Taking the stress out of your child's annual celebrations!

Archive for March, 2011

The gentle art of keeping baby happy: Entertaining at baby’s first birthday party

Diane entertains even the youngest child

Parties for One Year olds? Surely not….

Hosting a birthday party need not fill you with dread. I hope to be able to support you in your choices so that you can host with confidence.

In order to make things simple, I’m going to give suggestions in accordance with the age of the child.

Diane  of Diane’s Puppets is happy to entertain babies. It takes a certain amount of patience and a gentle pace , but a first birthday puppet party can be a delightful experience for baby and parents.

First let’s start with the very first birthday. Many parents keep the first birthday in the family and it is more of an adult celebration with other family members rather than being a child’s party.

In this instance the party is fairly low-key, all that is needed are a few soft play toys and food and drink for the adults and a birthday cake for the child.

But for some people with large families with lots of young children, or those people with big networks of friends with children of the same age, there may be a situation where the party can turn out to be a large gathering of babies as well as parents. In this situation it may be wise to have some sort of focus for the infants to avoid squabbling over toys.

For the do it yourself , cheap option, I can recommend keeping it simple and encouraging the mum’s and dads to sit down with their babies and having someone as ‘leader’ to sing some simple nursery songs. In order to break the ice, I suggest that you warm up your guests by preparing them that  it will be a nursery rhyme party on the invites and that the party will involve a bit of a sing along. The small commitment involved to sing with your baby will be so worthwhile when you see the delight on the baby’s faces. We do not have enough opportunity in our busy lives to focus solely on our babies, so why not use this time to the fullest. No great voices needed, don’t worry. As long as you know the words ( if in doubt print out a few lyric sheets) you are qualified to be able to keep your baby happy.Nothing will make baby happier than seeing the people he/she loves , focusing on them and having fun together. ( If in doubt of the tunes, youtube is a fabulous resource to remind you.)

Here are a few songs that I know are winners with babies, with their accompanying actions:

A good getting to know you song is this one:

( everyone sits in a rough circle, in the middle is stack of building blocks/ an empty toilet roll tube, anything that could represent a candlestick. Have each child substitute their own name for JACK and then be jumped over the candlestick by the parent. )

Jack be Nimble         

Jack be nimble

Jack be quick

Jack jump over the candle stick

Jump jump jump jump jump.  ( So if your child’s name was Jenny, it would go Jenny be nimble Jenny be quick.. and lift her over the candlestick a few times. )

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star( if there were a chart for babies’ songs , this would be an eternal number 1)

Twinkle twinkle little star  ( Fingers outstretched , wiggling like a star)

How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high

Like a diamond in the sky ( Index fingers and thumb joining to make a diamond shape , hold above the head)

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ( wiggling fingers)

How I wonder what you are

Repeat as many times as you want. Babies ( and children) love repetition.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes Sir, yes sir, three bags full ( Nod head in yes motion and hold up three fingers)

One for the master, one for the dame,( hold up one finger each time)

One for the little boy/girl who lives down the lane .

Thank you said the master ( Bow in thanks)

Thank you said the dame ( Curtsey like a lady)

Thank you said the little boy who lived down the lane. (doff cap motion )

Sleeping Bunnies

See the little bunnies sleeping till it’s nearly noon,( lying down ‘sleeping‘)

Shall we wake them with a little tune?

Oh how still, are they ill?

Wake up……

NOW!( pick up ‘bunnies’ and hop them up and down)

Hop little bunnies hop hop hop (x4)

Diane's favourite puppet bunny, Bobby.

Row row row the boat

(Start with baby sitting on lap facing towards you holding hands like a boat)

Row row row the boat ( lean back and forth holding hands in a rowing motion)

Gently down the stream

Merrily merrily merrily merrily

Life is but a dream

Rock rock rock the boat ( stay holding hands, but rock from side to side)

Wildly down the stream

If you see a crocodile ( octopus)

Don’t forget to scream, AAARGH!( scream and lift baby high in the air)

Diane makes cards too!

