Thursday, August 26, 2010

Doll and puppet making for literacy and education

Collage by Lani.  Texture by DJ Pettitt.

Yesterday I got a question about using art to further literacy from my friend, Jo.   She's volunteering in a children's charity program, helping foster children with self esteem and literacy issues.  One particular child she works with has just discovered art.  Jo says "he is a lovely little boy, currently in grade 4 but can't read, although he seems like a reasonably intelligent little boy - he makes wonderful Lego constructions, for instance. His speech development is fine and he attends a normal school which is very sad as he is completely out of his depth there and it must be so bad for his self-esteem. His teacher is at her wits' end to know what to do with him - he somehow seems to fall between the cracks as far as qualifying for help is concerned (unbelievably!). His younger brother is at a special needs school and can read better than he can."  She was wondering about doll and puppet making in aid of literacy and education, given his blossoming interest in art.

This is actually one of my favorite topics.  The whole idea of using doll and puppet making to elicit stories that are relevant and meaningful from children, and then creating little books that could help teach reading and writing more easily is something I have seen work and it's something that is so easy to do.  You don't need a lot of fancy equipment or expensive books, just some large sheets of paper, card stock, and old magazines.  (National Geographic is my favorite for this activity.)

I'd start with some free inspiration in my "library"; the 3rd and 7th free zine here:
and the paper puppet zine here (not free but not expensive):

Now read on...

I actually have thought quite a bit about art and literacy while doing workshops in Mississippi where literacy in the poorer schools seemed to be a huge problem.  The thing I noticed about these schools was the books and materials available to the children were out of date, and/or culturally irrelevant to them.  The thing that I loved while working in Mississippi was getting kids to create dolls, puppets, and simple narratives; and helping them construct books where the narrative could be written down.

The way I did this was to provide collage materials so that the children could create paper puppet people, characters of their own making and imagination (see the zine above).  I tried to get a lot of face images of a variety of species (sometimes children seem to want to identify with animals), cultures, race, age, etc.  Variety is important.  I also created simple templates of "paper puppet people" which are nice and flat and could "live" inside a book.  (This  is important as it creates a positive feeling about books).  Once the character is created, then I created simple book structures for the child (see free zine #7, above).   Simple questions to elicit a very nice narrative followed.  

In order to elicit the narrative you will need:
1. images of a variety of environments; inside, outside, urban, country, mountains, ocean, etc.  (For all of this, old National Geographic's are excellent.)
2. images of things that might be considered gifts or special powers or mysterious objects; wings, crowns, treasure boxes...  really just a variety of possibly wonderful objects.
3. images of things that might be considered difficulties; walls, manageable monsters,  chasms, strange enviroments... anything that might be symbolic of a difficulty.  

Now here are the questions (and to answer these questions the child should be sorting through separate piles of the above pre-cut-images) :
1.  "Where does your character feel most comfortable?"  Create a collage on your first page or two in your book (from free zine #7 above) of a place where the character would feel most comfortable.
2.  "What special gift does your character have?"  All paper puppet people have at least one special gift, usually a lot more, they just don't always know about it.  Create a page about the gift.
3. "What special difficulty does your character discover?"  All the most interesting stories usually have a difficulty that the hero or heroine can overcome.  Create a collage page about the difficulty.
4.  "How does your character use his or her gift to solve the difficulty?"  Again this is a part of all the most interesting stories, there is always a problem which gets solved by the hero or heroine, using their special gift.  This may take a little thinking and guidance but kids always get there in the end.  Create a collage about this.  (Any of these collage directions could also be partially or fully drawn or painted, of course.)
5. Now your character finds himself in a new wonderful environment, and maybe there is a celebration.   Create a final collage about this celebration on your last page or two. 

During this process you can take notes, while the child's narrative emerges.  Text can be added to the book (by you or the child) and a pocket for the character can also be added to the book so the character can be kept safe.

This is a wonderful activity for kids and can even be done with groups, for a group narrative.
The end result is children create their own stories, which is of course way more relevant to children than stories created by strangers from another century, and of course relevant narratives make working with literacy a lot easier!


Patti said...

I wish you could be cloned thousands of times and spread across the need... well, not really, there is only one of you, for sure! What you are doing is beyond brilliant. Children enter school as artists and creators and it's slowly hammered out of them as the years pass. Bravo!

p.s. my daughter was looking at photos of NS and wondering if we needed passports - she wants to come there because it's so beautiful!!

Lani Gerity said...

It used to be that travel between Canada and US was just a matter of a driver's license I think, but now it probably is a passport. There are cheaper "within North America only" passports that are like driver's licenses. She could check into that.
Yes it is very beautiful here, in a quiet, low key way. My kind of thing for sure!