Friday, 21 January 2011

Puppet work with children

Puppets work with children.

I have something to own up to, I own far too many puppets.  Finger puppets, story glove puppets, hand puppets, arm size puppets, sit on your knee puppets, size of a 5 year old size puppets and even a few marionette puppets.

It all stems from my soft toy collection.  I have always loved soft toys, the way they are cuddly and comforting, the way they love you no matter what, the way they look at you with their doe eyes, the way you can act our an idealistic life with them.  I always thought that said a lot about my childhood; but unless I'm deluded about my own parenting skills and my relationship with Rachel I now doubt that since she also adores soft toys.  I now think we love soft toys because of our desire to nurture, to love and be loved.  Anyway, that's a sideline.

I had well over a thousand soft toys by the time I felt home.  I finally, at Mikes insistence, gave about 900 to charity, keeping my hundred favourites including my childhood lovey panda and all the ones Mike had given me.  You have no idea how hard that was, sad but true.  And then, many years later, Rachel came along and unsurprisingly I loved buying her soft toys.  But it's pretty much(ish) under control.

I know what you're thinking....what's that got to do with puppets?

I kept all my hand and finger puppets and marionettes.  Rachel had some story hand puppets and some other animal puppets. We played with them a lot.  Then I went to a puppet workshop, it looked interesting and I thought it might be useful at church, at pre-school, with Rachel and with my work with kids.  And it was one of the best courses I've been to.  We made sock puppets (oh yes, I have a few of them too) and had a go with life sized puppets and I realised how fantastically they help people communicate and open up.

I bought my first puppet the next day, an arm sized one, and practised in front of the mirror and with Rachel.  Since then I have bought a donkey, a dog, a large woman (Linda), a smaller mum and her daughter.  I use them to enhance sermons, to help at Sunday school and to tell stories; and they are great fun and work well and often requested by kids.

But the thing I most love to use puppets for us working with children who are finding it hard to communicate.  In this work I use the puppets in three main ways:

1- I work the puppet and usually start off with the puppet being shy; quickly the child will start to engage, wanting to know the puppets name. I then let the child lead the interaction.  Perhaps the first time we stay superficial and then next time we get a little deeper.  Perhaps the child asks questions of the puppet which are questions they really want to answer themselves.  Perhaps it takes a few sessions, perhaps it's immediate, I go with the flow.

2- I let the child take control of the puppet.  I might also have control of another puppet, or maybe not; depends on the child and the situation.  This can be just what a child needs to speak the words and feelings through the puppet that they otherwise couldn't.

3- I let a child, or a child and me, or a group of children take control of a "family" of puppets.  I have a family that fit on fingers (they're a bit more than finger puppets though), and enough hand puppets to create a family of animals.  On a one to one basis it allows a child to show how their family interacts now, and/or how they see their ideal family to be.  As a group it can allow children to show how friendships are or could be, allowing issues such as bullying to be thought about.

Puppets are neutral, non threatening, cuddly, controllable.  They are great story tellers.  But most powerfully, if used properly following training, they are a safe place for children to open up, share and work through issues and experiences.  I am pleased my cuddly you obsession led me to puppets, it's an honour to work with them.  

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