Trot Trot Trot

( sit baby on knee like a pony ride and bounce up and down)

Trot trot trot,

Go and never stop

Trot along my little pony,

Where it’s rough and where it’s stony

Go and never stop,

Trot trot trot trot trot.

Five little men in a flying saucer ( this song takes a degree of strength but it is so worth giving it a go , challenge Daddy to do it!)

probably best not to do this one straight after a feed…

Five little men in a flying saucer

Flew round the world one day (lift up baby and circle round)

They looked left and right( look to the left , and to the right)

but they didn’t like the sights ( shake head in ‘no ‘fashion)

So one man flew away

Zoom! ( lift baby high and fast up into the air  in  a zooming motion)

Four little men etc…

( until the last verse, where the last man flies away , zoom ! )

Bye!!! ( Wave to the space men in the sky)

5 little monkeys jumping on the bed

5 little monkeys jumping on the bed ( hold baby and ‘jump’ them up and down)

One fell off and bumped his head ( touch baby on the head)

Mummy /Daddy called the doctor ( make a phone motion with index and little finger to ear)

and the doctor said

No more monkeys jumping on the bed! (wag index finger with a cross face)

(Repeat until all monkeys have fallen off the bed/or your arms are dead/ baby has had enough)

London kids entertainer and puppeteer, Diane and her monkey puppet Jaffa.

Wind the Bobbin up

Wind the bobbin up ( Roll fists round and around)

Wind the bobbin up

Pull pull,( pull fists apart)

Clap clap clap

Point to the ceiling

Point to the floor

Point to the window

Point to the door

Clap your hands 123

Put them gently on your knee. ( I think the rest is self-explanatory!)

The Wheels on the Bus

The wheels on the bus go round and round ( roll  your fists around each other)

Round and round round and round

The wheels on the bus go round and round

All day long

The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish etc.( swish hands from side to side)

The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep etc.( touch baby gently on the nose or have baby do it to you)

The bell on the bus goes ding ding ding ( ring imaginary bell in air)

The babies on the bus go waa waa waa etc ( rub eyes and pretend to cry)

The mummies on the bus go shh shh shh! ( chatter chatter chatter/ I love you ) many variations on this one, feel free to add your own.

The daddies on the bus go too much noise! ( read read read/again make up your own!)

The children on the bus jump up and down( that bouncing thing again!)

The doggies on the bus go woof woof woof

If you want to theme this first party, a great idea would be to have a twinkle twinkle party and use the night sky as a decorating theme. Think large cut out stars and fairy lights and let your imagination go.

If leading your own party still fills you with dread, consider hiring an entertainer to help you, although many entertainers will not work with children younger than 3 . I love working with babies though. For a small cost, ( £95 for a 45 minute session) I can bring along my puppets and lead the singing for you ( Limited to the London area only)

From one year to nine years old, Diane is happy to entertain them all!


The rest is noise.

The biggest enemy I face at parties is NOISE.

Have you ever considered the impact of acoustics when choosing where to have your party and how many people you intend to invite?

If you intend to have your party at a large venue, ie a church hall, do take into consideration the impact of the echoing acoustics because of the high ceilings and uncarpeted floors. The smallest noise is magnified and bounces around the cavernous space. Small children can and do get very intimidated by the high noise levels of a large church hall. It only takes one child scraping a chair across the floor to fill the space with cacophony. Remember as well that children fill whatever space they get, so give them a huge space and they will use it by running around, chasing and sliding. Space is exciting and begs to be taken advantage of. Entertainers often use up a fair bit of time ’rounding up’ children in large spaces.  If that isn’t the sort of energetic experience you are looking for  try finding smaller , carpeted spaces if at all possible, or cut down numbers and have the party at home. With small children, the atmosphere is everything.

If you are inviting, say 15 children, remember there could be up to 30 accompanying adults to factor in. Adults have BIG voices, especially combined with alcohol! I’m by no means trying to be a party pooper, there is a fine line between taking control of a situation and ruining an atmosphere. It can be very stressful as a host to find yourself shushing your guests. Try serving soft drinks and hot beverages instead if you don’t want to have to deal with the loss of inhibition ( volume control) that comes with alcohol.

