August 23, 2010

Summer Discoveries: Storytelling

The Summer Discoveries visits from Boston area summer camps have ended at Forest Hills. For the last seven weeks we have enjoyed introducing children aged 5 to 14 to the cemetery’s history, discussed contemporary art placed here and joined them in reveling in the beauty of being outdoors. We thank our students for sharing their thoughts and feelings; for making connections and imagining interpretations that enlivened our discussions. Recognizing our students’ interest in storytelling, in the last weeks of our program we started teaching a tour in which we talk about fiction writers, journalists, poets and painters.

Book imagery abounds in the cemetery: sculpted in stone, they lie atop gravestones, some are closed, some open; many remind of the Bible, others look like children’s story books. One mausoleum along our route even has a stained-glass window featuring an open book which our students always find particularly impressive.
Further along the way, we visit e.e. cummings’ unassuming final resting place and then cross the street to see his memorial “Opening”, made in 2002 by Mitch Ryerson. Hidden inside the hollowed-out tree is a book of cummings’ poems, which our students discover with delight. We take time to sit in the shade of a tree and read some of these poems and discuss what we understand them to be about. Other stops along out way provide further jumping-off points for discussion about how stories are a reflection of history, what they may mean, how they relate to our own experiences, and how they make us feel.

Here is a map so you can walk the tour, too:

At the end of our tour we settle down next to the gravestone of a Bostonian dry-goods seller who, in his spare time, wrote popular stories in the dialect spoken by the many German immigrants of the 19th century. Here, children learn how to bind books – we use a lightweight card stock for the cover and fold white printing paper for pages. Cover and pages are tied together with colorful ribbon threaded through holes punched at the spine. After constructing their own book, our students have decorated the cover and filled the pages with drawings, leaf collections, collages, written stories and their own poetry.

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