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Fair Play - No Borders

Niamh Lawlor working in collaboration with 4-7 year old pupils and teachers from Florencecourt Primary and Tullyveela National schools February 2011. Programme Aims and Objectives To introduce the participants to a creative and collaborative process. To introduce the participants to the basics of story-making, puppet and set making using artistic and found materials. To encourage the participants to consider in a positive way the differences and similarities between their various communities and cultures. To facilitate communication and to build confidence through self expression. To harness children s natural use of play as a tool of learning to help them develop their imaginations creatively. To explore and develop themes arising from the work which are pertinent to the participants In addition to the artist there were usually at least three teachers present, sometimes as many as five. There were 25-27 children from ages 4-7years. The workshops took place in the Larganess Centre in a small hall which I prepared with a semi circle of tables and chairs down one end and an open space. We worked from 10.15am to 1.45pm over three days, a week or two weeks apart. Process Week One Warm up and getting to know each other, general introduction. Seated in a circle on the floor a sock puppet told the first group a story on arrival. A crowd of elephants kept standing on mice while marching through the jungle, until the mouse king petitioned the Elephant king and it was agreed they would call out warnings when passing and make sure to avoid the mice. In return the mice promised to help them some time. In due course when the elephants were trapped in the jungle by humans, the mice came and gnawed through the big ropes that tied the elephants down. As a group the children then told the story back to me, and when the other group arrived, they told it to them. They were particularly fond of the bit where the mice gnaw through the ropes. I then gave a general intro to the three days with another table-top puppet, from my show, Coraline. They then moved to the tables which were laid out with markers and multi-coloured name tags. The children were encouraged to spend time drawing and coloring their first name. Then all names were collected in a hat and the children moved to the open floor and lucky dipped someone s name out and had to discover who they were (the younger children assisted in reading name tags by adults). Everyone put on their own tag and we then played a series of games designed to mix up the groups and get to know each other, while having fun and seeing how random our differences are. For example the children were challenged to make a snake in order of size with the smallest child at one end, the tallest at the other. They were then asked to adjust this according to age, and then through a series of other challenges to create groupings according to hair colour, eye color, alphabetical order according to first names (with assistance from grown-ups) and then things that necessitated discussion - hobbies, favorite places, and Fairy tales. With the latter three I collected their ideas on sheets of paper on the wall and also began to introduce the idea of creating tableaux or still pictures from themselves where their bodies individually or collectively could represent things, places or people. This was hard for them to grasp, but they got there. However I put aside my idea of following it up by making live storyboards, making tableaux of different stages of a story to assist their collaboration and make it more fun. These exercises were not just to assist them to mingle with pleasure, but also as a bit of research for me as to how best to proceed with the group in terms of possible story-making with puppets. The Fairy tale challenge brought up only one tale from the children - the frog prince, all the other groups chose more vague ideas stories about puppies or story about a farm etc. So again I shelved an inclination to use given stories with them that might have particular resonance for them, as there would not be time to embark on major story research. When they were tiring and losing focus during these activities I had called the lunch break, but before it we sat in a circle and a rod puppet told a second story about an army of monkeys engaged in building a bridge with big rocks and turning up their noses at some squirrels who tried to help with tiny pebbles, only to later realize the pebbles were as important to the structure. While they enjoyed the two stories which I thought may have been a useful vehicle for them, they did not seem to have a major impact and I was reluctant to force a story onto them. Due to the fact that so many of them were 6 years and under I was beginning to think creative play might be a better route for them rather than pushing them in the direction of performing, which with these numbers and age group could become forced and stressed. However when they tired again I asked them to sit in a circle and brought out another puppet who asked them what they had been doing and then asked them to draw her a story. I explained the principle of story-boarding, folding a piece of paper in four and suggesting they use four pictures to tell a story, referring back to their favorite places, hobbies and stories from the earlier work. Again my original