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.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Do soft toys become the kind voice in our heads as adults?



The monsters are particularly fluffy right now and I think it's because February has been cold and we are ready for spring. The need to snuggle has been great and I find that when the faux fur is this soft and thick, working the puppet can bring some new emotions with it.

I've noticed that both adults and children use softer voices and kinder words with these beasties. It reminds me of seeing small children using their special soft toy to comfort them when they need reassurance. Have you heard a small child make their teddy bear say something kind and sweet in a singsong voice? I think about myself now I am an adult and how I sometimes call myself Jojo with my inner voice when I'm about to do something scary; - "Come on Jojo, you can do it!" I've even said daft things to myself like: "Its okay, we're in it together!" As if I have a friend with me somewhere inside. I wonder if we internalise the support we feel from soft toys as youngsters with a gentle, kind voice that comes from within? I guess it is the opposite to the harsher, parental voice that sometimes tells us we are rubbish, or stupid, or other unkind words that we may have heard from others when we were children (I see this played out with puppets too). I wonder if everyone has the kind and unkind voices in their head and their dominance is due to the type of upbringing they had? I think I need to look into this in more depth.

One way I feel very lucky, is if I have to give a talk to a large audience, or I'm feeling nervous about a workshop for some reason, I'm in the privileged position to use a fluffy dog (usually my beloved Meatballs puppet) or a super soft monster in my introduction. I'll tell you its because I can show the magic of these creations better than just talking about it, but the truth is that I needed the physical comfort of a puppet alongside the kind voice in my head. Maybe giving up our soft friends as we grow up is over rated. I'll broach the subject in my next teenage workshop and see what they think.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fun with Puppets



There is a lot of serious talk going on right now in the news and we must remember that our children are listening and observing. This is where play can help us to talk and reflect on our feelings about it all. When the news is gloomy, we can become over anxious and worried about what will happen. Imagine how dis-empowered children and young people can feel. I know play doesn't solve everything, but it can make us all feel better.

Playing with puppets enables the focus to be on the puppet which creates a safe space to openly think about what is bothering us, or to play out situations that are around us. Make-believe play is perfect for this. With young children you can let them lead the situation and narrate what is happening, alongside using the puppets to play the characters. Sometimes you can step out of the play and leave them too it, especially in a larger group. Your role can be to duck back into the play to add information or to move the story along, but the less you do the better.

With young people, you can use puppets in a silly, fun way to create short films and use humour to express what is happening. Just talking with puppets can be funny and poignant if you are respectful and light-hearted. Just pick a topic to discuss and communicate through your puppet. Look at the puppet and then look at the other person's puppet for a response. Keep all eye contact on the puppets and respond with thoughtfulness. Don't forget to listen to the response too. It is very effective.

Sometimes we need to lighten up and have some fun. All this seriousness is not good for the body and mind. Play in any way that suits you. I like to think we have the capacity to be child-like, which is important when so many are being childish right now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Diversity in the Arts

On Friday, I attended an interesting conference at East Anglia University, concerning diversity. The question of how to create art for all was asked in many ways and by experts in their field, but the overwhelming feeling was to be welcoming and to make your art accessible for the audience. Within business, I am often asked 'who is your audience? I am advised to have a perfect customer in my head in order to market to that person. Who will buy my puppets or/and attend a workshop? I would love to say, 'anyone who will gain value by what we do', but is that enough? How can we make everyone feel welcome and know that the value is for them? How do we create that value?

I remember working with teenage girls where we were creating shadow puppets for a performance later in the day. It was a community festival and the theme was to explore culture through traditional stories. Interestingly, while we were making the puppets, the discussion was all about empowering women through story (linked to the performance) and we openly discussed the participants' own experience because our attention was on puppet making. The workshop became a place to express opinions and feelings that we wanted to share, where we could discuss actions and ideas to help other people and ourselves feel empowered within our communities. An element of this was brought into our story which we told with passion and a feeling of togetherness that wouldn't have happened without the discussion that preceded it.

We didn't start the day knowing that the process of creating story would lead to such a worthwhile and open discussion and the feeling that we all gained value through this shared experience. These girls taught me so much about their beliefs and where their feelings and views sat within this framework. Hopefully they felt I had something to contribute too. Is this art through diversity, or just people coming together and sharing something special? Is there a difference between the two? Respect, consideration and accessibility are surely starting points, with open dialogue and understanding coming a close second. Creating art that explores parts of us and our cultures, enrich our lives and remind us that we are not so different after all. I like the idea of having a universal audience where everyone is welcome - now that's something to aim for.