In April 2013, my puppet JaNee got her own blog for the first time. Not long before that, all the training I gave had come to a standstill. We were in an economic crisis and schools and institutions did not invest in unnecessary training for a while. That was bad news for my then company, handpop.nl, because it not only meant a loss of part of my income, but also the loss of work that was the icing on the cake for me. I really enjoyed teaching and showing teachers and other professionals how to get a lot more out of a hand puppet than they thought.

I was completely done with the word crisis and with everyone who shouted that there was no money for anything, how expensive it all was and whether they could get a discount because yes…… crisis, little money and difficult, difficult, difficult all of them. I was a trainer, and also ran a webshop in hand puppets. I had built it up, expanded it and managed it on my own. I believed in the power of the puppet and was determined to ‘market’ that power. Not only by offering good puppets, but also by informing about the possibilities and by training people.

Puppets were still being sold, but training had to wait until after the crisis. Learning to work with a hand puppet is not necessary. How hard can it be? It’s just a matter of sticking your hand in it, isn’t it? We can do that.

I’ve never quite understood that reasoning. Invest in stuff or software, but not in knowledge or skills. The two go hand in hand for me. Not all training will be necessary, but when I looked at my own ‘product’ the hand puppet, I saw quite regularly that it ended up on or in the cupboard within a few weeks or months. Usually because teachers couldn’t handle it or started from an idea, which didn’t match the expectations of children, so it turned out differently than hoped. That might be more of a waste of money than investing in training, right? Anyway, that’s a nice topic for another blog and not the story I want to tell today.

In April 2013, I was crisis-tired, I no longer felt like depressing conversations and I knew I had to do something to maintain my motivation. Nine years later I know that in times of stress and uncertainty, I start writing. While writing I come up with new ideas and insights, while writing I organize my world and while writing I find the solution with which I continue. JaNee her blog was born. A cheerful blog written from an exploring, curious puppet that is full of questions, likes to talk to others and always wants to know what moves someone else.

JaNee became the example of my vision of working with a hand puppet. JaNee made my working method with the puppet visible and showed that you can vary endlessly. In JaNee …… she chatted happily and I let her do everything that came into my mind or that suited the children I had in mind. JaNee went into the woods, went shopping, to the zoo, to visit….., called someone, wanted to know where Santa was staying, how she found out exactly how high the tree was and shared everything in her blog. She tried out new games, came up with assignments for the children to perform, practiced with colors, letters, numbers, vegetables and tying shoelaces and always had something to say.

I loved doing it. Especially since you can make a puppet do almost anything; you can let him go to the moon, he can spend the night with the polar bears, he is welcome at President Obama, he knows Mickey Mouse personally. There are hardly any restrictions as long as you know how to respond to children who don’t take it easy and ask some critical questions. All those possibilities and perspectives give me a lot of energy, which I enjoy immensely. Almost as much energy as the conversations JaNee had with children. Those conversations were just much more fun than the conversations I had with them, they were more creative, sparkling and wonderfully relaxed.

At some point, JaNee switched from blogging to vlogging. It’s easier to show a game than to describe what you see and besides that I started to do more and more with video. JaNee chats… and working with video both arose during the economic crisis. The need to change and/or tackle something is bigger, and that often results in me walking down paths that I did not dare to walk before.

Nine years after the start of JaNee ….. JaNee is still chatting, but now in English. I soon found out on Bonaire that my company will not survive if I continue to limit myself to Dutch, and in fact I don’t want that at all. I experience the multilingualism of the island as an enrichment and the proximity to America as a challenge that I want to take. I believe in the story I have to tell, believe in the power of the hand puppet, and I am convinced that the hand puppet can be used much more in the classrooms. Not as an incidental or one-off activity, not necessarily linked to a method, but as part of the pedagogical climate. The puppet that focuses on the relationship with the child, the puppet that looks and thinks from the perspective of the child and sometimes literally takes the child by the hand to learn and discover together. I aspire to that puppet, a puppet like JaNee, a puppet with a vision, a plan and a sense of exploration.

I hired an English teacher, Mattie, to teach me how to tell my story in English. JaNee finds it all takes too long for me and decided on her own that she should start in English. She has already seen that there is a lot to experience and see on Bonaire and can’t wait to share it all. She asked what they say to ‘chattering’ in English, and Mattie came up with ‘chit-chatting’. JaNee thought that sounded nice and decided that she had every right to appropriate the old tree house in the backyard. That would be the new setting for her chitchat channel, for JaNee TV Caribbean style. And so it happened.

JaNee doesn’t care about a wrong pronunciation or about words that don’t make sense, he just wants to practice. Secretly I’m glad about that because I’ll soon be switching to English as the official language in my videos. So I can practice with JaNee and if things go wrong, then it’s JaNee who isn’t very good yet and not me. JaNee has no problem with that, she is 5 and as a 5-year-old, you don’t have to be able to do everything well. So I can hide behind her for a while. Smart idea, right?

You can see the first video from JaNee’s chitchat channel above.

This is the second one:

I’m writing and filming again…..

To be continued!

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.

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Published in a renowned Dutch professional journal for early childhood specialists.

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