Teaching Peace with Elyse: Fair/No Fair, Part II: Awareness of Different Needs Through Puppetry

One of our classrooms is taking the idea of '"what's 'fair" to a new level. The teachers are challenging their 5 year olds to consider fairness in light of different physical needs.

Stretching the concept of "fair means equal" takes some creativity and consistent repetition. When asked to create a puppet show for the children, we embraced the idea.

Nadia, the lead teacher, helped both myself and Connie, who is the expressive artist at our other school, to find a way to concretely ground a very abstract idea, particularly for 5 year olds.

For those teachers who value this concept, here's an outline of an improvisation with 2-3 puppets.


  • Choose the two main characters. Have one be noticeably larger than the other. The difference in size is a concrete example of different bodies. What each body needs to succeed will be revealed in the show. It is also a child-sized entry place for introducing differently-abled bodies.
  • Make a simple set from what's available: cardboard, blocks
  • Props: "Fair" and "No Fair" sign (one on each side – the same as was made in the 2/1/14 blog where "No Fair" is represented by the word "Fair" with a red circle and slash through it).
  • Choose the performance setup: a circle, audience style, with or without a stage.
  • Choose examples taken from real life with the children. You can either use these in your improvisation or have available mentally for the interactive part of the show.

Outline of the show:

This is the basic "bones" of what we used; utilize what is helpful or invent your own.

  1. Two friends arrive at the ballgame(or wherever). Ours was a large octopus (Octo) and a very small turtle (Turtle).
  2. Octo sets the scene, calling attention to the differences in their size by commenting on how his little friend will be here soon but walks slower. He also states that he brought seats so they could see over the barrier that protects them from the playing field.
  3. Turtle sloooowly arrives just before the opening pitch. Even with the seat Octo brought him, he can't see over the barrier. Octo is already shouting excitedly for his team.
  4. Turtle holds up the "No Fair" sign

5. "No Fair! I can't see!" says Turtle. Octo notes that he can see fine and goes back to watching.

6. "Let's change seats, " says Turtle

7. "Fine," says Octo. They change seats.

8. "I still can't see. No Fair." Turtle again holds up the "No Fair" sign.

9. "It is fair," Octo replies. "See (indicating seats) we both have the same kind of seat. One each. Same size. Equal. It's fair."

10. "No fair. I can't see," laments Turtle. Freeze the puppet show to allow time for audience interaction. You can do this by simply saying, "Freeze," pausing the movement of the puppets and then addressing the children.

Audience Interaction:
Ask the children questions about the situation. Who thinks it's fair? Who thinks it's not fair? Why is it not fair? One 5 year old had a very precise answer, "Fair is having everyone get what their body needs."

Back to the show:
Utilize the children's responses, trying them out with the puppets. Find an ending that reiterates that fair is not necessarily when everyone has the same thing, but when everyone's body gets what it needs.

11. Turtle shows excitement, waving his "Fair" sign.

Utilizing classroom puppets that the children are already familiar with is a bonus in terms of their engagement. Exploring how they move can be as essential as dialogue. I used a shoe box as a step and just had him slide and grunt and slowly move, hoping to get down the steps before the first pitch of the ballgame.

While the valued outcome is your goal, how you get there can change as often as you perform it.

Leaving the puppets and sets available for children to reenact will help reinforce the new concept through repetition.

Post Performance:

You can debrief with the children to discover what they learned. Leave or take out the puppets and props during the weeks ahead for the children to reenact the performance. When incidents happen in daily classroom life, you can refer to the puppet show as a reminder that"Fair Isn't Always Equal."

I found a great "Fair Isn't Always Equal" poster that can be printed and hung in classrooms.

If you use this outline or have discovered other ways to teach fairness, I'd love to hear from you. I'm also available to answer your questions.

An email from Nadia, a lead classroom teacher:

"Thank you so much Elyse and Connie, you did a fabulous job! The children are still talking about it this week and continue to make their fair/not fair signs. We should do this again in a few months or sooner."