Language & autism (4)
Language & gender (4)
Selective mutism (3)
Developing children's communication (8)
Children's emotions (5)
Children and introversion (2)
High sensitivity (2)
Language & maths (3)
Improving adult communication (3)
Children and ICT (2)
Children & sleep (2)
Improving storytime & assembly (2)
Building vocabulary (3)

Bad Breath!
Understanding mood swings
The silent phase of EAL
Overcoming stage fright
Food poverty/language poverty
Children and trains
Speech sounds
Nelson Mandela tribute
Combating low self-esteem
Children and colour
Men and childcare
Non-verbal communication
Language and autism
'Small talk'
Children's behaviour
Music and feelings
Spelling problems
Describing children accurately
Sharing books with children
Singing and language

Dances with Sheep: or children’s role play in the digital age. With help from Ray Charles, Kevin Costner and Ghita the Digital Shepherd!

Date posted: Saturday 25th January 2014

Have you ever wondered what men get up to when they are lonely, far away from home and surrounded by a flock of sheep? Now, finally, I can confirm the awful truth.

Dances with Wolves
Dances with Smartphone

Sheep have played a part in rural life for centuries, and have found their way into mythology, legends, literature and stories for children. Think Jason and the Golden FleeceFar From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, The Boy Who Cried Wolf and even Shaun the Sheep. Transhumance, the seasonal migration of people with their flocks of sheep or herds of cattle in search of fresh pasture, is the stuff of legend, as well as being a big feature in American Westerns. Let’s take Dances With Wolves as an example. Kevin Costner took a huge risk when he bought the rights for this film, then produced, directed and starred in it. In 1990 there hadn’t been a hit movie based on life in the 19th century American West for quite some time. It was his directorial debut, and much of the film’s dialogue was to be in the Sioux Lakota language, with English subtitles. Add 6,000 rampaging buffalo (including two tame ones belonging to Neil Young), vast outdoor locations with untrained wolves, and you have a potential turkey on your hands. Kevin pulled it off though, and the film was a massive success.

In Dances With Wolves Costner was determined to go for authenticity at all costs. He paid special attention to the Lakota dialogue. There was some debate among Native American scholars about whether he got it right or not, but the general feeling within the Lakota-speaking Sioux Nation was that Kevin had done a good job. I had a friend who had Lakota ancestry, who told me that this film was in sharp contrast to earlier Western movies featuring Native Americans. You could go to a drive-in to watch one of these films and hear Native Americans in the audience laughing their heads off every time Native American actors spoke. In one notorious scene, which went unnoticed by the film company for many years, John Wayne sees some smoke signals in the distance. He says to his Apache scout (who is really a Lakota Sioux dressed up), “What do those signals say?” The scout translates out loud to himself in Lakota and then says to John Wayne, “Many pale faces approaching.” There was uproar among audiences, because what the scout had really said in his own language was, ‘Tell the Pale Face next to you that his winky is even smaller than General Custer’s”!


Ghita Ciobanul; AKA Ghita the Shepherd

Let’s switch to present-day Romania and meet Ghita Ciobanul. Ghita is a shepherd who spends most of the year high up in the mountains with his huge flock of sheep. It’s a lonely life and sometimes he yearns for the company of other human beings (even the lads who have given him the wicked nickname Ghita the Shepherd). Ghita has become famous in Romania as the focus of a Vodaphone advertising campaign. Vodaphone has set out to transform the lives of countless Romanians living in isolated villages, by increasing their internet access. So now Ghita can do what all lonely men do when they are far away from home: check his emails, update his Facebook page and add photos of important things; like his dogs and his meal of traditional shepherd’s bread, mutton, sheep’s cheese and sheep’s yoghurt. Oh and don’t let me forget, Ghita also likes to film himself having fun with sheep. Hopefully Ghita’s woolly friends find it just as hilarious as he does when he dances with them, (“He’s got no rhythm. He daaances just like my daaad when he’s druuuunk at weddings” etc. etc.)

Ghita has become something of a media sensation in Romania, and quite rightly so. He has been filmed in discussion with Romania’s Commissioner on agricultural affairs at the EU, who is keen to promote Ghita’s use of digital technology as an example of how IT can transform the lives of people living in Romania’s vast rural heartland.

