Puppetry is an ancient form of communication dating back over 3,000 years. Using inanimate objects that sometimes represent a human or animal form, puppets are animated or brought to life by a human operator or puppeteer.
The Union International de la Marionnette (UNIMA) is an international organization based in France. Formed in 1929, the organization’s purpose is to promote and develop the art form of puppetry. In 2000 at their annual conference, puppeteer Dzhivada Zolfagariho felt that it was important to recognize the talents of puppeteers and so he proposed creating a special day to honour the art form and its practitioners.
The holiday was observed in 2003 for the first time. Since then, World Puppetry Day is observed every March 21. On this day, all over the world, puppeteers, both amateur and professional, create performances to celebrate the fun and creativity that this art form can inspire in children and adults everywhere.
(Note: For this activity, you will need students to bring a sock from home (any colour or type). If this is not possible, provide each student with a small brown or white paper lunch bag. For virtual learning, ask students ahead of time to bring a sock, an old mitten, or a paper bag to class. You will also need your own! If some students arrive unequipped, explain that they can make a puppet by just making their own hand talk!
Ask students if they have any puppets at home. Can they describe them? What are their names? Where did they get them?
Have any students been to a live puppet show? Discuss.
What do they like about puppets?
If possible, watch a short video of a puppet performance (such as this YouTube video.)
Explain that in celebration of World Puppetry Day, they are going to have an opportunity to introduce their own simple puppet.
Model the activity by placing your own hand in a sock, mitten, or paper bag and introducing your puppet character to the class. You may also model using your hand and making it “talk.” Invite students to do the same. Ask for volunteers to share the following with the class:
Invite all the puppets to join you in singing a song (even “Happy Birthday” will work) using their puppet voices. Take turns sharing the productions. Close by asking:
Explain that puppets can be simple, like the sock puppets they made today or very detailed like the ones they see on “Sesame Street” and other puppet shows. What is important is that puppets let you play and talk and sing and dance and act without worrying about what others might think. In other words — puppets are FUN!
(Note: For this activity you will need several craft supplies to make the puppets. Consider using old gloves, socks, paper bags, wool or yarn, glue guns, buttons, ribbons, sticks or rulers, etc. Divide resources up and have several creative centres around the room. If students are learning virtually, ask them ahead of time to bring to class a puppet that they have, or simply a sock, mitten, paper plate, or paper bag that can represent a puppet.)
Explain that today is World Puppetry Day and ask students why they think a special day has been set aside to celebrate puppetry.
Explain that puppets can be very simple as in a sock puppet, or very complex and life-like as in the puppets used on “Sesame Street.” It is not so much what the puppet looks like that matters; it is what it says, how it acts, and how others act around it that make it interesting.
Have students participate in a simple puppet theatre play. Invite them to create a simple puppet using items at their creative centre. Explain that they will only have 15 minutes to create their puppet so you are not expecting elaborate creations. Suggest stick puppets, finger puppets, sock puppets, paper bag puppets, etc.
In virtual classrooms, ask students to use their sock (or mitten, paper plate, etc.) and bring it to life by drawing a face or by manipulating the object so that it can talk.
Once the cast has been created, students interact with the group on one of the following topics:
The object is to have everybody participate and to avoid negative behaviours such as using the puppets to belittle or abuse each other. Once the mini puppet plays have been shared with the class, ask:
Close by reminding students that puppets provide people with a way to express themselves and act silly, sad, serious, or happy by taking on the personality of the puppet. Sometimes it is easier to express something you feel or think through a puppet than to just say it face-to-face. Ask students if they agree with this statement and, if so, why?
Encourage more puppet play throughout the school year.
Share the information in the introduction about World Puppetry Day. Ask:
After students share their knowledge of puppet theatre, explain that sometimes puppets are used to help resolve conflicts or to help talk to children who don’t want to talk about something. Ask students to suggest why this might be an effective way to share information. Discuss.
Invite students to create a puppet using any scrap materials they might have at home or in the classroom (this can be a homework assignment or in-class art lesson). If learning virtually, they could use a puppet they have at home, or simply use an old sock, glove, mitten, paper plate or paper bag. They can even form a puppet shape with their hand if they choose!
Explain that the focus for this experience is not on the puppet itself, so it does not have to be elaborate. Once the puppets are created, ask students to give their puppet a name.
Invite the students to interact with their classmates (either in person or virtually) to create a scenario where the characters use conflict resolution skills to defuse a problem on the school grounds. (Note: You can set your own ground rules and decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Time limits for the scenarios should be set so that the problem has a solution but doesn’t drag on for an unlimited time. Also, remind students that verbal, physical, and emotional abuse are not acceptable forms of conflict resolution.)
Here are some possible topics for their puppet plays:
Once the plays have been completed and presented to the class, consider asking the puppeteers to share them with the younger students in the school, if possible.
Close by asking: