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The Hand Puppet As An Educational Tool

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The first time I took a hand puppet into the classroom, it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. I thought children would react differently than they did, thought they would all sit quietly in their seats and watch expectantly what I was about to do, I thought they would take the time to listen to my convoluted story of how that puppet came to me.

But they didn’t. Or at least not for more than a few moments. For the first few seconds, I saw eyes get big and corners of the mouth go up, but then chaos ensued. Children started laughing, shouting, asking questions; I also saw a few of them glued to the back of their seats. Those apparently found it a bit scary. I had not taken that into account, so I had to deal with that as well. But how?

A lot came my way that first time I brought a puppet into the classroom. There was a lot I didn’t know how to deal with. How was I supposed to respond to kids who said I did it? What was I supposed to answer when asked how old my puppet was? What was I supposed to do with children jumping in front of me, wanting to touch my puppet, give it kisses, slap it? And what was wisdom when it came to the children being startled by the puppet? How do you address that?

I noticed that some children loved my puppet. At that moment, I didn’t like him at all. Above all, he brought a lot of turmoil and made the children even busier than they were. I thought at the time that you must be made for “something like that,” you must be able to do that, you must have talent for that, you must be “the type” for that. Right?

We are now 30 years on and as of this week, the English translation of my book “The Hand Puppet as an Educational Tool” is available on Amazon Kindle. So that bad start was not the end of my adventure with the hand puppet?

No, that bad start became the beginning of a wonderful journey in which I learned more and more about the special bond children have with a hand puppet and understood better and better where I had gone wrong in the first period with the puppet.

I had looked at the puppet mostly from my perspective, from that what he could do for me to get a child to do that…… but I had not considered the child himself. At how a child sees a puppet, at what exactly makes the child like and spontaneously engage in conversation with it, at what they want to know about a puppet, rather than what I have to say.

I had a one-sided view of the puppet. Knew the puppet mostly from the puppet show and from entertainment and had thought that if I did it similarly as in the puppet show or as in a performance, it would work. And so, I got exactly what I put in. The purpose of puppet show and the purpose of a puppet theater is a different purpose, then the purpose you have with a puppet in your classroom. A puppet you want to use as a tool in your group or with young children that has a different interpretation and different way of doing things, then the puppet from the performance.

But then again, I didn’t know that at the time.

I just knew that something had happened between a child and my puppet, and that I wanted more of that. I wanted more of such moments, see more children come out of their shells and discover more about this medium. If what I was thinking was correct, then the puppet could complement me, as a teacher. Then it would not be a second me, but was a part of me another person which did things different than I do.

My interest in the puppet was fueled by the idea I describe in this blog, the puppet as helping witness. The puppet had to have some characteristics and be willing to look at everything from the child’s point of view. It took several years for me to finish trying and exploring, but after that, I knew for sure: if you know what you’re doing, and turn your thinking about the puppet around, you have a tool in your hands that you never want to let go.

Ten years ago, I wrote a book about my findings and my way of working with a hand puppet: “The Hand Puppet as an Educational Tool.” This week, the English translation of the book came out. Good things should be shared, and working with a hand puppet in the classroom is such a good thing. There are so many children who get stuck and so many teachers, masters and other professionals, who lose the joy in their work, who feel faced with a workload that is no longer bearable.

I know that a puppet, as silly as this sounds, can ease that burden. That the puppet can come and bring something and put something into action that adds light and pleasure, allows breathing, laughter and a renewed emphasis on contact. On who are you, and what do you need? In which it is not only about the child, but also you as an adult.

When I completely missed the mark that first time, I thought it was just me, that I wasn’t the type, that I couldn’t do this. I was wrong. When I began to understand what it takes to make a puppet work for me and why I needed to pay attention to it, everything changed, and I got the contact and results I was hoping for.

I grant you that, too. I see too many people in practice drop out on a puppet for the wrong reasons. It really can be different. Do you want to know more? Please don’t hesitate to email me: helen@helenmeurs.com, or download my book (as an e-book) so you can read how I tackled it.

I’m happy to help you.

Helen

I'm a teacher, trainer, developer, hand puppetcoach and author of the book "The Handpuppet as an educational tool". I want to inspire you and help you to use a puppet in class. I'm sure the hand puppet makes a big difference in the life of a child, but also in your life. I hope you're gonna enjoy that just as much as I am.

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