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When I first began working with a puppet, I thought it was a technical skill I needed to master. I was eager to learn it, hoping it would allow me to enter the world of a particular child I had in mind.

Gradually, I discovered that using a puppet as a tool is much more than a technical skill. It’s an adventure, a wonderful journey.

An object (sometimes just a handkerchief with some knots) begins to move and captures a child’s attention. Then something magical happens: a connection forms. This connection might be a direct question, or it could be surprise on the child’s face, a step back, an exclamation of joy, a tap on the puppet’s head, or even no response at all.

Let the puppet anticipate

Each child reacts differently, and their reactions are often unpredictable. Children who you’d expect to be ecstatic might not show much interest in a puppet. Those who are usually silent might start talking to it, and the typically boisterous ones might suddenly become reserved.

I’ve often been amazed by the unpredictability of children’s reactions, realizing how little I know about them, how many assumptions I make when I say ‘this child is…’

It’s the unpredictability of their responses to the puppet that keeps it an interesting and valuable tool for me. If I can’t predict behavior, I need to learn to anticipate what happens. If I don’t understand why a child acts a certain way, I need to ask questions, try to understand them.

My work with puppets stemmed from a seed planted by Alice Miller’s book ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’: the value of what she called an ‘enlightened witness.’ From the moment I picked up a puppet, I knew my goal was to connect with children differently.

Of course, it didn’t go smoothly right away. I had to fend off overzealous children who wanted to ‘feel’ my puppet, pinching its nose, pulling its hair, sticking fingers in its mouth, or arguing with their best friend for its attention. I’ve even been swarmed by a group of kindergartners, underestimating the puppet’s impact and getting knocked over, resulting in scratches, bloody noses, and bruises (for both me and the children).

I’ve misjudged or assumed many things but have always been willing to learn. I saw something happening and wanted to understand it. To comprehend what the puppet triggered in children, to discover if my questioning influenced it, whether the topic mattered, or if the puppet could be involved in more ways.

The lessons the puppet gave me

Working with a puppet has become a part of who I am. I’ve learned more from it than I ever dared to hope.

I thought I was learning a technical skill, but I got lessons in observing and listening to children through my puppet. It showed me how much I thought I understood about a child and how much I actually did. Often, my puppet made it clear that I was making assumptions without any real fact-checking, that I found some lessons fun for myself, prioritizing my own goals over what was feasible for a child.

It’s the most enriching skill I’ve learned in my life. I can’t imagine being without a puppet anymore, arriving somewhere and wondering what JaNee or Ulf would notice first. The voices of my puppets come from within me, from my inner child. My inner child KNOWS what to do to connect with other children; it has been my best teacher in working with a puppet.

By working with a puppet, I rediscovered this part of myself and learned to collaborate with it. This collaboration helped me better understand the children around me and offer them what they needed: connection, authenticity, trust, and a safe presence in which they can grow.

I’ve become a much better educator thanks to the puppets I’ve worked with. I didn’t need a specific puppet or much technique, but rather the willingness to be open to what I could learn through the puppet about children’s needs and experiences.

On February 1th the doors for my English course will open

You, too, can learn what I know and do. Much faster than I ever could, because you have me, and I’ve already done it countless times, experimented, and explored. My Final Dutch Offer is available until February 1st for those who want to work in Dutch. ‘Final’ means the last; after this, there will be no more Dutch courses. Definitely.

Want to know more? Send me a message, even if you’re not Dutch and would like to learn from me in English. I have great news for you.

with love,

Author

Helen Meurs (helenmeurs.com) is a pioneer in the field of Puppet Power, an independent trainer and developer. She offers online courses, is the lead instructor at the vocational training for puppet coaches, and authored the book ‘The Hand Puppet as a Educational Tool’. Subscribe to her newsletter if you want to know more.