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Archive for the ‘Child Psychology’ Category

Don’t judge a fairystory by it’s cover : A story about self-esteem

It’s been a while since this happened, but it’s  now time to tell the story.

me and Fifi

Here I am with probably my most important puppet, Fifi the Baby Fairy. Fifi is a baby in that she says what she sees with no filters and innocent eyes, but she has pretty sophisticated communication skills and a wickedly silly and irreverent sense of humour. This combination of silliness and honesty makes her a very popular character, loved by both girls and boys alike. Actually, I’d probably go as far as to say that boys love her just a little bit more than the girls.

But that is for a different post.

I made this fairy puppet around 20 years ago. She is a permanent baby. Such is the magic of puppets.

You may notice from the picture that Fifi the fairy puppet isn’t exactly a Disney style fairy, looks wise , although she has a naughty character that would rival any Tinkerbelle.

Firstly she has a coffee coloured complexion rather than the ubiquitous pink and pale that fairies usually have. This is deliberate. I’m proud to say I live in probably the most multicultural city in the world ( London) and my little clients are often of beautifully varied shades . Some children will suggest that she has a dirty face, this gives me an opportunity to discuss diversity in an open and honest way. One thing I know about children is that they aren’t born bigoted.

Next she has large iridescent purple eyes with no pupil. This can seem freaky to many adults but children ( and those adults with a playful soul) understand the magic in those eyes.

She is a sewn puppet and sometimes the seams can look like scars. This was not intentional, but it has become a very useful jumping off point to be able to talk again about diversity and disability in a non judgmental way.

Her mouth is permanently upside down, giving her a permanent sad expression. Again, this was not intentional but has proven to be useful. We don’t always have to smile ( especially girls) to be taken seriously or be friendly.

She doesn’t wear trendy clothes or designer labels or trainers . She wears a fairly bedraggled dress that is pretty in a Lady Haversham way.

For all intents and purposes, this fairy should be a disaster. She should be rejected by modern children for not looking like a fairy should look.

But I believe in children. I know that they don’t judge books by their covers, even weird , freaky fairytale books.

 

So, are you ready for a story that will gladden your heart?

Come closer and I’ll tell you what happened at a school workshop with children in Year 6, top juniors , on the cusp of going to Secondary School.

Firstly, there is a whole bunch of educators out there who would think that my working with a Baby Fairy Puppet with children of this age is highly inappropriate. They will tell you that it is patronising and age inappropriate.

I vehemently disagree. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water, it’s all about how you approach things.

In this instance, I was very lucky to have done lots of work with Southwark Council with my close working with Scary Little Girls Theatre Company. I’m proud to say that they believe in the power of fairies. Good folk to be sure.

Well, there I was, with a bunch of ‘challenging’ children who were from a behavioural support unit at a Southwark school about to embark on a fact finding session to feedback to the council the children’s experience of the councils service. On the surface this could’ve been a very dry exercise indeed. But I had brought my Fairy Fifi with me. Things were about to get interesting.

I introduced myself to the children as a puppeteer and explained that I was going to introduce my favourite puppet to them . As usual, I told them in my own silly way that of course she wasn’t a real fairy, ( this is the not patronising stuff, it’s all about the approach) but she was a real puppet. This approach always works a treat, as the children start to realise I’m not going to try and convince them that anything silly was going to happen. Then I told them that she was a special fairy and pulled her out of her bag.

Cue a few screams and a few boys made a very melodramatic dash out of the door ( but of course still hovered round the doorway as they weren’t going to miss this for anything).

As the fairy starts into her routine, singing silly songs and making me look very silly ( there has to be a fall guy for comedy, and for this act it is always me. Sigh) the recalcitrant chaps subtly shuffled back to the group and their initial disdain turned very quickly into intense concentration and hilarious interaction. Soon the children were eating out of Fifi’s hand, she had them all in fits of giggles and they were all swearing to be her best friend forever.

Then I put her into a ‘sleep’ and had a chat with the children . The warm up was over, now it was time for the fact finding part of the exercise.

I asked the children what concerned them about moving from Primary School to Secondary school and what would make things easier for them.

Their answer was simple and unanimous: being popular.

So I asked them what did being popular mean to them, and how do you become popular?

The answer made my Feminist heart weep.

The girls all chorused : “Being pretty” . The boys nodded in agreement.