intention had been that they make the stories in groups, each drawing a different stage of it, but I felt that this might be too complicated for them at this stage. They returned then to the tables and drew their stories with evident pleasure, welcoming the change in activity after their busy day and perhaps welcoming also a chance to do individual work after so much groupwork. I wandered around as they worked letting them tell the stories if they liked, and taking some notes. As the first group left on the bus I had an informal evaluation chat with the others. Week Two Puppet making In between sessions I had a chance to look over the stories and was impressed with their use of the storyboard form, actually making stories - good for this age group. However I also decided to not spend longer on story-making, it seeming more age appropriate in this time scale to go ahead and make puppets and use them for play rather than more formal story presentation. The puppets I had brought along the first week had helped me decide also what puppet form would be best suited to this group. I decided to do a sock puppet but without mouth action as some of the younger children found this difficult when I asked them to imitate the way I operated my puppet the first week. It would also allow for a simpler making process encouraging technical independence, important with these numbers and ages. When the first group arrived their teacher asked them could they remember the names of the other children and it was quite impressive that as a group they did. When the others arrived they joined them, scattered through the circle on the floor, and I welcomed and gave a brief intro to the day s plan. We started by playing our shuffled name tag game again (though next time I would put their aprons on first, as we ended up re-pinning the tags later when they prepared for making) and then sat to meet a finger puppet, Mrs Heart. You have to imagine her voice as it is so tiny, something young children enjoy and which gets us in the mood for imaginative work. Mrs Heart, while apparently being a bit bad tempered to me (good job you can t hear what she says), asked the children to get ready for puppet making by drawing a picture of who they might like to make. We referred here to the work they had done on the previous session. They then repaired to the tables where I had a selection of markers, crayons and oil pastels ready (the latter seemed to have been used with the most relish) and they happily drew beautiful and varied characters. When they were ready, they put on aprons and pushed up sleeves: as we needed to both make and use the puppets on one day I was using Copydex glue as it dries quickly and is strong, although it is not as clothes friendly as PVA. Although usually better for children, PVA leads to more delicate puppets. I began a puppet making demo, taking a sock and showing how we would feed it something tasty - I folded newspaper into a fat rectangle, while we brainstormed what my puppet might like to eat and then fed it to him/her filling the sock and showing the children how they can fit their hand in behind the paper to operate the puppet. Then the children had a chance to choose from a variety of colored children s socks and we all fed them together. When they were ready we discussed what the puppet might need next, and deciding eyes, nose, mouth etc I showed them the plastic boxes of light materials - shapes of felt, sequins, small buttons and beads etc that could be held on by the glue, and we discussed the variety of possibilities (important if you don t want a crowd of copycat "right" puppets), with my encouraging the children to experiment before they decide and stick down. When this was done I showed them various possibilities for hair and showed how to make a simple pom pom using your hand, then made the wool, feathers, light fabric, pipe cleaners etc available to them to help themselves. All through the process they had been advised to not play with the puppets, to realize the glue won t stick until it has a chance to dry and the puppets must sleep through their operation . When the puppets were done we sticky labelled each with their owner s, and if they had one yet, their own name, and put them sleeping on the side table, while the children had their lunch. After lunch we woke up the puppets and played a version of Simon Says - Mr Blue says, lead by my demonstration puppet. This is devised to warm up the children and encourage them in devising a voice and movements for their puppet. So Mr Blue asks them to count in a high voice for example, say the days of the week in a low voice, etc and to act out various things, yawning, laughing, dancing. I discovered the children really enjoyed following and developing ideas, playing along with enthusiasm. Then we put them to sleep briefly again (puppets can be very disruptive if you don t knock them out regularly) while discussing how they might get to know someone they had never met before, such as their puppet, what questions they might ask them etc. I wrote up these on a sheet of paper on the wall, and then divided them in two groups giving half the children microphones I had made from cardboard and telling them they were journalists whose job it is to find all about the other half s puppets. I told the puppeteers that they need not worry if they thought they might not know the answers to the questions as their