Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas.

Sometimes special occasions give us an opportunity to spread the love. Pushing aside expectation, responsibility and lack of time to do everything, spend some time playing with those you care for in whatever way suits you. The true magic of these times is in making connections and what better way to do so than through play. I hope it's a special time for you.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Time To Say Goodbye

Acting skills and performance for people with special needs offers valuable new learning for all, confidence building and an opportunity to be part of something quite special. We have been working with two groups in this way this year and we are so pleased with the new friends we have made and the success of both performances. At the heart of this work was making sure each group member felt valued and respected, that we had plenty of fun and that we used the group's ideas to put a performance together. Treating each person as a professional actor added to the high quality of work produced. It helped us all to be clear with what was pretend and what was real.

The level of commitment and focus from group members was much higher than our project organisers anticipated and I think that is at the heart of this type of interaction. If your expectations are high in regards to what a particular group can achieve, they are usually met. I remember training to be a teacher and being given this great advice - 'before you even walk into the classroom, imagine the students will behave impeccably and you will easily teacher them what they need to learn.' This high expectation works in so many ways, as long as you add some flexibility, light-hearted humour and realism to the occasion!

Drama and puppetry skills made this all-inclusive course great fun to be part of, with the addition of creating props and choosing music for a performance to share with others. We were asked to explore the sensitive subjects of death and growing old, but even with these topics we had plenty of laughter. By creating a safe place to talk openly with respect, we could all express our feelings within set guidelines of what was appropriate within the group. We could use acting and puppetry to express these feelings while protecting the participants. I will never forget this work and hope to continue with another project similar to this in the future.

Monday, 21 September 2015

People living with dementia can enjoy puppets too.

What we didn't expect from our Times of our Lives dementia awareness project, is the joy puppets gave to people living with dementia. During our research and interaction with the older generation, we introduced puppets as a way of talking to these groups about our work and enjoying singing and interacting with us. Depending on the level of the individual, we could work in so many different ways with the puppets. Some just wanted to cuddle and stroke the hairy puppets, some wanted to use the puppet to talk, sing and dance with (I even ballroom danced with a gentleman with one of our full size monsters between us!) and some wanted to appreciate our puppetry skills and relate them to their own childhood experiences of  famous entertainers or their own toys.We have even left puppets with some groups and many have been bought from us for people living with dementia to enjoy. The biggest success in this way has been with the dog puppets. They have soothed and entertained in their usual delightful way. I really think we are on to something here and plan to create more puppets for this purpose in the future.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Dementia awareness through puppetry.

Dementia awareness gives us all an understanding of such a sensitive subject and this is especially important for young people. We have a workshop where we use group work, an interactive quiz, puppetry, role play, brain activities and lots of fun to take the fear out of dementia. We finish this session with a thought provoking drama and ask the group to help us to make special memories for this character. Puppetry is used in a sensitive and age appropriate manner. We have found that the sessions are also helpful for teachers and support staff who become involved in this work. Not only is it a spring board to start discussions of a sensitive nature in class, but it is also a space to look at personal feelings. So many of us fear the unknown and discovering facts through play resonates with all ages. When the pressure is off to be thinking about our own situations, we can reflect our feelings and worries onto fictitious characters and release emotions in a safe way. It doesn't fix all concerns but it is a good starting point.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Do we empower children through testing their education?

I just read about children re-sitting Year 6 SATs if they are deemed to have failed them. I think the idea is to stop children being 'written off' too early. I wonder how it would feel to a child moving up to Year 7, being called out of class to resit a Year 6 exam. A child who may have a multitude of reasons why the levels set as normal for their age doesn't work for their particular circumstances. Let us not forget that the world is made up of many amazing personalities who may not fit the SAT norm.

I wonder why we are so keen in this country, to make all children the same? Do we believe it is easier to teach everyone one curriculum and expect them to reach the same standards at the same time? Is it fair? I think it makes teaching much harder and breaks many child and adult's hearts. There is nothing worse than seeing a child, or young person trying their very best, but being seen as a failure because they don't fit into the education box, often through no fault of their own. We know negative responses to endeavours don't work, but here we are again making them law. It is even more heart breaking seeing a child give up when their potential to shine in a different way is not realised. As a teacher, I know the thrill of watching particular children's talents unfold. The joy of seeing different characteristics come into their own. How we needed the practical, artistic, academic and quirky to flourish, in order to explore all aspects of teaching and learning. I could see the possibilities of each member of my class shine in all their multicoloured amazingness! Did they all fit into the expectations laid out by the national curriculum? Well of course not. But that is what good, fun teaching is about. The diversity of human nature is what keep us all interested and alive. Allowing space in school for all children to thrive and enjoy the experience just seems so ridiculously obvious, I can't understand why we want to keep testing everything. Is it just about league tables? Thank goodness the majority of teachers quietly put the child first and make new legislation fit into what they know works best for their teaching. 

I worry about secondary school expectation though. Can these schools afford to keep retesting? Can they protect the individual child from feeling like a failure if they can't master these tests? 