I challenged them, asking ” Are you sure? ”  They all nodded, yes, being pretty was the answer to being liked.

I then asked them to consider if they thought Fifi was popular.

They all shouted out that they loved her and of course she was popular , everyone wanted to be Fifi’s friend, she was the essence of popular.

So I then asked the children an obvious question.

“But is Fifi pretty?”

Cue a stunned silence. Then some children started saying , yes of course she was.

I reassured the children that Fifi was asleep and that telling the truth wouldn’t hurt her feelings. I told them that I was glad that they thought she was pretty, that they weren’t looking at her outside but her inside. I then reminded them of the initial shrieks and shocked reaction at first seeing her. Then I asked them again: `”Really and truly, is Fifi pretty? ”

There was a mumbling amongst the group and eventually the consensus was a reluctant , no . Fifi wasn’t exactly pretty.

Then I asked: ” But is she popular? ”

I didn’t have to say any more.

The children were smart enough to work out that it was personality not prettiness that wins friends.

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

Fairy puppet Fifi

Look at her pretty hair!

Sometimes our imperfections can be our greatest strengths.

 

Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring!

If you can hear those words in your head uttered by the lovely Clive Dunn from the 70’s sit com Dad’s Army, then you’re probably of my generation or maybe you watch TV programs from yesteryear.

Either way, they encapsulate something I’d like to say to you lovely parents when hosting a party for lots of little strangers and their parents.

Don’t panic! It will all be fine.

Sometimes when faced with a big space like a church hall, children will feel the urge to run about. Some will even do that lovely slidey knee thing. ( I wish I could do that and get away with it, but I fear I may never get up again if I tried!)

If they do start to run about, it’s not the end of the world.

Don’t panic!

Your energy will translate to the children , they can smell the anxiety , just like dogs and they will sense it as fear. That makes it hard for you to take charge and remedy the situation ( if you don’t like the running about, some do!)

 

So what do you do if you feel that your party is starting to tip into chaos?

  • First take a deep breath. Remember your energy is paramount. Calm your breathing down.
  • Ask the grown-ups ( or get another adult to help with this) to quieten down. (You’ll be amazed at how much adult noise affects behaviour of children in a party situation)
  • If you have an entertainer and they are able to help, ask them to start an activity. The children will listen to a stranger.
  • Gain the attention of the children by making a sound that they won’t expect : blow a whistle, bang a tambourine or get a bloke to shout ATTENTION!
  • Once the attention is gained, harness the enthusiasm and energy of the children and announce a  game  in a good confident , projected voice.
  • Don’t ask who wants to play … just say WE ARE GOING TO PLAY…Give the children a choice and many will choose to keep on with their own invented/slightly dangerous(?) game.

Play games that involve non competition and action. Try the Hokey Cokey ( Get the grown-ups going too, they’ll enjoy this one especially if they’ve had a glass or two…) Go on a Bear Hunt , Be the Grand Old Duke of York ( or get a suitable bloke to be Sergeant Major and play a version of “Simon Says.” Kids love following instructions! Play Ring a Ring a Rosies with smaller children.

 

I can’t stress enough how your energy and that of the other grown-ups will affect the behaviour of the children.

Just because they’re running around doesn’t mean they’re being naughty. They’re using their imaginations to fill in the gaps. They’d much rather the adults join in with them and have fun all together.

So Grown-ups , are you ready for the challenge?

 

YOU Put your Right Foot IN

Your right foot OUT

 

So next time, don’t panic!

Get Involved!

 

 

Attention! It’s not so hard.

Attention!

My crocheted fingerpuppet soldier standing to attention.

One of the biggest areas of debate  I face when clients call me  is that concerning  attention span. More often than not, when clients see that I offer a minimum time session of 45 minutes to an hour they will say that their child definitely will not sit for that length of time. Even though I respect that my clients know their own children best of all, I always ask my clients to keep an open mind when it comes to puppet entertainment , that it may be that their child may react in a different way altogether when faced with live entertainment and personal interaction , focus and involvement. Modern studies suggest that due to new technologies, our attention spans are growing shorter and shorter , requiring more and more stimuli to keep us entertained. I challenge  this study.  Why should we now believe that our children can’t concentrate on anything  just because they won’t sit for long in front of a screen?

