Tuesday 21st March heralds World Puppetry Day, which came into action thanks to puppeteer Dzhivada Zolfagari. Although there is not a huge amount of information regarding this particular annual event, my own personal interest of using of puppets as an educational tool motivated me to delve a little deeper into the subject.
Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance involving the manipulation of puppets (an inanimate object), usually taking the form of a personal or an animal. There are a huge variety of different puppets such as finger puppets, sock puppets, hand puppets and the classical Marionettes.
They can be made with a range of diverse materials (from soft fabrics to wood and even paper) and can come in all different shapes and sizes. Typically, the actions, gestures and spoken parts are acted out by the puppets in storytelling, with the help of the puppeteer who manipulates and brings the character to life.
My interest in puppets started when I was a child. I was fascinated by Marionette puppets and the idea of bringing them to life but sadly, I found the strings too difficult to manipulate and it wasn´t until much later when I was formally studying Theatre, Drama and the Arts that my interest was sparked once more.
During my years of formal training, I was given instruction on how to use puppets as well as other theatrical techniques such as mask work. Although this was always used in an adult-context, when I jumped off the beaten path and into terrifying, new waters (teaching!) I could finally put my knowledge into practice and could use the techniques I had studied in the classroom.
The first character I ever used in an educational context was a character from the formal literacy programme Jolly Phonics. He is a lush, red hand puppet called Snake that thankfully, helped me find my way with young Spanish students when I was a novice teacher. I was terrified of my class and, at the time, had no way of communicating with them as my vocabulary was limited to “hello”, “goodbye” and “I´m sorry but I don´t speak Spanish”.
Snake helped me “talk” to my students and along with my drama skills such as gesture, body language and “voice”, life-long love of literacy and stories, songs and a sheer stubbornness to survive, I fell in love with being a teacher. I found that puppets also helped give the children “voices” too. Speaking or interacting with Snake was often easier for young children that talking directly to me (the teacher) and for shy children, it gave them confidence and a means of self-expression.
Puppets also help reinforce creativity in the classroom. You can use them to develop different personalities, for example Kitty is very shy, Fred is bashful and Wolf is one of the main characters in the Three Little Pigs. Puppets are also safe, easy to use and they do not have to be expensive (there are lots of finger puppets templates that you can find by trawling the internet).
I still own and use Snake as he has always been my most popular puppet throughout my career, but many years later I have added to our “puppet family” and apart from my other two Jolly Phonics puppets (Bee and Inky the Mouse), I have a variety of different hand and finger puppets and even picked up some googly eyes that helped me create the Duck, used in order to encourage fine-motor skills and hand movements with young children.
If you are still new to puppetry and are looking for some simple tips on how to use your characters, then why not check out John Harrops´website. John is famous for his use of puppets with ESL-learners and has experience of all different levels, from very young learners to teens and adults! You can find the link to his page below.
Do you use puppets in your classroom or at home? What are your top tips for other educators? Please leave your comments below.