Imagine a system that allows for all talents, passions and interests. Where you could work on something at a level that would allow the individual to be congratulated for hard work and effort. To then go on to secondary school where there would be further facilities for your skills to progress. Each young person would be prepared for the work place, doing a job they enjoyed and were good at. To progress to a level that suited that person at that time. School would be easier because they would feel engaged and maybe even happy? I know I'm a daydreamer, but I work with lots of young people through Hands-On and everything runs so much smoother when we are in the flow and having a good time. That doesn't mean not working, it means achieving something together at a level that suits. 

My final thing to say is that the focus here is for those who are struggling to pass these tests in the school system, but I also feel the higher achievers are not catered for either. To be constantly compared to the average, or underachievers and seen as better than them leaves a bitter taste too. If you are seen as doing well, but you are not overly competitive or outgoing, it is easy to slip into the 'keep quiet and get on with it' group. Imagine what these children could be when they grow up. What are our expectations? I wonder how many of us grown ups here now would be celebrating our diversity if we were just expected to pass exams with a higher than average grade and to keep doing it until working age. Where is the nuttiness of creative teachers going 'off piste' to explore education without political, health and safety guidelines. I love nothing more than seeing a teacher properly giggling with his or her class during one of our Hands-On sessions - be it sex education with Year 10, or story telling in the Nursery. 

If I could say my piece to those who come up with these testing ideas, I'd say please stop adding to the stress levels of our youngsters and those who care for them and let well-rounded education be for all.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Three reasons why adults should play with puppets.

If you have ever had the opportunity to play with a puppet, you will understand what I mean when I say that puppets are good for you. Something interesting happens with your brain, that allows you to express yourself in a different way. If you have five minutes to try a quick experiment, I'd love to hear how it goes:

Pick up a puppet if you have one. If not, use a sock, piece of material over your hand, draw one on paper, use a toy - most inanimate objects can work. Look at it and allow an idea of character to come to you. Then just move it around. Give it a voice if you feel like it. Give it a particular word or movement that expresses the puppet. Try showing it to someone else and see how the puppet naturally interacts.

I first tried this at a large conference. My idea was to talk about the different types of puppetry while picking on a member of the audience to come and demonstrate each type with one of my puppets. As each professional came to the stage to take the puppet, I hoped my experiment would work. If it didn't, I would have a line of adults holding puppets on the stage and that would look good for a photograph. Luckily, what I had hoped would happen, did! As each 'puppeteer' was handed his/her puppet, they naturally figured out how it worked and then turned the face towards them. This is when they were discovering what their relationship would be with the puppet. Then the puppeteer began interacting - first with the puppet and then with the other puppets as the line was being created. For the audience it was fascinating. For example; a business owner started attacking the Mayor's puppet while laughing loudly, another quietly whispered to his puppet and the one next to him, oblivious to what the others were doing. The speaker before me actually volunteered to hold a particular puppet which seemed to bring out the mischievous part of her character - we had seen a very serious side while she was speaking earlier.

I set this up because I had seen it happen so many time in my adult puppetry courses. I love the fact that even on stage, in front of a large crowd, the puppeteers seemed to lose themselves in their puppet play, exposing a part of themselves often quite different from their usual persona.

Adults should play with puppets because:
  1. It gives us a sense of freedom to relax into playing
  2. Something magic happens - as if a part of you wants to be expressed through the puppet
  3. They help us to communicate with others in a different way (usually with more honesty)
Please let me know what you think. Hopefully it will be fun!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Why is play so important?

Writing some new information on The Hands-On Company website, made me think about the 'why' of what we do. I feel so passionate about this work and it isn't always expressed in the day to day happenings out on the road. I hope this will be a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts on puppetry, drama techniques and working with adults and children.

This is a section of what I wrote on the website:

The Hands-On Company believe that people of all ages can benefit from reflecting on their feelings through interactive puppetry and drama. Both mediums create a safe environment where play helps us all to step into the shoes of others, or a future 'us' when reflecting on a decision to make. The sentences at the heart of much of our work are:

Where are you?
Who are you with?
How do you feel?

An awareness of these three sentences helps us to evaluate if this is the right time and place to make a particular decision. It could be a sex or drug education issue in the secondary school, a friendship or online choice in the primary school, or a conflict management problem in the workplace. The joy of drama and puppetry means we can relax into this reflection and literally play with various outcomes and consequences.

We feel strongly that our work doesn't use scare tactics or blow things out of proportion. When we research a given topic, we use relevant information for a particular age group. This is a gentle, sometimes poignant - sometimes funny way of seeing life. Everyone has something to offer, everyone is special in their own right and everyone can interact at a level that suits them on that particular day. 

The magic of puppetry is something we are all passionate about. We have workshops that explore diversity, cooperation skills and storytelling structures. These are opportunities to enjoy what puppetry offers - sometimes just to have fun is enough for all ages.

Play is at the heart of the company because it creates a feeling of fun, shared possibilities and reflection opportunities. Using puppetry and drama as mediums to explore reasons for behaviour creates a safe environment and a focus. The puppets can become an outlet to describe feelings that are sometimes hard to own in front of others. For example, a large monster puppet is easy to hide behind. It becomes a coat hanger for any issue that wants discussing. It is interesting to see how each group member uses the puppet. It doesn't seem to matter what outward character a person shows, with a puppet they usually fall into three broad categories - aggressive, insular or humorous. This is especially obvious with adult play. I'd add more to this subject next time I write.