You may be saying to me as you read this post: Well why doesn’t she just use amplification? Good question.

I’ve tried it and  quickly discarded it.

All it does is increase the discomfort felt by the children. They just end up sitting with their hands over their ears. Amplified sound isn’t very child friendly. All that seems to  happen is that the adults increase their volume to compensate and we are back to square one, but louder!

If the children at the party are at the age where they can be left, encourage the parents to drop them off. I’m sure many parent will relish the opportunity to have a bit of time to themselves. For children with separation issues, let the parent stay long enough for the child to settle ( it doesn’t take long in my experience) and then  gently encourage them to go. A good entertainer should quickly establish a safe and trusting environment where children are happy to be left to have fun.

And finally, remember if you are going to provide children with party blowers and noise makers, expect NOISE! Be aware of the appropriate time to hand them out, it’s not ideal during showtime. On a similar note, if it is a pirate party and your child has a weapon as part of their costume, be prepared for armed combat when they get to the party! It’s unfair not to expect them to want to use them.

The beauty within

After posting  my video with Fifi the Fairy I feel I should  explore the feelings connected with this special puppet.

When I first made Fifi 16 years ago, my intention was to make a fairy puppet. She quickly became a baby character and I realised that her value lay in her innocence and congruence and her cheeky feisty character. She had terrific comedy value as she says what she sees with no inhibitions, with the simple view of a very young child, full of awe and wonder. She was also a wonderful vehicle for comedy, with the natural ‘bottom’ humour that all young children possess. For so long our children’s lives are taken up with nappies, potty training and eventually graduating to a full size lavatory, so little wonder that our humour as children can be very basic. A lot of pride and achievement is connected with this progression but children are not really ‘allowed’ to talk about it as that side of life isn’t really polite, so it builds up this head of steam that is perfect for release with comedy. Yes, I share this simple sense of humour, but I like to think that it isn’t coarse or vulgar the way it is presented with my young audience, but just a big bucketload of belly laughs.   I’ve witnessed a six year old boy laughing so hard sitting with his legs crossed on the floor that he bent forward from the waist and bashed his head on the floor. Ouch! But he laughed it off.

So Fifi is easy for children to relate to as she shares the small triumphs that all children experience.

She isn’t very pretty, to say the least but I believe she is beautiful and it shows from within. Believe it or not , Fifi is  probably more popular with boys than girls as Fifi challenges young girls perception of how a fairy should look and sometimes they are a little annoyed to see that she is far off the Disney Tinkerbell ideal. But she has this inner strength and a  twinkle in her purple eyes and this is how she manages to woo her audience with her faded charms.

Fifi is very good at giving magic wishes with her wobbly wand to birthday boys and girls and loves to sing happy birthday too. She also has two of her own original puppet shows , one where she goes to school for the first time and manages to turn her teacher into a witch by mistake and the other where she goes to London Zoo and gets lost running away from the reptile house but manages to have an animal adventure all of her own before her mummy finds her with the help of Zoo security. ( My puppet PC Porker)

Zen and the art of party hosting

I often get asked what makes a good party. My answer often surprises: less is more; especially when it comes to parties for small children.

The tendency of most people ,when stressed about a party, is to throw everything at it and hope for the best. The thinking is that if I spend enough on it, it must work.

I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most often the best parties are the simplest where the focus is clear.

The hardest parties that I’ve ever had to attend in my capacity as an entertainer were those where the client had hired the world and his mate for the party, with all the best intentions, of course.

A typical party would consist of  a large ( and very noisy) bouncy castle, a ball pool, numerous helium balloons making a balloon forest, a wealth of sit and ride toys, slides, swings, tunnels and an abundance of soft play equipment and a disco.  All very well and good if this were the only form of entertainment, but add to this physical mix three or four children’s entertainers : a balloon modeller, a magician, a face painter or two and then me, a puppet lady. We were all expected to work together in a small space of time without any form of prior planning. All of this for a two year old’s birthday, the same two year old that was looking bewildered, clinging to mummy ( or nanny) on the verge of tears.

