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Durham Greater Toronto Area

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Durham Greater Toronto Area

Matter of Course: Durham English Students Take to the Stage

English course examines storytelling for children through interactive learning

ENGL-2811H: Children’s Literature: Poetry, Picture Books, and Plays
Dr. Stephen Brown

Lullabies, nursey rhymes, skipping songs and picture books. While this may sound like a list of things you would expect to find on a playground, it is also a sample of the reading list for a popular course taught at Trent University Durham GTA by English professor Dr. Stephen Brown.

“The course is designed to re-introduce students to the oral culture of their childhood, before they became literate,” says Professor Brown of Children’s Literature: Poetry, Picture Books, and Plays “We examine lullabies, nursery rhymes, skipping songs, and playground chants, before moving on to picture books, the Winnie the Pooh stories, and the play Peter Pan.”


The dynamic course was brought to the Trent Durham GTA campus to provide more hands-on learning opportunities for future educators. The course explores the inner workings of a child as they appear in the writing, performance, and structure of works designed for young audiences. Through the study of different ways of storytelling for children, students observe the themes and behaviors of various forms of children’s literature.

 “The most valuable part of my learning experience was ‘unlearning’, as Professor Brown says, which is a focus on being in the moment the way a child is instead of over-analyzing,” explains second year English Literature student Jessica Watters. “After taking many other English courses, this course trained us to focus less on analyzing literature from a student’s perspective and instead take a step back and focus on the sound of the story and the physical appearance of the story. In other words, it was a lesson in seeing a book as an experience and an object which you can interact with in many different ways”

For the final assignment, students are tasked with writing and performing a short children’s play that delved into a sense of space, relationship dynamics, verbal expression, and many other things taught over the semester. Each group performed original pieces ranging from children fighting in the car, to the mysteries of a dark attic, to the transformational imagination of a child changing their very surroundings. This task allowed students to broaden their perspective of the way children receive and express themselves in a creative manner.

“The final assignment for the course,” explains Prof. Brown, “in which students in groups of five evolve a short ‘play’ through improvisation and embodiment, is inspired by Canadian poet Dennis Lee's observations that a poem is about doing, acting out, and that it should ‘make sense to the tongue and the ear, but not necessarily the mind’.”

Learn more about Trent’s English department.

Posted on December 11, 2018