Ghita Ciobanul, AKA Dances with Sheep: in touch with the world (while wearing an incredible hat)

Ghita the Shepherd: a living legend celebrated in song

Two pieces of technology have revolutionised my working like: my Satnav and smartphone. The iPhone is brilliant for keeping me in touch while I’m on the road, so I can check my emails and reply to them while I am travelling up and down the UK and, increasingly, across the globe. However it can be a bit addictive. Sometimes I used to find myself behaving like Bilbo and Frodo when they are overcome by an urge to slip The Ring on their finger. I just couldn’t stop myself from constantly checking for mail, texts and whether anyone had left a reply to one of my blog posts. At one stage I would be doing a job round the house, like the washing up, and think to myself, ‘I haven’t checked my phone for a few minutes. Maybe I’ve had an email.’

I know I’m not alone in this habit. Sit in a café and you are likely to spot around 75% of the customers doing something with their phone while they are eating. I have to be very firm with delegates on my training courses: emphasising the need for all mobile phones to be switched to silent and put away. But the phones invariably get sneaked back onto the table throughout the day, and you can see people just itching to turn them on. Some parents are clearly addicted to using their smartphones. In all my workshops with parents and their children I check with the organisers about whether or not I can enforce my ‘no phone’ rule with the parents. The usual answer is, ‘We try, but it’s practically impossible to stop parents from looking at their phones.’ I’m not against IT, but we do need to control our behaviour towards it when we are around children, so that they benefit from our undivided attention.

Children use role play in order to explore aspects of everyday life that they have either seen or been involved in. Sometimes they use role play to help them make sense of adult behaviours that seem a bit senseless. Recently I was reading a four-year-old boy a story. It was gripping. I was using all my funny voices, dramatic pausing: the works. Suddenly the little boy fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a rectangular wooden block. He looked at it briefly and then put it back in his pocket.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just checking my emails.”

I had to laugh, because all the little fellow was doing was copying the behaviour of his older role models.

Enough about dancing with sheep and wolves and virtual communication. Let’s watch some people having fun and dancing with each other!

Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers: Let me see you shake your tail feather baby.

Take care out there.


Sign up for Michael's weekly blog post by clicking here!

Share this post!

12 responses to “Dances with Sheep: or children’s role play in the digital age. With help from Ray Charles, Kevin Costner and Ghita the Digital Shepherd!”

  1. Karen says:

    This is hilarious! Great blog Michael!

  2. John Rice says:

    Why do people feel the need to be permanently connected to others? It seems that there’s a deep human desire to be consistently networked. When I was a small child my father was renowned for going ‘walkabout’ during family shopping trips. He had the car keys and my mother couldn’t drive so we could be left abandoned but with the certain knowledge that he’d return within an hour or two – how he found us, I’ll never know! For him (and now me) solitude is an essential aspect of sanity so I don’t always remember to take my mobile phone when I go out…

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi John
      Yes, I know what you mean. I need lots of space on my own, but on the other hand I really enjoy emails and staying in touch. I’m less keen on the phone.
      My concern is when using smartphones becomes addictive, which can happen.
      If I were a Romanian shepherd I think I’d be really pleased to get online every once in a while.
      Thanks for keeping in touch

  3. Carol Adams says:

    I agree with John – why do people feel the need to be constantly in touch with friends and family on the phone. This is often at the detriment of holding a real live conversation with the person standing in front of them. (supermarket checkouts !) In 2007 I had a letter printed in a nursery publication concerning children’s poor communication skills. Even then I was witnessing parents on the phone picking up their children from pre-school without any acknowledgement to the member of staff handing their child over, or worse still, no acknowledgement of their child. 6 years on the situation has deteriorated further along with children’s communication skills. We are convinced few of our families sit together to socialise at meal times as we have a real struggle getting our children to sit at a table whilst eating – many are obviously in the habit of eating on the hoof or in front of the television. Whilst I appreciate family lives are changing surely spending time together with children is a valuable and precious commodity that should not be lost.

