Do you remember, as a child, making Fortune Tellers out of intricately folded paper? Dunno about you but we pre-teens used them to tease one another about our destinies: mode of transport, type of job, and yeah, love interest. I’ve heard Origamists call them flowers but to my mind they better resemble a beak because of the way they open and close when one manipulates them.
It occurred to me that it might make a useful story prompt for Village School pupils if the choices were divided into culturally appropriate Character, Setting and Feeling options. It would enable the class to work in groups, clustered around one origami flower – or Story Starter, as I came to call them. Children could create a tale collaboratively, which is the preferred way of working for most San learners. (Co-operation and sharing being survival essentials for hunter-gatherers in a challenging environment.)
I wrote numbers on the outer ‘petals’ of the flower and the Ju|’hoan names of various animals well-known to them on the next layer of quadrants: (porcupine, snake, lion, elephant, etc.) My first model failed due to the children’s lack of literacy. However, they were all intrigued by the mechanics of the paper device and were eager to make their own.
For Story Starter Mach 2, I drew the animals (characters) onto every quadrant, using cartoon style in some instances and a realistic ink drawing in others. (See images below.) I wanted to test whether the illustration style had any effect on visual comprehension. It didn’t. The cartoon lion was perceived as easily as the realistic kudu buck, the cartoon building with a red cross as easily as the more accurately drawn acacia tree.
I found I had to spend too much of the lesson helping pupils with the complicated folding as they tried to make their own Story Starters. Also, to my surprise, all the pupils, even the older ones, struggled with the opening and closing motion (the bird’s beak movement, in other words) in horizontal and vertical planes. This, as you’ll know, is essential for the manipulation of the fortune-teller.
I consulted with Bruce Parcher and Melissa Heckler, both early education specialists who have more than 30 years experience of teaching the San, between them. They felt a degree of fine motor co-ordination was necessary. Could it be that without exposure to the educational toys taken for granted in pre-schools, the San only develop these skills later, they wondered? A research topic perhaps, but in the meantime Melissa suggested a prep. exercise to help the children master the left-right opening action:pulling and pushing the ends of a piece of string. Fortunately I'd brought a bag of invitingly coloured and textured string along.
The third time I ran this creative writing exercise I handed out a length of string to every child. Together we chanted the Ju|’hoan words for close (!’o) and open (!oahn) while we practiced thumb and forefinger co-ordination. Then I handed out a supply of origami flowers made in advance by Melissa Heckler – on her lap, in the passenger seat, as I drove to the Village School. The woman is a paper-folding machine! She produced 20 perfect devices while being shaken like a cocktail over the dirt road corrugations.
Now every child had a chance to try operating the Story Starter and thanks to a chant of "Close-open-close-pull" — !’o !oahn !’o ||hai – it worked well.