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

Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

The Power of Puppets : See you Later Alligator!

Yesterday was a very special day. In my previous post I shared with you my granddaughter’s very special second birthday moment.

But what was I doing earlier on in the day?

Well, I was helping a very lovely client find closure for her daughter through the power and play of puppets.

Like a few of my clients, this lovely lady and her family had decided to uproot and move her family to Switzerland. She had called me and asked me to perform a puppet show for a goodbye party where her daughter had the opportunity to say goodbye to her school friends and have fun at the same time. Could I perhaps include references to saying Goodbye in my show?

I considered it for a brief second and my answer was ‘of course!’

With my 20 years of working with children as a children’s entertainer, I’ve encountered many a child who has trouble with saying goodbye. Goodbye  is hard for the adults, so why shouldn’t we expect children to be upset at the prospect of saying farewell?

I’ve had my fair share of tears after a puppet show where children have burst into tears the minute a puppet show has ended .

The reason? They didn’t want me to go, they didn’t want the fun to end and most importantly, they didn’t want to say goodbye.

My own way of dealing with this outburst is to gently reassure the distressed child that you have to say goodbye otherwise you can’t say hello another time, and hello is the most wonderful, exciting thing to say!

Ending with a ‘ See you later Alligator , in a while Crocodile , (Bye Bye Apple Pie!) ( Fifi the Fairy’s own invention) is a sure fire way of using the power of silly to put the smile back on those tear stained faces too.

Snap! Snap!

So I tootled off to Belsize Park yesterday and set up my puppet theatre outside in the very welcome sunshine. ( It made a brief appearance yesterday, we just had to make the most of it before it rains again).

Bobby Bunny was sad that  Tabitha cat was going to Australia and had lost his will to hop. The children were encouraging him to hop and have fun and reassured him that Tabitha would still be his friend even though she was going to Australia.

In between the silly behind-you’s and the silly slapstick humour and chases, I inserted lots of chat and references about using Mummy and Daddy’s  Internet to keep in touch and spoke about having friends to visit. Rather than focusing on the leaving aspect, I stressed the new adventures ahead. Tabitha cat was excited to be going, it was her friend that was sad. This allowed the little girl in question to be able to chat to the rabbit about her leaving in a safe and reassuring way; indeed it was a little bit of a therapy session without anyone even knowing it! Lots of hugs were given to the girl in question from the puppets and she said goodbye with a smile on her face- which was painted just like my lovely puppy puppet Toby

Traditional Toby dog to start the show

So bye bye lovely Taya, we will miss you here at Diane’s Puppets. Don’t forget to send us a postcard from Zurich ( some chocolate would be nice too! ) Only joking. Silly Sausage.

Let’s hope that fun and laughter and puppets have eased the pain of farewell.

The power of puppets never cease to amaze me.

 

Related posts:

The Power of Puppets for Change

Silly is a Serious Business

Puppets: An Emotional Connection

 

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I Love My Job

“I love my job!”

 

How many times do you hear people say that?

 

Not often, I can guarantee.

 

But I say it almost every time I go out to work.

 

Granted , in my 20 years of being a London Children’s Entertainer  there have been times where I have reminded myself of the fact that ‘This is why it is called work ( and not play) ” and I have put my nose to the metaphorical grindstone ( the alternative would be a bit ouchy!) and got on with the job of being an entertainer and puppeteer . Those few times have usually been when I was faced with difficult circumstances like noise ( usually the grown-ups on the sauce I’m afraid…no , not ketchup!) or just too much being thrown at the children all at once. I can’t stress enough times that with small children, just throwing money at the problem isn’t going to solve it. With small children , less is most often more. Give them a chance to focus and you will be amazed at how much they can focus.

But, I can count on the fingers of one hand all the times  I’ve not found work that fun. That isn’t bad going when I’ve been doing this puppeteering /entertainment lark for 20 years now.

 

Last weekend was no exception. I started off on the Friday at a birthday party for lovely Otto. He was turning three and I was so delighted to be returning to this family after 8 years. They had used my puppeteering and entertainment services all those years ago for their last child when he was three. Now the big brother was 11! It was wonderful to keep this 3rd birthday party tradition going and to witness the older brother joining in from the back, still giggling at the same jokes he had enjoyed all those years ago, now he was sharing in the fun with his little brother. It was touching indeed to be part of this celebration. I sometimes feel I have the privilege of entering children’s memories as that silly lady who made them laugh at their birthday. What a wonderful position to be in.