The sum total of all this spending resulted in chaos. Noise chaos, visual chaos and lack of focus for the birthday child. The individual entertainers found it hard to find a time or the audience to do their thing ( with all the competition around for time and attention). Everyone was compromised. All in the name of doing the right thing.

For a successful party, let your mantra be LESS IS MORE.

Decide on your focus , you know your child best and  what makes them happy. Sometimes the same thing again as the last thing they enjoyed works brilliantly. I call this the Teletubby ‘again again’ principle. Adults find this hard to understand; we get bored. Children revisit their memory of previous fun times and it fills them with a sense of confidence .

If your child is physical and out-going, hire a bouncy castle and play equipment and just let them play. Or a football/ dancing party.

If they are shy but physical, hire an entertainer who does physically interactive parties and let the focus on the  entertainer bring out the confidence of your child . A good entertainer will not focus on a shy child, but allow them to be themselves and take the lead from the child. Sensitivity is key. My Bobby Bunny puppet show is perfect for shy active children of all ages as it is a gentle but cheeky show with integrated hopping participation.

A puppet show  is perfect for outgoing, creative children who like to be in the limelight and who enjoy the flight of imagination and creativity a puppet show brings.

Face painting is wonderful for shy children as it often gives them a mask to hide behind, allowing them to be the ‘fierce tiger’ on the outside that they imagine they could be on the inside. You’d be surprised how many actors are painfully shy in the real world. It’s the same principle.

Let this recession be a force for simplifying. Choose one thing and give your child the opportunity to be able to focus fully and have a stress free party.

The phenomenon known as Fifi the Baby fairy

The video does the best job of explaining about my most special puppet, Fifi the Baby Fairy. She is , well, just special.

I love her.

How do you explain ‘purpose’ to a baby? Is it like a knee?

Meet Bonzo

This is my lovely dog Bonzo. He’s a favourite at my work , children love  his dopey friendliness and his licks. He’s a bit rough around the edges but that comes from over 17 years of stroking and cuddles from his friends he meets at parties.

Meet Diane!

Well this is me. I look forward to showing you a bit of what I do and some of my friends.

Bring back the Bad Guy!

Puppeteer Diane and the Big Bad Wolf puppet

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?


I have been entertaining children for over 17 years and I have noticed a very interesting thing: children have often been denied the delicious safe scare that the bad guy in fairy stories brings. Today’s very well meaning parents have not wanted to expose their little ones to the Big Bad Wolf or the Wicked Witch because they don’t want their child to be frightened or traumatised. Up to the age of 2, I recommend staying safe and sticking to a non scary show such as my Bobby Bunny Show which is specifically designed for the very young realists that are the under 2’s, as an eminent American child specialist, Dr Robert Needlman explains:
Even though the roots of fantasy stretch back into early childhood, children begin life as realists. Infants only view objects for what they are: a block is a block, a stick is a stick. Give a one-year-old a telephone and he might babble into it, but he won’t talk into a toy car or a shoe. It’s only later, between about 18 and 24 months that children start to understand symbolism–that is, that one thing can stand for something else. Symbolic thinking sparks an explosion of language development as children realize that every object and action is connected to a word or phrase. Robert Needlman M.D  F. A . A. P

For confident children of two and above, traditional fairy tales can bring a wealth of wonder , providing a rich source of fantasy, spectacular visual imagery and a less obvious and fairly serious bonus.  I offer  story telling sessions with puppets and props from my story telling apron series, including such tales as Thumbelina ( the joy of the teeny tiny) and the dysfunctional family yarn that is Cinderella amongst others.
Children’s literature has been largely sanitised (with the notable exception of the ever popular Harry Potter) to reflect the real world around us rather than the fantasy presented in traditional tales. As interesting as real life can be, it can also be very cruel and unforgiving.

