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.

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.