Monday, 5 February 2018

The Joy of Puppetry

I can’t help but have a positive feeling when it comes to puppetry, but sometimes world events and politics creep in to take it away. The joy of puppetry is its ability to help us see the world as light-hearted, full of joy and love. In my work I see children having a good time, young people reflecting on life with curiosity and thoughtfulness, adults allowing themselves to ponder on their values and the older generation are given a safe place to discuss their feelings. From this vantage point, I am reminded that most people are kind and funny. I feel it is important to remember that.

Puppetry can also give us space to highlight issues that all ages may be concerned with. We can bring them into the open, examine them, reflect on them and form an opinion as to what action we can take to make a difference. That is truly inspiring and empowering. The unpleasant side of life can seem more bearable when doing something positive about it in some way.

Personal responsibility, for this amazing place we share, can make all the difference. My daughter suggested doing something every day for five minutes that helps the Earth and/or other people. I’m up for giving it a go. Are you?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Telling Stories Through Puppets

Puppets are a great tool for allowing children to express themselves effectively. Communicating through storytelling puppet-style, can be rewarding for all involved. It provides a safe and fun space to listen to and interact with your child.

Children often use a mixture of fantasy and their own experiences when making a puppet story. They like to include things that may hurt, worry or frighten them by projecting them onto the puppet. It is also a lovely time to celebrate the special moments and more positive aspects of life. When puppet storytelling is supported by you, it removes the pressure of dealing with the world alone and is all part of helping your little one to develop into a responsible and happy young adult. We all find ourselves in situations where we are unsure how to respond and this type of enactment helps to encourage control and/or understanding.

Children love to feel that they are in charge of the play. When interacting in this way, please try and listen to their ideas and allow them to guide you. It can be good for you to step back and hand over the role of director. Child-led storytelling can help with confidence building and give a great sense of satisfaction about the finished result.

Decide on a setting:
Select a place (away from other distractions if possible). Make a performance space - e.g. a blanket or sheet over the back of a couple of chairs or peeking over the back of a sofa. Alternatively, just sit with your children and make the puppeteers part of the performance.

 Decide on a style:
Use the puppets you already have or make your own puppets - e.g. shadow puppetry, marionettes, 'Muppet' style, hand/finger puppets or even simple sock puppets. Next comes the fun part as you create your puppet’s character - e.g. a name, a voice and a style of movement.

Decide on a story:
This is a great time to show your children that you value their ideas. Use a piece of paper to make notes or draw pictures with them. It is easier to put their ideas together this way. Try to create a framework of a beginning, middle and an end. Encourage your children to put a crisis or dilemma in the middle section. 'Goodies' and 'Baddies' help make an exciting story too. A happy ending helps to structure the puppet performance for a younger age group, and so remind the children to add one.

Try and aim for something simple, especially in the beginning. Guidelines and a little structure help to focus all involved on a desired outcome. For example, you may give a limited time to devise the play, or you may give them the title of the play and the length it would have to be. These limitations helped you to get moving quickly and it fires up the children’s imaginations. Share the task of setting these up to remind you all that the children also have ownership over these structures.

A stimulus or situation you can refer to helps to create ideas – e.g. looking at a photograph, reading a book, hearing a news story, coming home from a day trip. Use all types of experiences in your creations. Allow the children to have fun with the story and enjoy the processes you are sharing with them.

Some children may want to enlarge on the task of puppet storytelling by creating a play script, a cartoon/comic strip, or by writing a story. A real sense of performance can be experienced by making rehearsal time, printing tickets, colouring in programmes, designing seating plans and cooking interval snacks. What a truly engaging experience that would be! Obviously the level of graft required is not for everyone. Even a five minute plan, a quick try followed by the pièce de résistance is a truly rewarding way of playing alongside your children.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Puppet Activities for the Under Fives

I thought you may enjoy a few puppet activities to try with your little ones. Most of these activities are suitable for children with additional needs or limited mobility. A lot of these also work with family and friends of different ages. Grandparents and children can share these and we’ve also used them with people living with dementia.

Nursery rhymes - puppet style - choose the voice and style and make the puppet tell the nursery rhyme and act it out.

Musical statues - freeze the puppet in a shape or style when the music stops.

Puppet whispers - whisper a silly sentence to the puppeteer and they repeat it through the puppet in the puppet's voice. You have to try not to laugh. If you laugh, the puppeteer wins.

Start a story and then the puppet tells a bit and then you tell a bit more. Try and have a beginning, middle and end. If you can throw in a problem in the middle, it makes the story more exciting. A good way of starting this is to say; ‘let’s…’ and after you have said your sentence, the next person says, ‘and then…’ and you carry on adding ‘and then…’ until it becomes so ridiculous you naturally stop.

Simon says… - Ask the child to do actions when Simon Says. If you don’t start the sentence with Simon Says, (you just say ‘put your hands on your head’) the child has to ignore the action and stay still. If you say Simon Says put your hands on your head, they then do it. For this version, it is the puppet that listens for when Simon Says and the puppet does the action.

