Teaching Peace with Elyse: Making New Friends!

"Mommy, this is my new friend," my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter said, introducing me to another child. They were digging in the sand of our neighborhood playground, side by side. Both children were happy, smiling. I smiled back, thinking of how simple making a new friend is when you are three years old.

Fast-forward 27 years with decades of observations, discussions with other teachers and research. I now know that what is simple is not necessarily easy, and what is easy for some is not so for all.

As teachers, fostering friendships and helping children navigate them is an important part of the preschool agenda.

My colleague, Connie, and I were asked to create a puppet show about making friends. We asked the lead teacher, Leanne, who first suggested this theme, if she would discuss this with her three-year-olds. She readily agreed. Gathering the children for circle time, the teachers asked questions to discover the children’s perspectives on friendship. A web was created starting with a circle drawn in the center of a piece of paper. Inside the circle was the word friendship. Lines were drawn from the circle to each of the children’s ideas.

Connie and I then used the web to create a puppet improvisation a few days later with the same class. We chose two of their ideas to work with: playing together and laughing.

While much can be discovered spontaneously while improvising, I like to have three known sections: the beginning, middle and ending.

Introduction: For introducing the theme of the show, making new friends, I used a small Turtle puppet. He was alone on stage talking directly to the children. He showed his excitement about making a new friend who was coming to visit from the school across the street. 

I. The Beginning: We used very simple props to set the stage: two large pieces of packing cardboard that one of the parents had brought in.

Tiny Turtle spoke to the children about their web and friendship while he was waiting for Octo to come visit. He began to wonder aloud why Octo was taking so long and when he would arrive.

Off-stage, the other puppet, Connie’s Octo the octopus, was nervous about coming over to visit. We used that old crowd pleaser of the audience seeing what the actor/puppet does not. While Tiny Turtle wondered aloud, Octo shyly entered the stage area, one tentacle at a time. The children spotted Octo and tried pointing him out to the turtle. Of course, Tiny Turtle looked every which way except where Octo was slowly entering.

The children laughed joyfully and tried to redirect the turtle. It was a great attention getter and focused the children on the message of the story: how to make a new friend.

 II. The Middle: Beforehand, we had chosen from the friendship web what we would use as the essence of the improvisation. Through laughter and playing together, the puppets would become friends.

  • At first, each puppet played alone, exploring the material.
  • The Problem: Turtle wanted to make friends with Octo. Octo wanted to play alone.
  • Interaction With Children: You or the puppet can ask the children for help. We asked the children what they could do to become friends.

"Play together," said one child.

Tiny Turtle: "What should we play?"

Child: "The disappearing game!"

We had the child explain it. It sounded like a version of hide and seek. Using the successful beginning where the turtle did not see the octopus, we had Octo move around out of sight while the children laughed and tried to direct Tiny Turtle whenever Octo reappeared.

III. The Ending: Finding an ending. While the exact ending was unknown to us, once we had explored both the laughter and playing together components of the middle, we could stop at whatever seemed a natural ending. (This is called "Finding an Ending.")

Surprisingly, while exploring the two pieces of cardboard, we found that connecting them created a seesaw.

The puppets bounced up and down, laughed and played together. This was what we had chosen to accomplish from the friendship web. While it could have continued, we found an ending and stopped there.

 Post-Performance: The teachers printed out photos they’d taken during the puppet show, particularly of the children's engaged faces, and discussed what their takeaway was. This is the time to direct the children to explore more deeply any important ideas from or left out of the improvisation.

Outline for teachers:

A. Introduction: have a puppet introduce the theme; create an attention grabber

B. 3 part improvisation:

1.       Beginning

2.       Middle

3.       Ending

C. Post-performance

Script: For those not comfortable with improvisation, you can script or plan the improvisation with more details.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply:

Excellerations® Standing Puppet Theater (Item #MATINEE)

Excellerations® Animal Hand Puppets - Set of 12 (Item # PUPSET1)