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The giraffe with the orange belly button that lives in Avril’s house


Tuesday 27 November 2018

If you happen to pass by the door of our pre-school at lunch time, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a mad house. Screams of laughter can be heard as the children take turns to add their bit to a story… a story that started in September and will finish sometime in June/July of next year. This story cannot be found in a book, as it has developed from the children’s imaginations. This certainly isn’t a planned story, there definitely isn’t a beginning, middle or end to it. I would go as far to say that there often isn’t any logic to it… but it’s our story.

Let me explain, it all started one foggy night when a giraffe with an orange belly button burst into my house, went straight up the stairs, sat on the toilet with its head out the bathroom window and refused to leave. That has sparked an influx of animals who arrive at the oddest of times to stay. Luckily enough Paddy the Garda, a character the children love, tends to appear every so often to keep some sense of order on the animals. He has been known to go after them in his squad car when they decide to go on their many adventures in a bus driven by a monkey. Shhhhhhh, can you hear the quiet tapping on the door? Oh no, it’s Leo the leprechaun who lives at the bottom of the garden…. who’s that with him? … Ahhhhh it’s a hippopotamus. When I ask the children ‘where will the hippopotamus sleep?' one of the children says with a big smile on his face ‘In the bath beside the giraffe with the orange belly button’ and so it continues.

Storytelling has become an integral part of our day, usually as the children sit down to lunch. ‘Can you tell us a story about the animals that live in your house Avril?’, is generally how it begins. Indeed, the magical part of it all is the children’s input, their sense of wonder and awe as one girl, with a twinkle in her eye, tells us how the giraffe broke into her house in the middle of the night, stole her lipstick, put it on, wore her clothes, ate all the furniture and even the whole house. ‘No way!’ I’m beginning to wonder is this neighborhood safe at all?

Often a new voice can be heard, the shy quiet child who for weeks has been spotted smiling quietly to her/himself as the antics of the 17 penguins are told. By the way, they decided to sleep in my bed. This has meant I have to sleep on top of the wardrobe with the three ostriches - the happy one, the mad one and the sad one. This once quiet child has found the confidence to add her/his part to the story, sometimes through gestures, their first language or just saying a few random words. A broad smile develops as she/he knows they are listened to and their input has added to the silliness of it all.

Trisha Lee wrote about ‘the wisdom of Vivian Gussin Paley’ and how storytelling engages all children ‘regardless of ability, to develop listening and auditory skills’. It also develops a belief in the importance of the child’s own ‘thoughts and fantasies’, which ‘enhances their confidence and self-esteem’ (Millar & Pound, 2011, p.186). Could it be possible that one of our pre-school children will be the next Vivian Gussin Paley?


Lee, T. (2011) ‘The wisdom of Vivian Gussin Paley’, in Millar, L. & Pound, L. (eds.) Theories and Approaches to Learning in the Early Years. London: Sage Publications Ltd, pp.180-200.


Avril Stanley is a room leader in Sli Burca Childcare, a community-based pre-school and after school service in Galway, for the last 11 years. She started telling stories years ago while babysitting children of a friend, but it only became part of the pre-school children’s day two years ago. Avril has just completed an MA in Early Childhood Studies and has a BA in Early Childhood Studies and Practice from the Centre of Adult Learning and Professional Development NUI Galway.


2 comments Comments

2 Responses

  1. Kylie says:

    love this! I want to be in Avril’s room!

    • Karen Sheridan says:

      Thanks. There is great excitement during storytelling, it’s great to see the children’s confidence and language develop. More importantly it’s fun and silly.

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