Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pieces of Programming: Making Puppets with Drama Club!

When I first started at my current library, drama club was thriving.  The kids had posed in front of our green screen, made great videos, and did a lot of reader's theater with the former librarian who served as their teacher.  One of my predecessor's last activities here was actually a drama club premiere party, where they got to watch themselves on the big screen (our projector screen), and see what they'd done all year.  I was impressed, and excited, but greatly intimidated.

I'd done drama club as a child myself, and I LOVE performance art, but teaching kids how to do it is not as simple a feat.  Kids are not only balls of energy, but tweens specifically are balls of emotions, and sometimes the drama part of the club is all I knew I could expect to see.  There were also the task of redefining what the club was for and how it ran for me, as opposed to what they were used to with the other librarian.  Her plans and outcomes were great, but I needed to determine my own goals.

First, there was the issue of them having a snack each week. A personal expense that wasn't really expensive, but caused them to depend on and expect something more than just the club activities.  I would get tons of "what's the snack today?" questions as opposed to "what are we doing today?" questions, and it drove me up the wall.  While this worked great for them in the past, I knew that for me, I couldn't do it every week without pulling my hair out.

So, I slowly began to wean them off of the snack thing.  Providing popcorn if we happened to be watching a movie, or bringing in a treat for a special club topic, allowed me to make the most of the times we did have snacks.  Once I got that out of the way, there was the pesky matter of getting them to adapt to performance arts beyond just readers theater.

While the former librarian had a plan for each club meeting, she readily admitted that sometimes their behavior, mood, or attitudes caused for the plan to change.  I found that many times we would begin a class only to find them more consumed with whatever arguments happened in school that day, or even just going in and out between our meeting room and the main library whenever they felt like.  I needed to re-establish ground rules, yes, but as a former teacher, I also knew that beyond ground rules, one of the best ways to gain control, is to provide better engagement.

Which brings me to the point of this post!  (finally, LOL)

To get the kids more involved, I really had to break down what interested them.  We have a solid group of tweens here, who come into the library pretty much every day of the week.  This made it somewhat easy for me to pick up on who they really were.  What I found was that while they liked being dramatic and acting, they really enjoyed creating.  I also looked at the different forms of performance arts to see what parts involved creating your own materials.  Costumed play, prop design, and that?....YES! PUPPET MAKING!!

A really great resource for me was the Muppets Make Puppets book by Cheryl Henson.  Just like it sounds, it is a book featuring great muppet creations, but also plenty of practical ways to make your own puppets.  They emphasized that great puppets can be made from just about anything you can find, and also gave great tips on the kinds of puppets there are and different ways to manipulate them.
Using the advice found in this book, here are a few of the supplies I grabbed from our supply cabinet for our puppet-making session:
Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Tubes
Film Canisters
Plastic Spoons
Pipe Cleaners
Beady Eyes
Scrap Fabric

I gave each kid a large sheet of drawing paper to sketch out what they wanted their puppet to look like and list which items they thought they'd need from our table of supplies.  Then...

I just let them go!  I was SO impressed with their imaginations and construction that it quickly became one of my FAVORITE parts of the club, and one that I knew we'd have to revisit each year.

I wasn't sure WHAT this guy was going to be, but almost fell out of my chair at the end of class when this chef is what turned up.  Talk about letting your imagination soar.  I never saw this coming!

Puppet design has become a staple in my drama club plans for each session now, and it remains one of the most anticipated and talked about.  There were some cons: mess, time (it took up an entire 2-hour class), and storage while the puppets were drying, but they were far outweighed by the pros.  If you have time and a few scraps of junk laying around, consider building some puppets, it was tons of fun for both the kids and me.


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