So that was Friday.

Saturday I was up bright and early and off to a morning party for the lovely Victoria. She was turning 4 . We had a blast, Victoria especially loved my puppet Fifi the Fairy.

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

Fifi gave out hugs and kisses at the end.

The lovely Victoria hugging Fifi ( identity protected)

Victoria and Diane after the party

He’s behind you!

So Victoria waved goodbye to Fifi and went off home to open all her presents. I jumped into my waiting cab and zoomed off to my next party.

Uma was turning 5 , we had a wonderful time, again with Fifi the fairy  as we told the story of how Fifi turned her teacher into a Birthday Witch whilst trying to make a Birthday Wish… ( see what I did there?)

Witchy Poo Poo was a great hit.

Witchy Poo in all her witchy glory

Again I was mistaken for Rosie. Easy mistake to make I suppose.

spot the difference… it’s the glasses isn’t it?

I think Uma enjoyed her party, so much so that she burst into tears at the end of the show . She didn’t want it to end. But after a reassuring cuddle from Fifi the fairy,  I left a very happy Uma and went home to witness Chelsea winning the Champions League.

I thought nothing of it until the morning when I tried to book my cab to go to my Sunday morning in … Chelsea!

The controller calmly informed me that roads were being closed in Chelsea to prepare for the Champions League Victory Parade and that I wouldn’t be able to get through to my gig.

PANIC!

After a bit of begging and pleading and cajoling, ( and giving him the exact address) we worked out between us that it was the posh end of Chelsea that I was going to , not the football end. So we’d give it a go. I gave myself a good hour to get there to deal with any traffic and crossed fingers , toes , eyes, legs and arms.

As it turned out, there was no traffic at all! In fact the roads were much clearer than normal. Maybe people were staying away fearing congestion? Who knows. All I know is I got to the Christening party in such good time , I was happy I’d taken my crochet. ( I’m an avid crocheter as well as being a puppet lady. I make stuff based on rainbows and fairies. I’m just a big kid at heart)

Stuff I make.

Well that was a very lovely day at the ‘office’ . So many parents stayed to watch and they laughed at my jokes and cooed at the little ones playing Sleeping Bunnies with Bobby Bunny during the show. It is a joy to watch the parents faces when I’m behind my puppet theatre as they witness their kids having so much fun. Sometimes I see a tear or two. It’s touching.

Mummy came up to me at the end and said I was awesome  and that she’d never seen her son so engaged and enthralled.

Gosh.

*Blushes*.

Waving bye bye to the lovely children , I jumped into my waiting chariot ( cab) and  went forth to my next engagement.

Lucia was turning 3 and she was the very lucky girl who was going to have a puppet show in her very own bedroom! How exciting!

From my perspective, a little challenging, as the space was fairly limited and I was going to end up with a bunch of shy kids sitting really close to me and my puppets . I would have to work hard to engage their trust quickly otherwise I knew from experience that crying fever could sweep through that small space. ( Once one goes, the rest follow, I’ve found)

Well, I worked hard on my self deprecation. ( I’m a silly sausage, cheeky nunkey( sic) ) That always helps. My monkey calls me names and I don’t get cross. This seems to reassure little children that I’m an alright person pretty quickly. Plus it’s really silly and funny. If I can  make children laugh in the first two minutes then I’m happy that the rest of the party will be fine.

It worked. Mummy sent me a sweet thank you email afterwards saying that Lucia is still talking about the puppet show that happened in her room. Result!

 

So yes, I love my job.

The hours are great, the clients are wonderful, and the best thing of all is the job satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like the emotional connection that you get from children. When they like you, they REALLY like you.

Mind you, the flip side of that is that if they don’t like you, they walk away.

 

I better make sure I keep my standards up.

It’s a good life.

