Art Spark 2 Talking teaching: puppets

This began as an experiment to see how Spark Pages might be used by teachers for professional sharing. This 'Spark' shares a simple way to use shadow puppets.

Shadow puppets are a good way to invent, tell and illuminate stories in classrooms. They can also be used by children to present ideas in different subjects - 'convection rainfall' for instance? Perhaps the best way is to use them for creative storytelling.

To present a shadow puppet performance you will need a screen. This can be done very simply using a cardboard box. More elaborate screens can be made with sheeting tightly pinned across a wooden frame.

You only need a spotlight if you are performing at night, during the day ordinary diffused daylight from a window will be fine.

First get a robust cardboard box.

(Tip: The size of the box will determine the size of the puppets. It will probably be better to use a large box if the whole class will be watching the show. A smaller box could be used for group work.)
Draw a rectangle on the box. Ensure that the rectangle is not too close to the edge so that the box will retain its structural integrity. Cut out the rectangle using a sharp craft knife . Then stick some tracing paper or baking parchment over the hole. This is easily done with cellotape or masking tape.

Tip: Give some thought to ways of holding the box firmly onto a table during puppet shows. A weight would do, or alternatively electrical tape could hold the box still as children place their shadow puppets on the screen.

Shadow puppets can be dramatic and quite detailed. They can be made easily from the cardboard that is used to make breakfast cereal packets. Spend some time thinking about the characters and the narrative. Sometimes stories can be invented during the performance as children actively join in, deciding the character of the puppet and what will happen next. This approach means that the puppets can be original and personal to the children - rather than being drawn from a predefined narrative.
Always attach the stick to the top of the puppet, so that the body hangs down against the screen. (Tip: It is helpful if the screen is tilted slightly away from the puppeteer. This way the puppet rests on the screen giving a sharper shadow. )

How to attach the stick to the puppet

The thing to remember is that the joint between the puppet and the stick should be flexible. In this diagram cellotape is wrapped at an angle up the stick and at the top, just as it is placed on the shadow puppet, the tape is nipped together. This will make a simple flexible joint.

The stick can be a split cane such as those used for gardening or perhaps a barbeque skewer. These are strong and straight. (Tip: Teachers will need to consider H & E issues here, for instance, cut off the points on the barbecue skewers and if the gardening canes have a preservative ensure children do not put them in their mouth.) Dowels and whole canes can also be used but these tend to be bigger, more expensive and less convenient.

The shadow puppet show can be filmed and shared using a smart phone. Preserving the performance and sharing it more widely.
Here it is in a nutshell.
It is easy to make articulated puppets. Fix joints using small holes threaded with cotton and secured with tape. So lots of opportunity to experiment with arms, legs, necks, wings, and waists.

PS. Animals and birds also make great puppets and stories. There will be lots of illustrated childrens' story books in the school library to guide and inspire.


Created with images by Only Sequel - "Shadow Puppet" • jurvetson - "Shadow Puppets" • jimmiehomeschoolmom - "shadow puppets" - drawings by Dan China

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