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Puppet making with 9 year olds

For twelve two hour sessions from January to April 2012 I worked with twenty-four nine year olds (third class) in Harold Boys’ National School in Dalkey. It was funded and supported by Dún Laoghaire - Rathdown Arts Office and the Blackrock Education Centre and I worked in collaboration with their teacher Lorna Mc Dermott and the special needs assistant Patricia O’ Neill. 

I started by visiting with a suitcase of puppets inviting the boys to interview both me and the puppets to discover as much information as they could. They asked about how the puppets were made and what stories they came from and learnt a lot about how I work. I gave them clipboards to note down what they found most of interest.

We then brainstormed together questions they thought I should ask them in turn, to discover a little of who they were and what kind of work we might do together. Then, again on the clipboards, they answered these questions.

From these notes and the group discussion I got ideas of what would interest them in terms of story-making, materials and techniques - for example clay, papier mache, animation, film.

As the first session was very discussion and writing based, for the second session I wanted something very hands on which could tell what they liked in terms of story. I asked them to each make a simple storyboard, just four images, depicting the most interesting parts of a story they particularly liked.

They then chose one of these ’scenes’ and made a clay model of it, using clay tools and texture makers, sticks and skewers. We photographed these at the end of the session with the boys choosing the angle of the shot.

In the next session to continue the ’getting to know you’ theme, we looked at some famous artists’ portraits, and undertook some research into their own faces - feeling them eyes closed, exploring them like topographers, comparing them to maps, drawing them using mirrors in various ways and then modeling self portraits in clay.

The following week after some discussion about television and film they began to build heads from recycled materials - plastic milk bottles, toilet rolls, newspapers and tape, and in the following weeks used papier maché, fabric and other assorted materials to make these into hybrid rod and hand puppets.

For the final sessions we used various games and more clipboard exercises to playfully discover who each character might be and how they might relate to each other. Through this we came up with six categories of story / settings which the boys chose from to form six groups. We returned to storyboarding with each boy drawing one scene of a four scene story which they used as a basis for simple improvised performances for each other.

We filmed these and on watching them we suggested ways to improve the performances and drew up some puppet performance rules.

Performance sessions began with a group warm-up and usually ended with their showing each other their improvisations using simple booths made from school furniture and sheets.

On their last day each group chose how they wanted their puppets filmed, taking turns to frame up the shots etc for their own ’puppet television’. Although, as always, the time flew and it felt like we were all just beginning to learn how to collaborate together when it was time to finish, I think it is fair to say it was a very rich experience for us all - boys and teachers alike were very positive about it.

On completion of the residency the school invited the parents in to see an exhibition including the puppets and a selection of their filmed performance work.

A lot of images of the boys’ work can be seen posted here also eg:


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