Puppetry in Education and Therapy: Unlocking Doors to the Mind and Heart

Puppetry in Education and Therapy: Unlocking Doors to the Mind and Heart

by Edited by Matthew Bernier and Judith O’Hare

ISBN: 9781420884609

Publisher AuthorHouse

Published in Entertainment

Are you an AUTHOR? Click here to include your books on

Sample Chapter



Judith O'Hare

The book, Champions for change: The impact of the arts on learning (Fiske, 2000), commissioned by the President's Council on the Arts and Humanities, is a collection of research projects on the positive impact of the arts on education. The studies found that "involvement in the arts provides unparalleled opportunities for learning, enabling young people to reach for and attain higher levels of achievement" (p. viii). The researchers found that "the arts can help `level the playing field' for youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances" (p. viii), and they found that group learning, as exemplified in putting on a play, deepens the learning process. The findings also illustrated that "learning in the arts has significant effects on learning in other domains." These studies are very important because they provide educators with research to support taking time to provide active stimulating arts experiences in classrooms, libraries, after school enrichment programs, clubs, and other learning environments.

One of the crucial issues in education today is testing, evaluating student learning. There is a pressing need by everyone from the president of the United States, to state governors, to school boards, to school administrators, to teachers, parents, and taxpayers to have an educated populace. With the pressure of mandated evaluations in mind, teachers and administrators often say, "There is no time for puppetry. We would love to do more arts, but the children have so much to learn to pass the tests." A well-planned puppetry program taps into all of the multiple intelligences, the many ways people learn, and puppet play exemplifies the levels of literacy as described in Bloom's Taxonomy (1956). Recreating characters and stories with puppets helps children to absorb and remember what they have learned and internalize information so that they can retell the stories from the mind and the heart. Puppets make an emotional as well as cognitive connection to ideas, information, stories, characters, literature, and historical and life situations. It is one of our goals to illustrate that the time spent on a well developed puppetry program is indeed time well spent.

In 2003, in an urban multi-ethnic elementary school, a group of fourth grade children were preparing a Toy Theater production of "The Lion and the Mouse," one of several of Aesop's Fables the class was working on for a literature project. The day the children were going to share their work, one of the children came to me and said that the boy who was playing the hunter was not in school that day. He looked disappointed, but then said that he could play that boy's part, and his own as well. I said, "Fine, give it a try," and I sat back to watch. The boy got the other students in his group organized and told them that he was going to play both parts. He then outlined how the story would go and who would move where and who came in next and so forth. His classroom teacher was also watching, and as the story progressed and the puppets moved and spoke, she looked at me and said, "I have that boy listed as retarded. I can't believe what he is doing!"

The boy knew the story and all of the parts and could direct all of the other students. The play was not ready for an Emmy, but it worked. He indeed had processed the story, had an organizational plan, had administrative skills, and he "pulled it off." The next day, we selected a few of the many puppet plays for the Massachusetts Cultural Council representatives to view. The boy's play was one of them. His teacher was amazed and while she had been reluctant to take time away from preparing for the MA state mandated MCAS tests with her fourth grade students, she realized there is more than one way for children to learn. The teacher had labeled the boy retarded. Perhaps he could not express himself well in spoken or written words for a variety of reasons, but he illustrated that he had more complex thinking processes that were apparent as he worked cooperatively with his group, and planned and presented a puppet drama. This is an isolated example of how children can be assessed through their puppet play and how one child illustrated what he knew, grew in his sense of self-worth and changed in the eyes of his teacher. The process illustrated that there are many ways to teach children and how a totally linguistic approach had led to inaccurate conclusions about a child's ability.

