When a Grade 2/3 teacher at Pauline Junior Public School informed Story Planet, the nonprofit running a three-day workshop in her class, that she needed to cover three curriculum requirements: the study of urban and rural communities, poetry and collage, it was clear to the workshop team what needed to be done:
1. Inform the students that an emissary alien is stopping by Earth to determine the best places to live. 2. Have the class write descriptions of their ideal communities, but in verse, to accommodate this particular strain of aliens, who can only understand poetry, and 3. In case of transmission errors, get students to supplement their poems with expressive collages. Messages would be sent to the alien’s home planet via an Intergalactic Fax Machine, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a toaster. The communiqués from space, also composed in rhyme, would pop out the other side, and the students could then read them aloud.
And, that’s what they did. Facilitated by Story Planet’s program coordinator Katherine Roy, poet Rob Weston and artist Hazel Meyer, plus volunteers, the workshop launched the students into full creative expression, while tweaking key literacy skills and dabbling in multiple artistic mediums.
This experience, of education embedded in zany, tactile fun, demonstrates Story Planet’s mandate to a T: to inspire children and give them the tools to become effective communicators.
“We find bridges that let kids see that writing is a really cool, neat, fun way to express themselves. We’ll bring in an artist to create a really ridiculous character, maybe out of clay or paint, and say to the kids, ‘Who is this guy? What do you think he does?’ That’s a trigger for them to want to tell a story. As opposed to saying, ‘Hey Billy, write a story,’ ” explains Liz Haines, director and founder of Story Planet, while sitting in the organization’s new, first-ever office space.
Composed of four staff and a cast of volunteers, Story Planet has run workshops in Toronto schools and community centres since 2009, and gained official charity status last July. They procured a storefront at Bloor and Dufferin in November, and several weeks ago opened a coffee shop — the social enterprise that will funnel money into the nonprofit.