    • John Rice says:

      Well said, Carol. We make a concerted effort to sit down together for an evening meal and we try to initiate, and sustain, conversation. We also try hard to initiate table manners. Having experienced how many school children now eat (stick your fork into something and eat around it like a lollipop!) it can feel like an uphill struggle to make daughter no.2 comply. Perhaps I’m just showing my age and middle class snobbery but eating and conversing in a civilised manner is surely basic to becoming a sociable adult.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Hi John and Carol. the words ‘can’ and ‘worms’ spring to mind here!
        These norms are very important, but they vary from home to home and country to country, as we know. I was visiting a day nursery once and was talking with the children at the table at lunch. An adult told the children to ‘be quiet and eat your food’. I was working in a special school in Bangkok a few years ago and again was sharing lunch with the children. I could see that they were very bothered about me and giving me some very anxious looks. I spoke to the staff about this afterwards. Was I talking too much? Were the children not used to being with an adult at lunchtimes? No. It is traditional in Thailand to eat with a spoon, and the children were shocked at my poor table manners, as I was using a knife and fork to eat!
        When I was little my mum was very insistent on us holding our knives and forks ‘properly’. One day an aunt came to visit and we noticed that she was holding her knife in a very unusual way (as you would a pen or pencil). After she had left I immediately asked my mum about Auntie’s strange knife handling. My mum’s explanation was, “Auntie Joan is from Scarborough”.
        What to do?!!

        • John Rice says:

          An interesting point. Acceptable norms and the parameters thereof will depend upon the social and historical context. We would no doubt shudder if presented with table manners from the middle ages.

          So, Michael, what conventions of speech have changed over the years? How more or less respectful and courteous are we towards our peers and superiors nowadays, and how does this correlate with communication technologies?

          • Michael Jones says:

            Hi John
            I use a lot of email, and I find this a very useful, even indispensable way of communicating. One thing I have noticed is how informal it can be. I always think how I am going to address someone on my email if I don’t know them or am emailing them for the first time. I might start with ‘Dear’ or ‘Hello’, but not usually with ‘Hi.’ If they reply with Hello/Hi then I will respond in the same way. This is very helpful when writing to someone on LinkedIn who has described themselves as Dr so and so, and when emailing head teachers for the first time.
            I’m not a LOL person and don’t go in for smiley face/sad face icons or 🙂 🙁 or even ;( but there are those that do. I once read in the Radio Times/Daily Mail/Daily Express/Readers Digest letters pages (they are all dominated by curmudgeons as far as I can see) someone raging about the use of ‘Hi’ in emails (closely followed by another equally incandescent letter about ‘the proliferation of MPs called Mike, Tony, Geoff and Chris).
            personally, I can’t stand curmudgeons. There are too many of them these days and they are what is bringing this country to its knees. The rot set in when we joined the EU and went decimal.

  4. Re ICT information highway(remember that)etc. Here’s the thing, we(of a certain age) are all migrants to this world. People under 18 are natives. So our opinions on what constitutes appropriate use of information /communication devices have radically different slants.
    One of the most incredibly brilliant bits of advertising I remember was contained within the launch of the ipad. The phrase “You already know how to use it” applied to a brand new piece of technology struck me as amazing.
    BUT us migrants to ICT land can also get very addicted, witness Michael’s “obsessive” email checking. The only difference is that we can vaguely remember a time when we weren’t so hooked (up.)
    I remember a conversation with my son(aged 14 at the time, 6 years ago) after he had mastered Logic a music making Mac programme, extremely quickly and exceptionally well. “No one taught me, I just seemed to know how it works” My guilt at watching him pound away at the Sega mega drive (aged 3) kind of dissolved a bit.
    I have seen young people on the pretend phone for years but my favourite was a young lad trying to “start his car” turning his finger on the side of a tricycle and making that brilliant repetitive noise that a car that won’t start and you know you are gradually wearing down the battery down and will have to walk to work, makes. I could almost see his Dad’s ratty old escort Mk2 in front of me as he played so imaginatively

    Pip Pip

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Tim! I had the same experience when I couldn’t work out how to do something with a new program. My step daughter sorted the whole thing out in no time. When I asked her how she could work out how to operate the program without even looking at any instructions, she said (in the nicest possible way), ‘It’s a generational thing, Michael. I’ve grown up with IT so it all makes sense.’
      I love your story about the little boy with the car and his finger.
      As a ‘typical man’ I will have to try and trump your story.
      I watched my neighbour’s four year old son ‘helping’ his dad fix something under the bonnet of the family car. Little Tom dipped both hands into a small patch of oil, rubbed his hands together and wiped the oil on his trousers. His mum was furious. “What the heck are you doing? Those trousers were clean on this morning, etc. etc” Tom looked at his mum in the same way that Dani looked at me: “Mum, I’m being a man fixing a car”.
      Next post features Talking heads and Lynyrd Skynyrd!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *