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

Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Fairy love

London lady entertainer Diane gets a hug from Fifi the Fairy .

We all know that girls love fairies.

Can I let you into a secret? Boys do too.

Well at least the boys I meet at puppet show parties  do.

Even  older boys in primary school workshops fall head over heels with her .

They start off by pulling faces at the prospect of meeting a fairy but after meeting her,

they are  more keen to get  a bit of ‘Fifi love ‘( she gives a mean high five and cuddle) than most.

We all need love and affection in our lives and someone to tell us we are special.

That is Fifi the Fairy’s magic gift to children.

Want some?

An invite to a free London Puppet Festival

It’s not often that you get owt for nowt.

Coinciding with my birthday each year, ( serendipity rocks!) the beautiful St Paul’s  Covent Garden ( The Actors church, where Gwen Stefani married, incidentally) hosts the splendid May Fayre.

It’s FREE folks! Yes you heard it right, FREE.

A whole day of entertainment for the kids ( and for those young at heart) celebrating the art of puppetry.

So , the 36th Annual Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival

at St Paul’s Church Garden , Bedford Street WC2 on Sunday 8th May 2011  from 10.30am -5.30pm .

ADMISSION FREE

If I’m not at a birthday party, I shall be there.

Encore!

I just got back from entertaining  in my capacity as Diane’s Puppets at a clients birthday party. It was a joy. I love my work ( how many people out there can hand on heart honestly say that?) as it brings me such joy to see children having such a good time.

Adults make the most polite audiences: if they like you, they clap and shout Encore! If they don’t like you, they still clap ( probably not as enthusiastically, but they still clap). It is sometimes hard to gauge your performance with an audience of adults.

Not so with children.

Children are different, they do not have that applied veneer of manners and social niceties.

They are simple in their needs: if they don’t like you, they just walk away.

If they don’t like you, and there are toys around, guess who gets the vote? The toys.

If they don’t like you and there is space to run around, they run around, usually screaming.

If they don’t like you and there is food, they eat, or if they really don’t like you, the food gets thrown … at you.

The list of distractions is endless but suffice it to say, an audience largely made up of children can be, to some, an intimidating prospect.

Not me.

You see, even knowing all this, knowing that I could walk into a party and literally fall flat on my face in front of an audience ( and then get covered in popcorn etc) I’m still excited to go to work.

Because when it goes right there is no pay off like it. When children get you , they GET you. They feed off your every word, spellbound and entranced.

When they like you they give you untold attention, follow you around the room wanting more. They join you in the shared magic that is the imagination world of puppetry, believing in the shared knowledge that the monkey may puppet not be real , but for that moment the experience of that monkey is real.

A birthday gift is always good to receive, but for me, every time I go to a birthday party I am showered with untold gifts of laughter from  my precious unsophisticated ( aka genuine) child audiences.

As I was leaving the party , climbing into my taxi , tired and satisfied, little Ry-ry came running up to me.

‘Will you come back to my 5 birthday?” he eagerly asked and continued: ” Will you come tomorrow, will you come the next day? ”

That’s all the encore I need.

Imagination: Children’s gift to our mundane world.

The more I work as a children’s entertainer doing puppet shows for London’s kids birthdays, the more I am entranced and inspired by the breadth and scope of children’s imagination.

My most memorable moment was a comment I received when a child was staring intently at me at a party.

Before I continue, let me explain, when I turn up for birthday parties, I’m not dressed in regular clothes but in clothes that are designed to appeal children: bright colours, sparkles, texture, shine and sometimes even bells for an audio element.

This is my look: In my hair I tie in a myriad of ribbons of every single colour of the rainbow, some fluorescent and some metallic. Sometimes children ask me if my hair is real, that should give you an indication of how many ribbons I have tied. I tie in a bell or two so my head jingles when I nod it.

I wear a sequined top ( gold or bright pink) and a purple cardigan ( or cyan blue with pink sequins sewn on) .

I wear  a purple skirt with colourful teardrops or leaves hanging off of it, interspersed with strands of ribbon of all hues. A purple rose hitches the skirt up on one side. Depending on my mood I may also wear a frilly purple and sparkly bustle complete with more bells.

On my legs, rainbow striped socks or purple tights. I don’t wear clown make-up. I don’t consider myself a clown but a ‘puppet lady’. I’m aware that my job relies on children being able to make a rapid character assessment of me to allow the trust that is so important with any work with children. I only usually have about half an hour maximum for this to happen so I avoid any possible pitfalls, like heavy make-up  face paint.

So apart from my face, you might say when I’m at work, I  look a little unusual.

So back to this young fellow staring intently at me. He stared for quite a while, perhaps even a full five minutes before saying:

” I know what you look like” …

I held my breath. It was normal to be called a silly lady, a clown, funny lady, etc, so I wondered what version of insult was coming next. Ah .. me of little faith!

“You look like a melted rainbow!”

My heart melted. This was pure  gold. Poetry at it’s finest. And from the mouth of a young child, no older than 5 years of age.

So when children ask me what I am dressed as, I always say: I’m a melted rainbow.

Don’t you just love them?

Children: so inspiring.

Toddler parties : celebrating those terrible two’s.

So your baby is growing up and you face a birthday party with a child who is learning to tantrum and you have visions of all the guests ( being two years old or roundabout ) having tantrums all at once! AARGH! The vision has you filled with dread.