When it comes to human interaction , children are able to concentrate for great lengths of time.

My experience over 20 years of working in the field of children’s entertainment suggests that all children , even the youngest , are able to maintain focus if you involve them with eye contact, ‘mugging’

Silly sausage me.

( exaggerated facial expressions and grand gestures) and changes in pace and volume. Even adults are easily bored if things are monotonous. Add familiarity and ownership to the mix and you are on to an absolute sure fire winner.

What do I mean by ownership? Well, in my routines , I make sure that I play the silly billy. I’m the adult that can’t get things right. I’m very careful not to do this in a patronising way as that can be very easily sniffed out as disingenuous by savvy kids , but use a big dollop of tongue in cheek humour to keep just this side of silly. In this role I’m not the teacher , I’m the pupil in the world of the child. I get things wrong so they , my young audience, can teach me ( or my puppet) how to do things. ( Although at a recent party at a Nursery , Valentina ( 4years old) stood up and announced in a very big voice that I was the ‘bestest teacher in the world’. Thanks Valentina. <3)

That’s the theory anyway. It’s proven to be a winner for me over the years. I can honestly say I’ve managed to maintain rapt attention for at least 45 minutes for all of my audiences , be they 2 years old or a little older.

Today though was rather special.

But let me set the scene:

Rain Rain go away , come again another day.

If anyone knows anything about the weather in the UK recently, it has not stopped raining for months now. Everywhere is soggy. Our Summer has been washed out.

Despite this weather, I had been booked to do an outdoor session in a park for a class of 5 year old children as a special treat. We were lucky enough to get a brief spell of sunshine early on in the day but the ground was still seriously sodden, in fact in areas the grass was covered in puddle.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun said Noel Coward. Well this mad dog and English woman joined the children and made the best of the soggy grass ( we had brought waterproof backed rugs in preparation) and we settled down for 90 minutes of puppets ,songs and puppet illustrated storytelling.

We giggled with Twinkle the baby monkey as he refused to say helloand deliberately wouldn’t say please.  We sang and quacked with Mummy Duck and her babies

Five little ducks crochet puppets

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack

and went for a visit to Old Macdonald’s farm where all the animals seemed to be dogs?

We played Sleeping Bunnies

s,ee

See the little bunnies sleeping

( very squished up as the ground was sodden) and hopped and laughed and had lots of bunny cuddles. ( Yes even/especially the boys!) We laughed at silly Fifi the Fairy

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

who was very proud of her crocheted ringlets and who tried to ‘Whip her hair back and forth”

until I got her to sing Twinkle Twinkle  instead.

Then I got out my thunder machine and prepared the mood to tell the story of the Stomping Elephant

My elephant puppet

on my beautiful African printed fabric. We roared with the naughty Lion, squeaked with the tiny mouse and buzzed with the wasp with the very pointy stingy bottom.

” That was a good story” said one little contented child at the conclusion of that tale.

Then we jumped on the bed with Jaffa the monkey and burped with the naughty crocodile who had identity issues and a dental problem. Then it was See you later Alligator, in a while crocodile

Snap! Snap!

as the hour and a half had quickly drawn to a very happy end.

This bunch of 30 5 year old’s had given me total focus and concentration and lots and lots of giggles and interaction all the way through the 90 minutes in a public park on soggy grass, bunched up together . Not the most ideal conditions you might think.

” Can you come again?” piped up one little boy.

Clearly 90 minutes wasn’t enough for this young fellow.

We ended with a big round of applause for the clever children and pats on the back for being a brilliant audience.

I told them that they had just done something most adults couldn’t do: pay close attention for an hour and a half.

Ya boo sucks statistics.

I know what I see and I see ATTENTION!

So next time you doubt your child’s attention span, think  again. You may be surprised!

Are you on Facebook? Please like my Diane’s Puppets Facebook page.

Thanks!

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

 

Again, Again! Or why young children love repetition

Can you do something different?

I hear this request often from clients. I understand this request very well with my adult brain. If I were going to a party as an adult and the same entertainer was there , be it a stand up comic or a magician and they did the same routine , I’d probably be a little bored. So from my adult clients ( mummies and daddies) perspective, I totally get where they’re coming from.

