“Here Crow, come and sit in this chair while I make your sparkly babies,” said the very articulate three year old to the puppet she just befriended. “When the blue comes alive, then it will be done.”
She was referring to the sparkly blue pipe cleaners she was twisting into the shape of a baby bird for the crow puppet.
Soon, three other children joined her in building a nest for Crow and the sparkly babies. Afterwards they flew the crows around the room and then return to nest building.
Story-making is what I call this version of improvisational storytelling. They may begin with a puppet or start with a prop, as illustrated by the “sparkly babies.” The making of the prop opens the creative door for puppet improvisation. And the improvisation produces the need for more props to add to the play.
Story-making is a process of using collaborative puppet play, art from loose parts (see blog of May 15, 2013.) and the children’s imaginations to create a story that comes to life. They act in it, stop to make props and puppets, and then return to the story. At times there is an informal audience, watching. Usually, there are only the adult observers, us, enjoying the “show.”
In 1996, story-making began as a practice to encourage cooperative play. The children used puppets, props and improvisations. It was also used to develop oral language and storytelling with small groups of children. Decades later, small groups of children still enjoy adding this form of storytelling to their play.
The meaningful play initiated by this three year old continued beyond the classroom. She made an owl with her mom at her older sister’s school. She brought it to school, days later, so that "Owl “could be friends with "Crow.” Friendship is a very important theme with preschoolers.
Not only did the children play with her owl but, they were inspired to make puppets of their own.
“Where’s his smile?” a child asked, studying her paper bag puppet. She picked up an oil pastel and drew a line under the sticky eyes she’d placed on the brown lunch bag. “Oh, that’s a sad face,” she frowned at the curved line she had drawn.
She tried again saying hesitantly, “That’s a happy face.” Observing her attempts to make the line curve upwards she said, “No, it’s a mustache. Let’s call him Grandpa Owl. He’s the sparkly babies’ grandfather.”
She then placed the newest owl in the rocking chair and took down the Crow puppet from its window seat. “They’re friends and are going to have a play date.”
She then placed the bag puppet on her hand and flew it over to the table. Taking it off, she was delighted to see that it remained vertical. “I didn’t know a paper owl could stand up!” she exclaimed gleefully.
These improvisational stories allow the youngest children to play out their first flights of independence from their own "nests" via the preschool experience. Stories are not only important teachers, they inform us of what the children themselves find most meaningful including making friends and inviting them home for play dates.
I. Collaborative Puppet Play:
- Initiating Ideas: you can introduce a specific theme, such as making friends, inclusion/exclusion or being kind, by either telling about something that happened between the puppets or acting it out for the children yourself. (see September 16, 2013 blog: Playing with Puppets and Children)
Having been a witness and facilitator of the children’s developmentally appropriate conflict, teachers and parents can show or tell what happened between the children using puppets. When you come to places of choice, ask the children for suggestions.
Once you’ve gathered some of the children’s own ideas and contributed some wise ones of your own, it’s the children’s turn to use the puppets.
Being creative yourself and knowing your children, you will think of many different ways to get started. Once the children are engaged, you become the observer, facilitating when necessary.
- Art-Making: Depending on the kind of puppets used, you could suggest that the children first make something for the puppets, as the 3 year old began by making nests and sparkly babies for Crow.
- Back to puppet play: Sometimes the children will do this naturally. Otherwise, you can facilitate by interviewing a puppet. Your scaffolding brings out both the character of the puppet and moves the story line along. There are no expectations for a complete story in collaborative puppet play. Children combine improvisations or story pieces with art-making and decide when the activity is complete.
Teaching moments will likely occur. Feel free to insert yourself into the story if there’s an important point to make. Otherwise, step back and enjoy the good work you’ve done readying the children for creative collaboration. The story-making can continue as long as the children stay engaged.
Materials are made available for the children’s use during their play. Depending on the puppets used, materials may reflect their environments, food, etc. Loose parts for puppet-making can be included, as the children often spontaneously create more puppets during or after their play.
Some examples of materials: Small paper bags, colored feathers, self-adhesive eyes, glue sticks, colored paper, colored Popsicle sticks, colored masking tape, yarn, string, shiny pipe cleaners and any other loose parts you have or can gather.
Next time you take out the materials, they may go back to the same story or create a new one, with more of what is meaningful to them disclosed.
Witnessing the children’s exploration with puppets is so joyful. No wonder I am beginning my 28th year of learning with them.