Objects can tell stories, if you learn to read them.

(Warrior by Fredric R.)

On 2/23 and 2/25 I led each Kindergarten class, with their teachers and parent volunteers to see The Terra Cotta Warriors at the National Geographic Exhibit Hall.

On the metro bus back to school, teacher Hannah Birney asked me, “What made you choose this as a fieldtrip?”TCbusride

Objects can tell stories, if you learn to read them.

The thread of “storytelling” has become strong and evident in a multitude of forms this year. However, there is more than one way to read a story.

Developing both observational and comprehension skills is not limited to text.

Over 2000 years ago, over 7000 sculptures were  buried in China. They were found just 30 years ago. While a written record of the tomb of the Emperor was discovered, the life size figures were a mystery, because the only clues left were the sculptures themselves.

Before we embarked, we spent a lot of time handling clay.

I told the story of the Emperor who believed that when he died, he would have another life, and did not want to be just anybody in this next life. He wanted to maintain his status as the strongest and most powerful. And so he had artisans create replicas of officials, warriors, chariots and more to be buried with him.

Thus far, only male figures have been discovered. This part of the story, plus ideas of power within the empire created a dynamic “boy tale”. One of the many negative consequences of NCLB and drill and kill assessments within our national school system is the increasing incidence of boys failing in our schools.

Play, outdoor time, drama, music, art, and a dynamic that supports socialization skills are being deleted in early childhood programs. Fostering boys social emotional development is vital to school success, more so than IQ. ( Raising and Educating Healthy Boys)

One of the many wonderful classroom strategies to support boys is having a wide variety of books and experiences that show a range of emotions with boys as protagonists. While this fieldtrip and experience lends itself to boys, it is also such a wonderful mystery and thing of beauty, that all children were wide eyed. The connection of “story” also encompassed all.

I showed examples from the companion book, Terra Cotta Warriors, Guardians of China’s First Emperor by Jane Portal.

I moved my body and showed how gesture and stance also told the story by asking, what am I? How do you know this?

Headwear, (Elaborate hats and hair styles show importance , as Ellie has drawn)

garments, (Casey shows folds of fabric as well as scarf bows around the neck. “He’s an official.”)

footwear, (Miles went back and put shoes on his Warrior, while Frederick P. showed below-right, the elf-like shoes which describes an elite official.)


mark hairstyle & armor  are all a part of this story without words.

(left)Mark drew the armor on the chest and shoulders. Children noticed that armor was on different parts of the body for different types of individuals. Teija noticed and verbalized what she called “puffs” (a type of hair knot or bun swept on top of the head) as the hairstyle for some of the warriors. You can see it in Mark’s drawing.

jonas1(left)Musician and dancing crane. Jonas depicted the simple clothing and position of figure and hands that told the story of this entertainer, since their was no instrument on display.

Estelle depicted the gesture of a warrior that shows  “he’s an archer”estelle archer

I told the children for this trip, they would be investigators and artists. Their job was to sketch figures, and most importantly, draw the symbols that told the story of who they were. From our retreat with Patsy Cooper (which specifically addressed literacy and the use of stories and storytelling in curriculum), we learned that a key component in literacy that many children lack is comprehension. I was asking children to extract

factual information from the sculptures. This skill is the same as extracting information from text. It is different from making a personal connection (i.e. I saw Mulan! It’s in China.)

While crowds of teenagers hurried by, the Kindergarten students sat staring intently at the figures, discovering the stories. “Hey, look at these little kids” “Wow! They draw better than me!” exclaimed many of the teens.  (Maggie’s Warrior and Horse, right)P1050783

The docents were right on hand to answer questions. Estelle wanted to know where the body of the Emperor is. Ms. Lawrence, a docent, explained that they have not yet opened the tomb, but might one day.

Eventually the Kindergarten students will plan to make themselves out of Terra Cotta. Moving from comprehension of the exhibit/story, back to the idea of reading symbols to tell a story.

My question to them will be, “What is the story you want people to know about you?

How will you show your story within this sculpture?