 

 

 

 

Children’s birthday parties: A Lesson in Trust Building

As a children’s entertainer, I have a unique job requirement: I have to walk into a room full of  small children, none of whom know me, and instantly establish trust and rapport. There is no time to mess around and get it wrong, I’m only at a party for a very limited time. Creating this instant rapport isn’t easy. Children are the worlds best or worst audiences, depending on how you look at it. If you are an optimist like myself, you may agree with me that they are the best audiences as they are unflinchingly honest. They ‘smell’ fear and lack of integrity and will quickly walk away and do something else if you don’t immediately capture their attention. Unlike adult audiences who may politely clap even though they may inwardly criticize, the average 2 or 3 year old audience member will just simply walk off and find something to play with or even worse, cry. I can hear you saying ‘How is that positive?’ . Well, the flip side of that  brutal honest appraisal is that if children like you, they LIKE you. If you manage to capture an audience of young children, it is the most gratifying and satisfying audience to play to /( and in my case)play alongside.

I use many strategies to make my tiny audience members feel at ease. On the surface you will see a grown up woman acting silly. But behind this silliness is a very serious study of how children think and establish trust. It’s all about empathy, I have to put myself in their shoes and try and anticipate how they are feeling and how I would react if I were in their shoes. I ask myself, what would make the three year old me feel comfortable? Then I use that feeling to feed back to the children. It is never the same strategy, all children are different . One thing remains constant though: I will always play alongside the children rather than try and entertain them.

A puppet party

Establishing trust with Fifi the Fairy

Note in this picture I’ve created  a semi circle of chairs for the children to sit on or sit in front of. This creates a cozier setting in  a large space and determines the focus of where to sit/interact. If you like, this is one step of creating a boundary.( The link takes you to my previous post where I talk about how boundaries make small children feel safe). I try and position my chair a good way back from the children to allow them a safe space  and will only approach once I can feel the children relaxing  or if they approach me . This is a clear signal that they are feeling comfortable and are ready to play. The chairs also form a place where mummies and daddies can sit if they want to join in. ( It’s great when you do, believe me!) Sometimes the chairs are used for those children who are really nervous and they produce a space to hang behind. They can get closer if and when they feel more comfortable.

Once trust is established then it is time to play, in this case Sleeping Bunnies.

playing games at a puppet party

See the little bunnies sleeping...

You’ll have to look close to see those lovely bunnies playing the game, they’re all lying down and sleeping with the puppet bunny getting ready to jump up and hop. One little bunny was happy to watch. I would never force any child to do anything against their will, it’s all for fun after all! I find pushing a child to join in really doesn’t help. They will join in in their own good time or like this bunny here, just be perfectly happy watching others play. She did have a cuddle from the puppet bunny afterwards though! It’s the same situation for face-painting: I never pressurise a child to have their face painted, in fact I am very quick to reassure those children who clearly are not comfortable with face painting that I’m not going to ask them because I know they don’t like it.

So the next time you see this silly lady being silly at a party, try and spot the method in the madness. It’s there somewhere!

Thank you to my lovely client Hana for sending me these sweet pictures.

Just to reassure all my clients and future clients out there, I have been police checked and have an advanced CRB through Kids Company and have full Public Liability Insurance.

I discuss trust building in this blog post also: From Freak to Friend in Forty Minutes

A Very Merry Puppet Xmas

Today Christmas started for me in earnest.

I suppose it should’ve started last Sunday as I held a craft stall at Morley College Winter Fair and face painted lots of lovely children ( and a few adults too!)

Facepainting for Morley College Winter fair

Lots of bigger boys really loved having ‘tattoos’ painted on their arms. I did a whole array of fire breathing dragons and snakes.

Fire breathing dragon coming to life

One of the highlights of my day there was face painting lots of boys as vampires. Thanks to the Twilight movies and Robert Pattinson‘s blue sparkly face, I was easily able to convince the boys to indulge in a face full of glitter.

It’s not often a young man can have a sparkly face and be deemed by other boys to be ‘awesome’. That was some magic happening there.

Big up the sparkles I say.

 

Oh did I mention that I was also concurrently running a craft stall of my crochet goods that was being very ably (wo)manned by my youngest daughter? It was wonderful to find loving homes for my crochet creations and to feel genuine enthusiasm over things that I had created with my own hands. ( Nice to make a bit of money as well). I’m looking forward to my Christmas Eve Craft stall in Station Road Brixton on the 24th.