The following articles describe a variety of puppet programs and projects with children and training programs with educators. It is evident from reading these articles, that those children and teachers have gained success, understanding, pride, and a sense of accomplishment from their involvement in puppet construction and puppet drama. Even the youngest children can be included, and children from isolated cultures in places like Alaska can be touched by the power of the puppets. Technology can be used to connect people across continents and to share expertise and information about puppetry. Puppets can stimulate learning by involving the multiple intelligences and promote active learners in literacy, social studies, and history programs. Puppets have a magic and a power when we think of puppets as metaphors, and through the symbolic nature of puppets children can begin to grapple with sensitive issues such as bullying and conflict resolution. Not all puppets are for little children; middle school and high school students can find ways to communicate through an inanimate object, and some of the tedium of education can be eased through an artistic and expressive use of puppets.

The articles in this section are written by puppeteers and educators who know about the art of puppetry and the art of teaching.



Tova Ackerman

Their world is a poem, not a short story.
They are, by their very nature, images coming to life.
When the puppet bridges the gap between his seeming
limitations and his coming to life,
He has made a moving comment on the human condition
And even the puppet's death can be moving,
As having given us the gift of his breath,
He then takes it back.
And yet, in the next moment, he lives again - immortal,
A dream or memory in the actor's hand.
The actor can play this role too,
But the puppet is this.
He is naturally tragic-comic
Naturally abstract - a detail.
In the human world, he is a visitor
And we must see ourselves through his eyes.
(Bass, 1992)

Puppet drama, while a form of creative expression, differs from other performing arts in that the world designed by the puppeteers consists of animated objects, a theatre performance whose actors are not human. The performance may parallel human reality, but the "actors" have much greater freedom. A puppet can be an inanimate object, a distortion or exaggeration of reality, or a being that can move in ways impossible for a human actor.

The actual puppet creation process may be quite simple. A few pieces of fabric, a bit of glue and glitter or a folded paper plate may be all that are needed. The interaction between person and character, however, is complex. The character that is created comes from some aspect of its creator that may not even be consciously expressed in everyday life.

The puppet, then, is put into the role of actor, mirror, and critic. It has lines to speak, and its oral environment takes place within the context of other "actors" in a particular place and time set by the puppet producer. In much the same way that ordinary discourse takes place, the interaction between players on a puppet stage is always more than the words expressed. The puppets not only mouth words, but transmit a message through body language and visual aspect. In contrast to human interaction, that of the puppet is an exaggeration, often a comic one, of some aspect of the character portrayed. It may be an abstract shape, an object, or a realistic figure, but it is always symbolic. A puppet is created with the audience in mind. Its body language is purposeful with no movement un-intentioned. The mind of the puppeteer interacts with the audience with the freedom of anonymity and the urge to portray that which may normally not be portrayed. At the same time, the stimulation of the medium affects both the puppeteer and the audience.

Imagination and the Puppet

The word, imagination, is usually defined as a power of the mind to form a mental image or concept of something that is not real or present. In Hebrew, the word, imagination, is dimyon, which means to be similar to. If the two definitions are combined, in terms of puppet creation, the question then arises as to the origin of an "imaginary" puppet character. The answer, then, lies in the basic nature of the puppet as a metaphor. Puppets become visual metaphors for ideas, characters, or emotions that may not have been consciously thought of as connected by the puppeteer until the puppet is made.

Once made, the puppet has an external look and an inner "anima" that is the gift of its builder. When Rudolf Arnheim (1974) wrote about artistic imagination, he described it as the,

capacity to invent a striking pattern, especially when applied to such familiar shapes as a head or a hand ... (p.142). Imagination is by no means (primarily) the invention of new subject matter, and not even the production of just any kind of new shape. Artistic imagination can be more nearly described as a finding of new form for old content, or - if the handy dichotomy of form and content is eschewed - as a fresh conception of an old subject. (p.142)

Arnheim (1974) wrote further about the relationship between the artist and the object being portrayed. He described the object as being able to dictate a bare minimum of structural features and therefore calling on the imagination of the artist in the literal sense of the word. It is the imagination of the artist that must turn the object into an image. In the case of puppetry, in which the object itself is the active voice, what does the artist/puppeteer do to embody it with spirit?