It’s probably too early to play traditional party games at your party.They take a certain degree of reason to be considered successful.Pass the parcel will probably result in a few tears as ‘sharing’ is probably not one of a two year old’s best skills. They understand that in pass the parcel you get a prize if you have the parcel, so hold on to it and refuse to let it go, music or no music. It’s all pretty understandable. If  you are going to play musical bumps/statues, understand that this age group will not understand the concept of being ‘OUT’ so be prepared to act like the silly grown up and not be able to see who is out. Basically it’s just an excuse to dance to some music. You will  have to lead the statues quite visually, giving the children ideas of what an elephant, etc will look like when the music stops so expect to make some funny faces all in the name of fun.

Soft play toys and/or a bouncy castle and/or ball pool is probably a better idea than party games at this age.  If your budget doesn’t stretch to hiring out this equipment, don’t despair. A really nice alternative is to play some simple circle games where everyone is a winner and no one is out or gets a prize. ( Sometimes ‘winning’ a prize can be counterproductive and end in tears or with tantrums of ‘don’t want that , I want what Johnny has’. )

CIRCLE GAMES: Fun where everyone is a winner.

Ring a Ring a Rosies is a lovely simple traditional game and is also a VERY useful way of getting the children into a circle for a picnic tea round a cloth or at any time when you require them to sit in a circle. Have you ever tried herding reluctant two year old’s into a circle before? It sounds simple enough but can take a lot of time. Just say we’re going to play Ring a Ring a Rosies and hold out your hands to invite children and mummies /daddies to play. Once everyone is holding hands, the parents can encourage the children to hold hands with each other once the confidence has grown, and then you can start to play.

Ring a Ring a Rosies

Ring a ring of rosies( circle around to the left or right)

A pocket full of poseys

Attishoo ( mime a sneezing action)

Attishoo

We all fall down! ( Fall down and sit on the ground)

( Alternative extra verses)

Picking up the daisies

Picking up the daisies

Attishoo

Attishoo

We all jump up!

The cows are in the meadows

Eating buttercups

Attishoo

Attishoo

We all jump up!

Fishes in the water

Fishes in the sea

We all jump up with a 1 2    3 !

( fun alternative for a pirate themed party is this:)

Ring a ring of pirate ships

A pocket full of cutlasses ( wave your imaginary cutlass)

Hoist up the mainsail ( pull up imaginary rigging)

We all jump over board. ( Hold nose and jump )

Crocodiles in the water

Sharks are in the sea

Jump out the water with a 123!

The Farmer’s in the Dell ( one child stands in the middle of the circle as the farmer the others circle round singing)

The farmer’s in the dell , the farmer’s in the dell

Ee aye , Ee aye, the farmer’s in the dell.

The farmer wants a wife , the farmer wants a wife ( the person in the middle chooses a child from the circle to join them in the middle)

Ee aye , Ee aye , the farmer wants a wife.

The wife wants a child ( the ‘wife’ chooses another child ..)

etc.

The child wants a nurse ( and so on)

etc.

The nurse wants a dog ( child chosen mimes being a doggy, on hands and knees)

etc.

The dog wants a bone ( doggy chooses another child or preferably is encouraged to choose  an adult in the circle , you’ll see why in a minute)

etc.

We all pat the bone, We all pat the bone( everyone from the circle comes into the middle to gently pat the ‘bone’ on the head.)

Ee aye , Ee aye , we all pat the bone.

If you have the energy /space /inclination it is always great to have  game of Hokey Cokey. There’s nothing like it for getting the party spirit going and it’s such a nice game for the children to have fun with grownups on their own level.

Just be careful of the surge forward , monitor how hard people pull, and if there are older siblings involved, press upon them to be gentle with their siblings as it is very tempting to pull people over…

Hokey Cokey ( everyone join hands in a circle )

You put your left leg in ( leg towards the inside of the circle)

Your left leg out ,

In out , in out ,

You shake it all about

You do the hokey cokey and you turn around ( hold hands together in prayer motion and rock them back and forth, then turn your whole body around . )

That’s what it’s all about!

Ohhhhhhhh, (GENTLY rush into the centre of the circle , everyone together)

Hokey Cokey Cokey ( Back out again)

Ohhhhhhh ( Rush in again)

Hokey Cokey Cokey ( out again)

Ohhhhhhh ( In again)

Hokey Cokey Cokey (out again)

Knees bend arms stretch

Ra Ra Ra ( Clap three times)

( more verses, follow the instructions in the song and repeat as above)

You put your right leg in etc…

You put your left arm in.. etc

You put your right arm in ..

You put your bottom in ( this always raises many a smile and giggle, especially when we get to the shake it all about bit! )

You put your whole self in , ( Jump in )

By the time you have completed this, I can guarantee you will most probably collapse in a red faced satisfied heap on the floor. Who needs a gym subscription when you have children?

Puppets are great for two year olds parties. Toddlers are able to focus on a more formal puppet show by this stage. An hour’s session should suffice, but do remember that sometimes young children require a little bit of ‘get to know you ‘time before they get into their groove. If you would like support with your party, maybe a full two hour party with an entertainer wouldn’t be a bad investment for peace of mind.

Again, the secret is KEEP IT SIMPLE.

For minimum tantrums, keep the present opening till the end of the party when the other guests have left. Too many times I’ve seen very upset party people crying because their friend played with their new toy. Remember sharing isn’t easy. This is a social skill that takes practice and time. I like to impress on boys and girls that sharing is what ‘big boys and girls’ do. We all know how little children strive to become big boys and girls, a little impetus to learn to share never harmed anyone!

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!

x


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?

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