puppets knew - just let them talk away and enjoy it. We set them into pairs then interviewing and after awhile, swapped over. Most children really enjoyed this game but there were a few shy opt outers who needed a lot of encouragement - the session was drawing to a close and they were all tiring. We sat in a circle again to see would some of the puppets tell us who they met (challenging enough but worth doing). And then it was time to put the puppets to sleep and go home. In my original plan I had hoped they might play with creating places for the puppets to play using fabric, boas etc, which would have been an introduction to the next week s work but in the end there was not time for this. Week Three Puppet world making, Play and Closure When the early group arrived they re capped what they had done the previous session by instructing a boy who had been missing on how to make his puppet. When the second group arrived I introduced the day s planned activities and we chatted about puppet names etc. We played our name game, finding the owner of the name tags, woke up the puppets, and played Mr Blue says, this time I developed their inclination to play along to introduce and remind them of their ideas of favorite places, building on them a little, with the children volunteering new ideas. We put puppets to sleep while I introduced the idea of a Puppet Party referencing the interviews from previous week, but in a more informal way asking them to find out as much as they could about each other s puppets, have to give an answer to every question etc. They seized this opportunity to play with enthusiasm, and there were no opt-out-ers . Then (when the teachers were getting stressed by the freeform) we put the puppets sleeping again, and discussed making them places to live and play. I had prepared images from Google Earth (satellite photographs) of their various townlands, showing how close they are, overlapping the images, also showing Black lion, where Community Connections are based and East Wall where I came from that morning. I projected from on the wall from my lap top and we discussed what we could see and I drove the computer curser up the road on my way up north. I also projected images of children s puppet set making work from a residency I had recently in Temple Street Hospital for Helium Arts In Health, and a drawing of my daughter s where she had drawn a bed and shelves and put her toys on them. They really enjoyed and responded well to these examples and I believe it helped them understand the concept of making worlds for their puppets. I also had some artists work and international ariel photographs which I didn t show as they had spent long enough on others, but the group waiting for the bus later enjoyed them. Then I introduced the materials and large sheets of paper on which they would base their maps and showed basic construction with card, newspaper, etc. They began to suggest what places they would like to make and naturally broke into groups around the ideas proffered. We gave out crayons and masking and cello tape and pritt. The other decorative materials I left on the materials table and they discovered them as they went along, pipe-cleaners, feathers, and most of the materials from the puppet making, also some multicoloured rolls of contact. This was very popular, but challenging for them to put on - it kept sticking to itself. If using again I would supply it in smaller pieces or demo it, and yet what they did with it was lovely and it became a construction aid in the large pieces covering and strengthening their cardboard buildings . Their focus and attention was a delight to watch, I let them continue making for much longer than I would have expected them to want to or be capable of, because they were so absorbed. We gave them a lunch break in the middle, although my original intention would have been to have finished before lunch, but as they were enjoying it so much I let them at it. After the break they were very keen to get back to it but before they started I encouraged them to walk around and view each others work, sharing ideas etc. I felt they had travelled a long way over the three sessions showing just how impressionable and responsive that age group are, they had also become very comfortable and relaxed working together, the atmosphere in the room was lovely. Working alongside each other on the floor in groups helped their skills acquisition, as did the loose framework - some children moved from one group to another and floated while each group had natural leaders, team players and solo workers all existing comfortably side by side. Their absorption with the work meant the film making (using both my camera and the laptop and projector) and play that I had planned to follow on from this had less time, the former relegated to hasty documentation by me, but nonetheless I felt it was a really successful session, the children mixing easily and evidently taking pleasure in both the creative and collaborative aspects. The session ended with a group photo including both puppets and worlds , I gave each child a souvenir postcard of one of the puppets they had met and then they brought the puppets home and the set pieces were photographed and divided between the two schools. Images of this work can be seen on P�ca Puppets Facebook page which you can access through

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