In an interview with Joseph Krofta, conducted by Hannah Kodicek (1992) for a BBC documentary of Czech puppetry, Krofta spoke of the animation of an object:

We need to remind ourselves often that the words "to animate" does not mean "to make move," but rather it means "to give soul to," from the Latin word, anima ... To breath soul into an object, does not mean making a perfect copy of it ... An artist makes us believe that any object he touches is alive, and 'ensouled', that is, it contains a living soul.

The puppet may be the product of the imagination of the person who made it, but once created it exists in its own right. The relationship between puppet maker and the puppet cannot be totally separate.

The Freedom of Puppets

"Puppets, though normally associated with gross buffoonery, are poetic. They are, because they are not human, immediately metaphors" (Bass, 1992, p.1). Puppetry, as seen as metaphor, can be differentiated from other art forms; it has zaniness and a style of oral communication that is at once strongly visual

and persuasive in terms of involving the spectator. A puppet is made to speak. Whether or not the mouth has a movement mechanism or is glued shut or painted on, whether the puppet is symbolic or abstract in shape and design, it has a function that involves communication. This aspect of puppetry is intrinsic to it.

When a particular puppet character comes to mind, there is often a slight twitch in the hand. If a puppet is put on one's hand, it is impossible to keep it quiet. It has a mind of its own. If it wants to interrupt, it does. Its personality comes from some part of the puppeteer that is dominant enough for it to have been created as a concrete visualization. It is a statement of thoughts that may not have been consciously expressed; here, those thoughts are not only stated, but stated strongly. This aspect of puppetry makes it a dynamic tool for developing language communication skills with both children and adults. A puppet is an extension of the personality, but it has greater freedom to express this personality. It can go where the person is afraid to go; it can speak with mistakes without worry. It can fly. It can sing.

Magical Interactions

Whether the puppet is realistic, abstract, or a functional object used as an animated object, its role is to make a statement. It is given life through the puppeteer and is used to entertain or to present the viewpoint of the puppeteer to others. It exists through interaction with an audience, and only the imagination of the spectators gives it life. The puppet and audience interact, the puppeteer interacts with the audience, and the puppet and the puppeteer interact. The participation of the audience has an effect on the movement and action of the puppet.

Bil Baird (1973) described the feeling of the puppeteer on stage. He's very conscious of how he's "coming down the strings." The puppeteer sees himself through the eyes of the spectators and reacts through interaction with the puppet. Baird wrote:

Further, and perhaps more important, there is the almost magical interaction of puppets and puppeteer. Never get the idea that the puppet stands independently between the audience and his manipulator. The puppeteer can feel the response of the audience through this extension, this part of himself, as much as the actor on the stage. (p.17)

In a theatre project focusing on animated objects at the Sao Paulo University Department of Theatre, Ana Maria Amaral worked with object theatre in terms of the sensorial and mystic aspects of the object. In terms of the first project, the object was viewed first within its natural environment and later, away from it. Away from its natural environment, it appeared autonomous, if somewhat odd. The next step was to work with the object as animated and magical.

The infusion of a magical or supernatural element into non-living objects is not new in human history. Part of the belief system of primitive man is that there is a live being within both animate and inanimate things. In terms of the puppeteer, the relationship between the object and the life it develops through animation is akin to the relationship between the concrete idea and the abstraction. The additional element that is native to puppet drama is the strong psychological connection between the animated object and the puppeteer.

Excerpted from "Puppetry in Education and Therapy: Unlocking Doors to the Mind and Heart" by Edited by Matthew Bernier and Judith O’Hare. Copyright © 2013 by Edited by Matthew Bernier and Judith O’Hare. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Thanks for reading!

Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.

Just enter your email address and password below to get started:


Your email address is safe with us. Privacy policy
By clicking ”Get Started“ you agree to the Terms of Use. All fields are required

Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!

Author Profile

Amazon Reviews