Oh yes, back to today Christmas started in earnest. I was working for a lovely Montessori Nursery School in Little Venice. I did two sessions for their children, telling my Christmas story featuring Bobby Bunny, Tabitha Cat and of course, naughty fairy Fifi who steals the star on top of Tabitha’s Christmas tree. Of course at the end Fifi returns the star as she is worried that if she doesn’t , Santa won’t bring her presents.

Santa and Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer starred in the story and the children were delighted to meet them. We sang Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer , Jingle Bells and When Santa got stuck up the chimney , Father Christmas ( he got stuck) and even managed to squeeze in a quick game of Sleeping Bunnies with Bobby Bunny.

It was a joy to bring Christmas Spirit to these wide eyed wonderful children. It really reminded me what I believe Christmas is really about : appreciating our children. Indulge in their wonderment, enter their belief in sleigh bells and Santa and Jingle bells, life is too short to go all Ebeneezer Scrooge. For me Christmas is not about money, it’s not about things, it’s about the feeling of being loved and loving.

 

Thank you Windmill Montessori for reminding me of the true spirit of Christmas.

Tomorrow another Montessori school and another Christmas show. I’m so lucky. I get to do Christmas at least 20 times each year with those amongst us who really care about the true spirit of Christmas.

There may be a global recession right now but we are rich beyond our ken.

Children are our gifts.

 

Colouring in for Halloween

Here's a picture of Witchy Poo flying through the sky for you to print out and colour in

Why I don’t make balloon animals

2007-12-28 Roy's Balloon Modelled Poodle 02

Image by Roy Stead via Flickr

Quite often when I take inquiries for my Children’s Entertainment Service , Diane’s Puppets , people ask if I do balloon modelling. I don’t. Sometimes this is a deal breaker and I lose the opportunity to take a booking.

The thing is, I could make balloon animals. I’m a creative person, as my craft blog attests, I can turn my hand to making things. It’s not a problem. It could be another skill that I could use.

But I choose not to.

Am I being foolish?

Some might say so.

I choose not to because I believe strongly  that children appreciate our time and attention over things. Our very materialistic society which bombards our children with advertising constantly teaches that children have to have STUFF to be happy.

I don’t agree.

I’d like to point you in the direction of this  blog post by a very well respected expert in the field of parenting in the UK and a lady whom I admire greatly, Sue Atkins. I found this lovely lady on Twitter. She is responding to a recent UNICEF report that children in the UK are the unhappiest despite our tendency to throw material goods at them. This post didn’t just speak to me , it sang, danced and performed.

This is the reason I don’t twist up balloons to give out to children as part of the entertainment process. Sure , children like it.

But I don’t.

I like to feel good about the sort of entertainment I do. I much prefer to make children giggle, jump up and down, squeal with delight, interact with a puppet, feed them, receive magic wishes and kisses from a puppet, take children on imaginary journeys to feed their very fertile imaginations.

To me giving out balloons pales into insignificance.

Hey, I’m not saying that there aren’t some incredible balloon artists out there ( and I mean artists!) What some people can do with simple balloons is mind blowing,  and kudos to them.  I just won’t be joining them anytime soon.

 

Fairy Pretty

I love fairies.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a fairy.

As a child, my favourite book was an oversized picture book ( probably about as big as the 4-year-old me) all about fairies. I would sit for hours on end, pouring over this magical book , dreaming of being a fairy.

I was never dainty. Despite this, I still had ambitions of growing up to become a fairy.

It never really came to pass. Well not exactly…

I now become a fairy through the magic of puppetry. When I take Fifi the Fairy out of her bag, she borrows my spirit and in the words of the lovely Spice Girls “Two become One”.

I did also, in a moment of post divorce/thirty somethingth madness, acquire a dodgy fairy tattoo. Children seem to love it though, but I always tell them it was a bad idea. Even though it is a fairy.

I have also crocheted two fairies. One of them I have named Fifi. I do hope the original Fifi the Fairy doesn’t mind. The other one is an amigurumi fairy, cute and dumpy ( a little like my fairy self). They’re both on sale on my new Folksy site .

Dumpy cute amigurumi fairy and her toadstool.

Isn't she pretty?

Fifi the crochet fairy in her box

Wings and curls detail

Anyone that knows me, knows I have visits from a real life fairy every day.

She is the cutest one of all.

 

 

 

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