Hide the puppet - hide it in a secret place and as they go near it say - "getting warmer, getting very warm, now you're hot, really hot - or getting colder” if they move away from the puppet's hiding place. Celebrate when they find the puppet.

Put a sheet or towel over a couple of chairs to create a puppet theatre and put on a show. You can recreate a story you know (nursery rhyme, traditional tale such as Little Red Riding Hood) a film or TV show or a story from your life (a Christmas gathering, or how mummy and daddy met). Use anything you have around the house for props. We once put on a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk using a toy snake for the beanstalk, a flamingo puppet for the chicken, a ping pong ball for the golden egg and a large teddy bear for the giant. The other puppets used various borrowed hats and tea towels to look the part!

I hope you enjoy these activities. You can ask your children to come up with some ideas too. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017


I am working on a business course in Cambridge to extend my work into this area. What I love about this course is the different emphasis on where the work comes from. Instead of jumping from one project to another and following the funding opportunities, I’m being advised to clearly define what I do (and love to do), determine who will gain value from it and then create a clear pathway to making it happen. This is refreshing and valuable information.

Monster puppets are great for expressing feelings and exploring behaviour because they look a little like us, but are far enough removed to feel safe and fun. We can project our feelings and thoughts onto a puppet such as this, but imagine we are playing and this keeps us light-hearted. I aim to focus on bringing these into businesses as value added mascots and personality type avatars. This has developed from other business courses I’ve run where the focus was conflict management and assertiveness training.

The more I use monster puppets to work with children and young people, the more I see evidence that exploring feelings and behaviours in a light-hearted manner is where the biggest growth and understanding happens. It is as if we learn about ourselves in spite of our ego and desire to control our thoughts. Our inner self is allowed to come forward through the medium of puppetry and this creates an honest, deep rooted response to situations and occurrences that may worry us and bring up fear. Keeping the energy light and playful, allows us to think outside the box and come up with solutions that will work for the individuals in the room. The fact that solutions may be different for each of us, is made safe by putting them onto the monster puppet and keeping a third party indifference. Of course we can then take the information on board in a more personal way when we leave the session. 

For younger children, we often end the workshop by having a quiet 'sleep' with our monsters where we whisper in our puppet's ear what we found helpful today and our puppet can whisper back what it thinks will help us moving forward. This quiet, personal time with a puppet is where the reflection and transference can happen in a safe and non-judgemental way. I’m not sure I’ll get away with trying this in the business world, but I have a feeling we’ll observe people playing around with their creations and interacting with work colleagues in a different way. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Please contact me if you would like more details –

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Core Muscles and Puppet Play

I didn’t realise how children’s core muscles could affect so much of their learning. My sister is a deputy head for an infant school and we were chatting about the children this half term. She was explaining how some children can’t roll anymore (not tumble turn, I mean by making your body long and rolling sideways) as their core muscles are weak. Weak muscles, especially the core ones, affect how they write, how they make things and how they use their bodies in sport and play.

Could it be the increase of using technology, or the way parents protect their children from harm during outside play? Could it be a fear of risk for both children and adults? Do we develop core muscles through unrestricted play, or through organised sport for the under tens? I’m assuming it is doing both that keeps bodies strong. I know from experience that the recklessness of some child centered play is good for the body. We quickly change direction, reach for things away from us, climb things where our legs have to reach further up or down. Jump, stretch, lean out and balance in a haphazard way. I can imagine that would do great things for core muscles.

I am putting a book together for parents and carers to use when they want to use puppets. I have included details on how to bring puppets alive and what to do with them as a communication tool. I have a chapter on activities we can be involved in with puppets and I’m now adding a section on physical games to help our children’s bodies to be strong. I’ll also add some training games on how to hang up your coat or use a toilet as these are other self-reliant activities that are important to master. As always, I believe we can do so much through our puppets and play. Working a puppet properly demands strong arms, relaxed shoulders and a stomach that can help hold the puppet weight and make the manipulation look good. A good place to start is with fun activities where we play with these skills. I'm taking this advice too as our new monster puppets are quite big and heavy - thank goodness for yoga!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Covent Garden Puppet Festival

We had a lot of fun at this puppet festival to celebrate Punch's birthday on May Day. This is Harry puppet and me being part of the puppet parade all around Covent Garden. I made Harry using similar techniques to my dog puppets but with a different face. His eyes are table tennis balls and he has a fully working mouth. I have three more of these in production for our workshops. Two of them will be part of our Sunny Saturday performance in the summer. I can't wait.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Sock Puppets Galore

I couldn't resist adding this picture to the blog. These socks were made by one extended family during a spring fair in Berkshire. They sat at the making table having a chat while working at these sock puppets. The children ranged from under one to teenager and the adults made socks too (too shy to be in the photo). What I love about these fairs is the diverse range of puppet makers that visit my table and the vast array of puppets that are made. I'm guessing I've observed thousands of socks turning into puppets and unless by design, not one has been replicated - how cool is that! The talk that naturally happens, the joy of creation and the fun of bringing a puppet to life make these days very special. A bit of sunshine goes a long way too.