How do we prepare our children for the harshness of real life experiences that they are bound one day to face in a manner that they can digest and assimilate?
The telling of fairy tales, complete with heroes, villains and ‘happy ever after’s’ can provide children with a framework of preparedness in symbolic form.
Consider the story of Hansel and Gretel where a small boy and his sister are abandoned by their mother and father. The children use their resourcefulness to outwit an old hag and find their way back to the father and restore the relationship to a happy ever after. This story reflects the struggle that all children face, to feel powerful in a big, often scary world. So, fantasy speaks to us on a very basic level, about what it means to become powerful, that is, to grow up.

Freudian Psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim in his book, Uses of Enchantment ( 1977) states:
Contrary to the ancient myth, wisdom does not burst forth fully developed like Athena out of Zeus’s head; it is built up, small step by small step, from most irrational beginnings.  Only in adulthood can an intelligent understanding of the meaning of one’s existence in this world be gained from one’s experiences in it.  Unfortunately, too many parents want their children’s minds to function as their own do—as if mature understanding of ourselves and the world, and our ideas about the meaning of life, did not have to develop as slowly as our bodies and minds.

….. Just because his life is often bewildering to him, the child needs even more to be given the chance to understand himself in this complex world with which he must learn to cope. To be able to do so, the child must be helped to make some coherent sense out of the turmoil of his feelings.  He needs ideas on how to bring his inner house into order, and on that basis be able to create order in his life.  He needs—and this hardly requires
emphasis at this moment in our history—a moral education which subtly, and by implication only, conveys to him the advantages of moral behavior, not through abstract ethical concepts but through that which seems tangibly right and therefore meaningful to him.

The child finds this kind of meaning through fairy tales…

I strongly believe we need to bring the Bad Guy back to childhood.
If you feel the same way, I have a few traditional ( and sometimes scary thrilling) tales to offer at Diane’s Puppets.

Join my Facebook group

If you are a facebook junkie like me, why don’t you join my Diane’s Puppets facebook group :  dianespuppets@groups.facebook.com and keep up to date with all of the newest developments there?

Recession? What recession? Let’s party!

In these tough economic times, it’s hard to feel in the mood to celebrate anything, least of all our children’s birthday parties. Morale is low, cash is lower. The prospect of a horde of marauding kids charging around our homes, breaking stuff, crying for mummy or daddy, fighting over the pass the parcel , throwing food ( insert your nightmare party visions here) fills most people with dread. Parties have fast become most parents idea of hell. Well consider me your party angel, as I’m here to change party hell into party heaven. As a seasoned party entertainer of over 17 years experience, I hope to be able to support you in my blog with hints and tips of how to host a successful children’s party on a tight budget.

If you are as old as me , you may have memories of your own birthday parties with pass the parcel, jelly and ice cream and pin the tail on the donkey and Squeak piggy Squeak! Back then children’s birthday parties were all so simple . Todays parents and children have much bigger expectations of birthday parties and many parents feel the pressure to keep up with the Jones’s and host the party to end all parties. Before the nasty old recession hit, this was fairly straight forward : hire an entertainer and venue, buy booze for the adults and party bags and food, drink and cake for the kids and sit back and let someone else take the strain. Now it is not so easy as budget restraints mean we don’t have the privilege of this choice. Or do we? You’d be surprised at how much value for money and peace of mind you can get with a children’s party entertainer and it need not be as expensive as you might think.In my capacity as a children’s  party entertainer and puppeteer  I offer all kinds of packages to suit different budgets and also include face painting along side puppet shows , singing and storytelling so there is  no need to hire a separate face painter, saving you loads of money. Puppets have a wonderful ability to engage the imaginations of the youngest of children right up to adults and combining them with very silly good old fashioned British humour means that belly laughs are guaranteed.

In these challenging times it is easy to fear the prospect of our children’s party rather than look forward to it . I’d like to leave you with a thought. Maybe the recession has an unexpected gift to bestow on us as parents. It has forced us to strip away the surface and get back to what really matters; our relationship with our children. Before the recession, parents at parties would stand at the back with other parents, chatting, networking and  sipping champagne while the entertainer got on with his or her job.  Now parents are to be found sitting alongside their children sharing in the joy of the moment, relishing in the giggles and their children’s happiness. I call that progress,wouldn’t you?

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