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The Stories of the Pumpkin, the Little Salamander and the Soup of Stones—Creative Ideas for Parenting Education on Sustainable Living

Fourteen Rats Plant a Pumpkin
The picture story book, Fourteen Rats Plant a Pumpkin.

Information provided by Zhou Ya (Founder of Sanlidou Parenting Workshop)
Written by May Tam (Communications Officer, PCD)

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Fourteen Rats Plant a Pumpkin
The picture story book, Fourteen Rats Plant a Pumpkin. (Sanlidou)
Children draw and create animals of the forest
In a storytelling session, children draw and create animals of the forest.
(Sanlidou)
The little salamander that the children have created takes a sunbath on a rock
In a storytelling session, the little salamander that the children have created takes a sunbath on a rock. (Sanlidou)
The birds that the children have made look for insects for food
The birds that the children have made look for insects for food. (Sanlidou)
A little bird created by the children flies up in the air
A little bird created by the children flies up in the air.
(Sanlidou)
Two scarfs are used to make a circle resembling the big wok
In telling the story of the Soup of Stones, two scarfs are used to make a circle resembling the big wok. 
(Sanlidou)

The life of a child mainly involves eating, drinking, playing, learning and being cared for and loved by the parents. It is not easy for a child to understand what sustainable living is, or the importance of a harmonious coexistence of human beings and nature, among human beings and between individuals and the community. In Guangzhou, however, Sanlidou (meaning three beans) Parenting Workshop, an organisation for public welfare, has been trying to plant these ideas in the minds of children through various forms of storytelling. Not only are the messages of the stories clear and easy to understand, they are also very funny and interesting.

Transmitting messages of sustainable living through storytelling

Sanlidou conducts parental storytelling activities adopting multiple artistic approaches. Urban sustainable living issues are integrated into the storytelling. For example, popular picture story books are selected and the stories are interpreted and related in the context of sustainable living. Sometimes, games, drawing, dramas and music are also used to tell stories. Artistic approaches in storytelling build a safe, playful and interesting atmosphere that helps the participating children to become absorbed in the present moment and gain different feelings and experiences. PCD has been funding Sanlidou's activities and supporting its initiatives to transmit messages of sustainable living to parents and children.

Sanlidou regards storytelling as a kind of public education and advocacy with a starting point of cultivating knowledge, feelings and actions. Not only children are targetted; parents are also required to participate, so that the agenda of the stories can enter families. Many of Sanlidou’s stories are on the theme of food. The following three interesting stories are good examples.

Fourteen rats plant a pumpkin

This is a picture story book for children. Since the day the rats planted a pumpkin seed, they have been patiently watching over and caring for the young seedling. They chat with the pumpkin plant and endure the wind and the rain together with it. When it is finally harvest time, they hold a feast of pumpkins, sharing the harvest with their family and with nature.

What one eats, how one eats and with whom one shares the food are expressions of our attitude towards life and family, as well as an expression of our commitment to local culture and traditions. From the story, we see how beautiful it is when everyone in a big family takes part in doing something together. After the storytelling activity, each participating child receives pumpkin seeds which he/she can plant at home and watch growing.

Before telling the story, there are some interesting warm-up exercises. A drama about how a plant grows is played out by the children.

Little salamander returns to the forest

This is a story created by the children together when a story is told about the forest. Each child interprets and plays one sound of the forest and draws an animal. By so doing, children improvise a story about how human beings get along with nature. The story is about a small boy who brings a salamander home from the forest. Under the guidance of his mother, the boy considers where the little salamander should sleep, where it should play and what it should eat. He invites other small salamanders, birds and frogs to come to play with it. In the end, he imagines that his home has no roof and there are many trees. He imagines that he sleeps with the little salamander under a sky full of stars and plays with it next to a pond around which the birds fly freely. In this way we see how the children learn the story of the whole forest beginning from their love and concern for the little salamander.

The monks cook a soup of stones

This is also a story about sharing and giving. Three monks arrive in a village which has gone through many hardships. The hearts of the villagers have hardened because of years of deprivation. They are both inhospitable and stingy. The monks beg for food in the village but receive nothing. They then start to make a soup with stones. The villagers are curious. The monks tell them they are making a soup with stones but they need a bigger pot. A villager says he has a big pot at home. The monks want to add pepper, and another villager says he has some. Since all the villagers want to taste the soup of stones, everyone contributes something. In the end the villagers and the monks have a good feast and the villagers realise that the more one gives, the more one receives.

The story is told in a very vivid way and there are interactive activities so that the children may take part in creating the story. The storytelling begins with a 'bumper harvest dance'. Then the children use pastels to draw the food that they grow themselves. The food that they draw is included in the story and is added into the soup of stones.

Bit by bit, the minds of the children are nourished as they experience the relationship between food and nature, the delight and joy brought by nature and the beauty of a harmonious relationship among human beings.

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