- those who like to divide the world into two types of people and those who don't. I guess I fall into the former group. Though I will readily confess that many people don't fit clearly in one type or the other, I find the "two types" mindset a useful way of intellectualizing differences and similarities. I suppose if I were to describe my preference accurately, I'd say that I like to think in terms of two-dimensional spectrums. I'm a person who likes the conceptual simplicity of opposite poles.

With young children I often think of their natural play preferences as being either in the storytelling or the engineering camp. Story-tellers prefer toys like Playmobil where they can play with characters who develop personalities and have long, involved adventures. Engineers prefer toys like Lego, where the challenge is in assembling constructions and experimenting with different designs. Of course there's plenty of overlap. You can tell stories with Lego characters, and you can build and rebuild unique arrays of Playmobil, but overall the focus of the toys is more in one camp or the other.

Erin, Noah and Sophie spent years as committed storytellers. The Lego that we once owned was so little used that it was eventually given away. They once spent a glorious hour and a half engaged in story-based play with only a small strip of green paper and an unsharpened pencil. During one snowbound family retreat weekend in a cramped cabin they created an incredible imaginary world out of six balloons and a spiral staircase. Yes, they pulled the hair, beards and attire off the Playmobil guys, reassembling them in crazy ways, but there were always stories that accompanied the reassembly. There was some strange reason why the queen was now practically naked, carrying a sword and wearing monk's sandals.

Our toy collection is reasonably scanty for being almost 14 years into the child-wrangling racket with children who learn at home too. We have Brio train stuff (rarely used), Elenco SnapCircuits (occasionally used), loads of Playmobil (used extensively for many years, but not so much any more), K'nex (used in spurts, though less than Playmobil) and not much else. A few stuffed animals, some dress-up stuff, and a bunch of board games and math manipulatives, including the pattern blocks shown above. Noah bought himself a remote control car a couple of years ago. But other than the Playmobil and K'nex, my kids are not really very toy-oriented. They put far more energy into their imaginary world (Euwy World, which required no toys at all) than they ever did into toy play. They were very much storytellers, so much so that a couple of years ago we were able to put together an entire radio show on the topic (27 MB and non-streaming, I'm afraid, so be patient).

Eventually, though, my kids will begin to outgrow Euwy World. These days I see very clearly where Erin's storytelling predilections have moved -- into her writing and her musical expressiveness. It's harder to see where Noah is moving, and I suppose only time will tell how my younger storytellers will grow.


  1. Miranda - I laughed at your first sentence! How true! I seem to have trouble type-casting because folks always seem to squish over the edges! How inconsistent of them! :)

    For example, our house is full of people who are both storytellers and engineers. I don't know how that happened, but there it is. All three of us are similar in this respect - and I find that my son often uses the engineering as the stage for the story. Often, he is story telling as he engineers!

    I'm interested to see how this evolves as he grows older. Neat that you can see how the love of story-making is shifting for Erin. She sounds like an extraordinary young person.

    Thanks, too, for your "Homeschool beginnings" stories! I'm loving the installments (hope there might be some more in the series).


  2. Lots of food for thought, Miranda. I've definitely got the engineer here, and he doesn't tend to overlap into storytelling much at all. However, I've also got an avid story teller who loves any activity involving visual spatial skills - Lego included.

    Time will tell, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  3. Our family is definitely one of engineers, and decidedly so, except for MLC who has characteristics of both. Poor thing, she has to live with the rest of us.

    Of course, as you say, we all tend to "squish over the edges" a bit, and in different ways. I guess that's where individuality is expressed.


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