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About Helen

How a simple hand puppet can help children grow

Children who struggle with making contact, who hide behind masks, or who avoid you—how can you uncover what’s really going on inside them? What do they need? This was once my driving force to ‘try something’ with a hand puppet. I wanted to connect with children differently. I hoped that the puppet would offer a safe and inviting outlet, that it would better align with their world of experience.

And indeed, it turned out to be true. A hand puppet has something that we as adults lack and will never attain.

If you understand the dynamics between the child and the puppet, you can deploy its power in a conscious and targeted manner. You can playfully and easily build a trusting relationship between the child and the puppet, challenging them through the puppet to push their boundaries, try new things, share their thoughts, and participate in your activity—without the puppet taking over your role or becoming an educator.

I am not a puppeteer, but a hand puppet coach. My approach is not an act or puppet show. I use the hand puppet as a coach, as a friend, as a bridge-builder. No acting talent is needed for this—just a hand puppet and the willingness to momentarily detach yourself from the puppet and observe impartially what is happening. Both with the child and within yourself. Trust me, working with a puppet awakens the child in you, and that child will assist you in what you will do with your puppet.

With a hand puppet you literally have the possibilities in your own hands.

Helen Meurs

The hand puppet has not only enriched my professional life as a teacher and educator but also touched me personally. Beyond being a teacher, trainer, and developer, I identify most deeply as a dreamer and an idealist. My fervent hope is for every child to feel free to express themselves, to feel valued, and to have the opportunity to thrive fully. My role is to empower children by providing them with the tools and skills necessary to find and use their own voice, to explore and embrace their unique identity. This is achieved by teaching you, the adult, how to support children with the aid of a puppet.

A lifelong question that has captivated me is, ‘How can I contribute to children’s growth? How can I help them develop skills that will significantly impact their lives?’ Skills like self-expression, setting boundaries, identifying what brings joy, and connecting with oneself and others. I strive to impart the belief instilled in me by my grandmother during my upbringing—a belief that sustained me, the conviction that I could be anything I wished to be.

In my teaching, the puppet emerged as my primary tool and closest ally. Years of experimentation have unveiled endless possibilities and opportunities. The insights gained about the puppet’s potential were profound, capable of assisting numerous children. Thus, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey, continuously exploring puppets’ applications across various domains, engaging hundreds of educators in my methods, soliciting their feedback on the practical impacts of puppet use, and becoming increasingly convinced of the necessity to share this approach worldwide. I have honed my skills in writing, video production, and storytelling in English—my second language. While my proficiency in English is a work in progress, it suffices to convey what I know about this exceptionally unique tool: the hand puppet.

Residing in Bonaire (Caribbean Netherlands), my work is primarily conducted online.

For me, as an educator, the hand puppet is irreplaceable. It offers countless precious insights and daily reaffirms my passion for working with children. Furthermore, the puppet maintains my youthfulness and playfulness, echoing the sentiment of Bernard Shaw when he stated:

We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

In A Nutshell:

I am:

  • A primary school teacher
  • Founder and owner of handpop.nl (2004-2019)
  • Author of articles in various professional journals
  • Author of the book “JaNee heeft Alles” (only Dutch)
  • Author of the book “De handpop als pedagogisch hulpmiddel” translated as “The Hand Puppet As An Educational Tool
  • Producer of the DVD “JaNee babbelt” (Dutch)
  • YouTuber
  • Developer of the ‘chitchat method’
  • Developer of the ‘puppetcoachapproach’
  • Founder of the professional training program for hand puppet coaches
  • Crkbo registered instructor
  • Crkbo registered training institute

What makes my approach unique is that I view the puppet from the child’s perspective

It’s not puppet theater, not puppetry, not role-playing, and also not therapy, but rather a relationship-oriented approach, where it’s not me encouraging and challenging the child, but my puppet

The starting point is always a curiosity about the child and the desire to get to know them better. My biggest challenge is to follow the child from a basic attitude that doesn’t make assumptions, has no judgments, and where everything can and may exist.

Working with a hand puppet is not a trick, but a dynamic process in which you continuously look at:

  • The Situation

What works in one situation may not work in another. I don’t provide you with a recipe that always works, but rather the ingredients that you can mix yourself.

  • The Child

Building a relationship revolves around observing and listening to a child. I provide you with the questions and prompts, and you combine them to fit each child.

  • The Goal

With the right tools, goals become within reach. I will teach you how to combine some very common tools with your puppet to get where you want to be with a child.

  • You

You are unique in how you utilize the puppet and what you aim to achieve. I will assist you in finding an approach that aligns with your style, works for you, and is sustainable.

I don’t teach you standard recipes, but rather techniques and a way of thinking that you can combine, so that something new can emerge each time, and you can assess what you need for each situation to get where you want to be.

What do I do as a hand puppet coach?

The term ‘Hand Puppet Coach’ emerged in 2019 when I had to define what exactly I do with a hand puppet. Most would call me a puppeteer, but the goals of puppetry are different from my objectives.

  • I use a puppet to engage children and invite participation.
  • My role focuses on building a friendship between the child and the puppet; I don’t perform an act.
  • The puppet is not a character or a stereotype; it needs to resonate with the child’s world.
  • When playing with the puppet, I don’t interfere with the dialogue between the child and the puppet.

Why ‘Coach’?

The suffix ‘coach’ best describes my role: to stimulate development and guide towards progress. In this context, the term ‘coach’ serves a dual purpose. You, as the puppeteer, coach the child by transforming your educational objectives into actionable steps. Simultaneously, the puppet coaches by encouraging and guiding the child towards victories through play.

My Approach

My work revolves around consciously leveraging the puppet’s power, a role distinct from mine. I have chosen to champion this methodology due to its extraordinary positive impact on children’s development. It changes the entire educational atmosphere and fosters quicker learning, increased communication, and a more significant inclination to try new things.

Who Is My Target Audience?

I work with parents, grandparents, and professionals in childcare, education, healthcare, group leadership, and youth care. I guide them on how to establish greater language skills, trust, and safety through puppetry, and achieve a more engaged relationship with the child.

What Can I Offer?

You can consult me for:

  • Advice
  • Training programs
  • Customized plans (e.g., incorporating the hand puppet within a specific method or situation)
  • Or, if you’d like to become a Hand Puppet Coach within your organization

Feel free to email me or schedule a Zoom meeting. I operate from Bonaire (Caribbean Netherlands) AST timezone.

With love,