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The Possibility Tree

Bamboo leaf canopy
Photographer: kazuend | Source: Unsplash

If you close your eyes and come for a walk in the woods, you’ll wander along a narrow dirt path that winds its way through the tall pines. Sunlight breaks through the leaves overhead choreographing a ballet dance of shadow on the floor ahead. You can hear the trees whispering in the breeze, a soft sound that seems loud all at the same time. There’s a little laughing stream that you hop over as it makes its way downwards from the hidden spring and on towards to the sea, and then you’ll splash through the Great Big Puddle that dozes in the shade of the high banks that run along its edge. And then and only then, you’ll come to a very special place: the home of the Possibility Tree.

The Possibility Tree has lived in the wood for Many Moons. It is steeped in magic and mystery, and the animals of the wood revere it, often gathering to gaze up into its wizened branches, waiting to see if the tree will share its wisdom with them.

The real magic of the Possibility Tree is that it doesn’t stay in this wood — it can move and yes, it can come to your setting the moment you story-dream it. And it comes because it can offer us huge potential over the top of our existing provision.

We can often get trapped in the narrative that we have to talk with children about their play or ask them questions to further their learning. This can end up turning us into the Grand Inquisitor of Play, scratching around trying to find things to talk to children about or reaching for printed word banks in different areas, as though only certain words belong in certain places. I believe that language needs to be liberated from this kind of practice and that the world of make-believe can enable us to do so, leading us to chat with authenticity and wonder.

The joy of the Possibility Tree is that its concept is based firmly in the joy of language and its playground. We can reach up into the branches of the Possibility Tree and pull down all manner of possibilities to chat about with children. The Possibility Tree is an imaginary one of course, but its ability to bring an added dimension to chat can be very real indeed.

We have to imagine ourselves reaching up into the branches and pulling down three things: a character(s), a place and an action. We then ask children about the possibility of it happening by ‘wondering out loud’ about a scenario that involves all three and at the same time weaving the playground of language within our wondering.

Examples might be:

“I wonder it a chicken can zoom on a rusty rocket to the Moon?”

“I’m thinking that a shiny kettle can sing the alphabet backwards while jigging in pyjamas?”

“Do you think that Humpty Dumpty rolls to the corner shop and buys a chocolate bar and then gobbles it all down?”

“I wonder if a teeny mouse can eat a gigantic slice of cheese while riding on a bicycle?”

Hopefully you can see the potential for how the nonsensical can lean into the world of children and bring story, imagination and wonder into their day very simply and with little over-planning.

And of course, you could sprinkle some simple mathematics over it all too by asking what the possibility of the nonsense happening is. You could suggest a number to match how possible you think it might be. “I think the possibility of a chicken zooming to the Moon is an 8. I wonder what you think?”

[%ADVERT%]

I’ve found the more improbable my wondering is, the more children respond because they have a ‘sense for non-sense’. They can often take this nonsense into their play, exactly where it belongs, and it can act as a catalyst for all kinds of creativity, further story dreaming, wonder and chat. The more we pluck from the Possibility Tree, the more the possibilities grow, simply because it echoes the spirit of play with all its maybes, what ifs and explorations.

And yes, we know it’s not a real tree, but I reckon lots of you saw it in your heads when I first mentioned it, and I’m pretty sure you imagined its branches high above you, as well as a rabbit, a fox and maybe even a mouse beside you. I wonder what the possibility of that was?

Greg Bottrill is the author of “Can I Go Play Now”