 

Indeed, when I started out in this business of being a children’s birthday party entertainer and I thought about my routines, I thought with my adult brain and I tried to make sure that I varied my routines as much as possible.  I wondered why my little clients ( boys and girls) kept asking me when I was going to do the monkey puppet? When was I going to do the fairy puppet?

Fairy puppet Fifi

Look at her pretty hair!

when was I going to do Old Macdonald? ie the old routines.

They looked disappointed.

What was going wrong here?

There exists a discrepancy between my two clients and their expectations. Two clients? What do I mean?

In this job as a kids entertainer, I have two client bases: one the adult clients ( the ones who book and pay me, ergo the very important ones)  and two the children who receive my services directly ( the ones who can make or break my reputation if they don’t like what I do; ergo the even more important ones. Also the ones who exert massive pester power )

Both clients need to be satisfied.

I decided to make an executive decision: I was going to stick to the routine and give my little clients what they wanted. After all, as adults we all get told how much young children need routine? Or was I pushing it?

So to this day, I’m still making sure that the old favourites are still firmly in place. If children are still laughing and joining in even after seeing me at countless parties, I’m not going to spoil their fun by changing it. If it aint broke don’t fix it they say.

 

I’ve been thinking about why children seem to enjoy repeating the same things and still get so much joy each time. I came up with a simple comparison : music.

When children watch me perform with my puppets at birthday parties or other celebratory events, they clearly give me an emotional response; the sort of response that is felt when listening to music. The joy on their faces is evident when watching the puppets antics.

We do not question that someone would listen to a piece of music that gives them joy over and over again, do we? In fact that is something that we take for granted. We don’t get bored of a piece of music that gives us pleasure, in fact repeating the experience often brings back emotions and memories all over again. This analogy seems to fit what I am witnessing with my small clients as they watch the same puppet routine over and over again.

Add to this  the fact that there is security in knowing what comes next, there is power involved in being able to participate in a familiar experience. For little children who are generally not able to exert any sort of power in a very adult world, this must feel very thrilling.

So parents, I am going to respectfully overlook your request to change things up and go with the needs and wants of your children.

( I shall add a few subtle changes along the way and introduce new characters gently  but shhhh! don’t tell the kids. It shall remain our little adult secret.)

 

 

The Human Connection In a Digital Age

Image

Saturday was a special day for me.

I had just finished a puppet show at a lovely little 3 year old girl’s birthday party and was emerging from behind the puppet booth. Waiting for me was one of the older audience members, a young lady of 11 years old. I had been watching this girl  during the show , as I peeked through the black fabric from behind the puppet booth. I like to gauge my little audience members reaction during the show so I can up the pace or slow things down or throw in a good chase if needs be. I had spotted this particular young lady as she had stood out as being a great role model for the younger children, hopping alongside them with naughty Bobby Bunny and providing a nice safe lap to sit on when they were finished. She was being so kind and supportive and not at all ‘too cool for school’ that youngsters these days are supposedly expected to be.

I believe with passion that children are capable of great levels of concentration no matter how old they are. It really just depends what you expect them to concentrate on.

In this digital age we are constantly told that our children have the attention span of a gnat or a goldfish. Children’s television programming is based on this supposition, requiring lots of fast action and constant changing to keep the attention of the young audience. Cartoons are fast action and noisy , attempting to hold on to our imaginations. It must be the case that children have short attention spans then?

I don’t agree. Give a child attention of the human variety. Pay heed to their likes and tickle their funny bones and you will keep their attention for as long as you want. It is not unknown for me to have a bunch of two year old’s hanging off my every word and action for a good hour. We will play familiar games and do lots of hopping and play with words like Nincompoop and giggle till our bellies hurt.  The parents are often astonished seeing their children so engaged . Is this magic? Not at all. This is just simple human contact, a grown up who is prepared to play alongside a child , like a child, making play something special and important.

Back to my lovely 11 year old girl. She looked at me with big brown puppy dog eyes and said : ” I remember you from when I was 3! It was the same show, I can’t believe it! ”

The look of sheer wonderment and excitement in her eyes  and the clear emotional connection in her voice was both touching and validating. The continuity for me was so comforting. To know that I create  cherished memories in young peoples minds is almost overwhelming.

 

Our children are capable of much more than we know. Let’s give them a chance to live life in the slow, human lane  in this digital fast paced world of ours. For it is in that slow human lane that we find joy and make memories.

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

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