Two scarecrows, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay, had the wedding of their dreams thanks to children at Everton Nursery School in Liverpool.
It was a chance meeting – the three- and four-year-olds only came across the happy couple when their interest was sparked by the picture of a Julia Donaldson book they had not read. Their teacher, Faye O’Connor, helped them to look up the book, The Scarecrows’ Wedding, online, check what it cost and buy it.
‘The children were captivated by the story and especially by the scarecrows, which they found enchanting,’ explains Ms O’Connor. ‘The characters are very endearing, and I think the children felt empathy for them and wanted the story of Betty and Harry to prevail. It includes humour, a happy ending, but also an element of danger, which they found gripping.’
Children in the inner-city nursery were intrigued by the scarecrow characters and they discussed what scarecrows are and what they are used for. They spoke about what weddings are and looked in detail at specific words used in the book.
‘Rather than shying away from storytelling language, we embrace it and use it as a learning opportunity,’ explains Ms O’Connor. ‘This book gave us the opportunity to sit and explore and digest new words. A bucket is described as a “pail”, so we discussed what it might be. A few of the children said that they’d heard it before and made the link to the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. Later on, we collected rose petals and the children said that they were putting them in a pail.’
They linked the book to scarecrows in other media and watched a clip of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz singing ‘If I only had a brain’, with the children discussing how he would have no memory with just hay in his head. They also had fun learning the lyrics and dance routine for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’ and took the lyrics home to perform for their parents.
The nursery has a woodwork room and it was decided that they would make their own scarecrows.
‘We looked in books and used the internet to find out how to make scarecrows and all learnt together. The children were all very engaged and motivated and had a few attempts to make the scarecrows. They opted to fill them with newspaper and dressed them in clothes from lost property. We are an eco-school and the children are aware of utilising reusable resources,’ Ms O’Connor says.
‘There were a lot of maths concepts involved in making the scarecrows as children discussed measurements and shape and handled the woodwork tools to create the cross to hold the scarecrows.’
The parent of a child attending the nursery has recently got engaged and the boy suggested that their scarecrow couple should also have a wedding. Everyone got involved in the wedding preparations, including designing and writing the wedding invitations to deliver to the nursery class next door.
‘The book is based around a list and the children wrote their own lists and drew maps of where they could find the different items, such as a tree in the nursery grounds that drops pink petals, a bell from the music room and curtain rings from the investigation room to use as wedding rings,’ says Ms O’Connor.
‘The children also created their own lists of what they’d like at the wedding, such as flags, confetti, food and music. They decided that they would all make hats to wear during the ceremony.’
The children were familiar with invitations from birthday parties and linked lists to shopping and Christmas present lists. ‘It was good that we were able to explore all different genres of writing used in various contexts from song lyrics to lists and invitations,’ Ms O’Connor says.
The nursery school uses Twitter as a platform to share practice and learning with parents and other schools. Through seeing the preparations on Twitter, a parent donated a pair of white shoes for the bride, another brought in a bunch of roses and others shared their own wedding photos.
Ms O’Connor prepared a Powerpoint presentation of ‘talking images’ to share with the children during circle time. These images were of marriage ceremonies from different cultures.
‘We allow the children time to look closely at images and talk aloud about what they see – the role of the adult is to scaffold the vocabulary,’ she explains. ‘Some children thought that only scarecrows get married, but others made links to family experiences and popular children’s movies about how it happens to grown-ups. The children explored images of weddings worldwide, embracing culture and diversity, and explored the concept of similarities and differences.’
They discussed the farm setting for the book and decided to hold their scarecrows’ wedding in their Forest School area because it looks similar. Children decorated the area with flags, used a trolley as a wedding car for the scarecrows and they sang ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’ during the ceremony.
‘It was a wonderful learning experience, a very small seed that opened up a big pool of learning that is still ongoing. I even took the opportunity to discuss fire safety with children because a scarecrow drops a cigar in the book,’ Ms O’Connor says.
‘The learning involved indoor and outdoor multisensory experiences, engaging children with different interests, from children who like to bake making the wedding food to others using their woodwork skills to make the scarecrows.’
Children continue to recall and reread Julia Donaldson’s book, as well as visiting Betty and Harry, the happy scarecrow couple, who are residing in married bliss in the Forest School area.
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