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How many kids do you have in your class that you wonder what’s going on in their heads? That catch your eye, that raise questions in your mind, and where you open your whole box of tricks to find out more?

I had a few in every class. Children who stood out to me because they said nothing, or did said a lot, but did so in a way that in turn raised questions. Or children who suddenly explode. You probably know them.

You look at them and feel something is there, but you can’t get your finger on it, they don’t tell you anything. They just look at you, maybe shrug, smile and walk away. “There is nothing I want to share with you, miss”, is the message you have to put up with.

For me, these children have been the reason to start doing “something” with a hand puppet. I’ll tell you a little more about my background, then you’ll probably understand better that what I wanted with the hand puppet, had nothing to do with a one-time activity or act. I wanted contact, to let children know that I see and hear them.

I was a lonely child myself. My home situation would now be described as “unsafe” and “worrisome”. And on top of that, I had a birthmark that I had surgery on year after year. It didn’t matter what I thought about that myself, whether I wanted to. It just happened. The feeling that I was different and not good enough was always there. I was one of those kids who showed what the environment expected of me. From an early age I felt I was liked more if I “joined in nicely,” “laughed along,” and “was a nice girl.” I would have loved to have had someone myself who understood me, who I could tell my story to, who my story was safe with, who was just there for me. I did what was expected of me, I did not express myself, but I always felt alone, always misunderstood, not seen and not heard.

No child should feel that way!

As a teacher, each year I was entrusted with a new group of children to guide to the next level, and in that group there were always children who stood out to me. Of which I recognized the behavior; I had done the same as a child. Would it have been different if I had said what was on my mind as a child, if I had not hidden behind masks? Probably so. If I had felt safe enough and if it had had no consequences.

That was the reason I chose a puppet. To a puppet, you should be able to say anything.

The puppet became my tool. My favorite tool even because the puppet indeed connected with children, built a relationship with them, played games with them, practiced words together, hid little tasks here and there and made learning so much more fun. For the children, but also for me. A pleasant byproduct of the puppet was that I could gather information about children much more easily. They told my puppet what they didn’t tell me, and were challenged by my puppet to show a little more of themselves. With friends, you have nothing to be ashamed of, you can be yourself, and you can admit that you keep fooling the teacher, that you make her think you are shy, but that you actually can’t get out of your words, that that’s where the real problem lies.

I have gained so much more insight into children by working with a puppet who is a real friend. And by a true friend, I mean that the puppet is there for the child, thinks from the child’s point of view, acts in a way that helps the child and always puts the child first, even when it is not so convenient for me as an educator or when I have other plans. In my methodology with the hand puppet, the relationship between the child and the puppet is central, always. That is the base and from that base the puppet can join in all activities in the group: the circle, a language activity, a math activity, playing, working, etc.

It is different from the approach where you think from a method or from a learning objective. There is often thinking from you as a teacher or childcare professional: you want the child to master this. In my approach, I turn it around and the puppet engages in an activity that the child is eager to participate in from within. So I look through the child’s eyes at the content I want to offer, ask myself what can be enjoyed about it, and then let my puppet do the work.

This generates much enthusiasm and involvement from children. Want to know more or learn how to apply this yourself? Let me know or send an email to helen@helenmeurs.com, I’d be happy to engage with you.

Till the next blog.

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.