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Puppet Making Pack

Siobhán Clancy with Anna Rosenfelder

The Puppet Making Pack is devised by artist Siobhán Clancy, Artist in Residence on Helium’s Fireflies Project at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, and a Lead Artist on Helium’s Two Suitcases community arts project. Artist Anna Rosenfelder’s ‘How to make a puppet’ is included as part of this pack. Siobhán and Anna were two of the artists on the Puppet Portal Project, our first hospital residency programme (2009-2010). Children in seven hospitals across Ireland created puppets and shared their stories, performances and short films with peers in other hospitals via an online live video-link facility.

Making puppets (and making them come to life!) is a fun way for children and parents to pass the time in hospital together and transform what can be a scary environment for children into a space for play. The great thing about puppets is that they’re easy to make and they can be made from any material.

Check out our tips below and download Anna’s Puppet Making Pack HERE!

1. How to make a puppet

2. Types of puppets & play techniques

Over the years we have made many different puppets for children in hospital using lots of materials. These puppets have often incorporated found materials from the environment around us. Here are some of our favourite puppets!

Rod puppet & glove puppet created by children on the Puppet Portal Project

Rod Puppet
This puppet can be placed on the end of a long rod at a right angle and moved across a stage (or bedside table or tray) easily. You might also like to try Stick Puppets which are a smaller version of a rod puppet. You can make these using upright lollipop sticks and felt or card. They are handy for ‘Punch and Judy’ type stages where they can pop up and down.

Glove Puppet
Build a puppet on a sock. This one will require fabric glue or another strong adhesive. Be careful when choosing your adhesive in case of toxic fumes.

Finger puppet created by a participant on the Puppet Portal Project

Finger Puppets
Take a piece of card and cut out two holes to fit index and middle fingers to be the legs of the puppet. Outline the shape of a puppet around the holes and decorate. These puppets are really good for football and dancing-themed play.

Wrist puppets created by children on the Puppet Portal Project

Wrist Puppet
These puppets are great for children with limited mobility in their hands and / or fingers. Part of the performance can be building the puppet on the child, following their directions on what decorations to use.

Shadow puppets created by teenagers on the Cloudlands Project at University Hospital Galway

Shadow Puppet
These puppets consist of cutout shapes in card that typically perform behind a paper or cloth that is back lit so their shadows are projected onto the performance space.

Handy Materials for Puppet Making

  • Socks
  • Card
  • White craft glue (non-toxic version e.g. PVA)
  • Moving Eyes
  • Felt
  • Wool
  • Fabric
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Feathers
  • Disposable Cups
  • Scissors
  • Craft Knives
  • Assorted tapes
  • Disposable Cutlery
  • Napkins
  • Plasticine (assorted colours)
  • Clay modelling

Play Techniques

Bringing a puppet to life can be done in small stages and is lots of fun. When you have finished making puppets with your child, try out the following together:

  • Make the puppet perform a breathing motion, rising and falling gently with breath.
  • Make the puppet ‘wake up’ i.e. roll, move, stretch, yawn, smack tongue against teeth, open eyes/make eye contact with audience, jerk awake, shake out.
  • Make the puppet do exercises – touch its toes, do star jumps, do scissors jumps, jog on the spot, do yoga poses etc.
  • Make the puppet walk – choose different kinds of gaits e.g. stroll, canter, dash, race, sidestep, dance, drag feet, jog etc.
  • Practice different expressions/gestures and tones of voice according to moods e.g. sadness, happiness, excitement, joy, anger, despair, boredom, indignation, fear, surprise, shock, calm, impatient, giddy etc.

3. Fun exercises

One of the fun things about making puppets is coming up with stories that the puppets can act out. Here are some activities to help you develop stories:

What’s in the Bag
Put some different random objects in a bag. Ask the child to pick an object from the bag (without looking!) and begin a story based around the object. Now it’s your turn to pick an object from the bag and continue the story incorporating the new object. The game can continue with more objects or you may already have a story in place for the puppets to act out.

Fortunately-Unfortunately
One person begins a story. The next person must continue the story beginning the sentence with fortunately or unfortunately. This can go back and forth and works best with a small group of people.

A Day in the Life
Describe the events of an invented character’s life hour by hour over the course of one day. If you have made a few puppets, you can take it in turn inventing a ‘day in the life’ for each one.

Retell a Classic
Children usually have a favourite fairytale, fable or myth. Invite them to retell it as it might have unfolded if it were set in a different location or time or with alternative characters.

Prompt Cards
Each person writes a number of different words (could be the first thing that pops into your head!) on different cards. Take turns drawing the other person’s cards and using each word to inspire the next part of a story.

4. Puppet Performance

You might like to develop a puppetry performance to perform for family or friends. Here are some tips!

  • Brainstorm a story theme
  • Outline the main events of the story through improvisation or by using a storyboard
  • Improvise or write a script
  • Allocate roles
  • Rehearse the story and adapt as ideas for improvement are developed
  • Gather materials for construction of puppets, props and maybe even a simple stage
  • Perform a preview for healthcare staff (the play specialists might pass on their own tips!)
  • Incorporate feedback in adjustments to the performance
  • Perform for family / friends
  • Puppets take a bow

5. Hygiene and Infection Control

Feathers, felt, fabric and other fun materials can easily spread bacteria through the accumulation of dirt or dust or simply through contact with naturally occurring oils from the body that become absorbed. Follow these basic steps to avoid infection:

  • Limit the amount of people using the materials.
  • Make sure everyone washes their hands and uses a sterilising hand gel before and after using the materials.
  • If you are using tools like scissors, clean with sterilising wipes before and after use.
  • If you have a storage box for materials, clean this out too when the puppet making has finished.
  • Where possible, return materials to containers that are cleanable such as jiffy bags and use them as little as possible in non-sterile settings.
  • Use a vacuum or, for sensitive items, a handheld air pump to remove dirt or dust particles.
  • If a tool cracks or breaks, place tape over the area to prevent cutting/scratching risks. Replace the item as soon as possible.
  • Wash any cloth-based materials immediately after use.
  • If your child is in an isolation ward, bring materials in unopened packages and leave them behind to avoid cross-infection.

6. Benefits of puppet play

Why make puppets? At Helium, our puppet-making with children in hospital has shown us that puppet play has lots of benefits:

  • Play and self-expression opportunities
  • Fun physical exchange
  • Prevention of feelings of isolation
  • Bonding time for parent and child
  • Humour, originality and spontaneity
  • Channels for creative energy and artistic expression
  • Enhanced memories

Accessibility

Puppets are adaptable – there are lots of ways to make and play with puppets that will suit children with restricted mobility or physical limitations.

For children with reduced strength, select light materials that they can move easily. For example, you can create puppets very easily with muslin fabric or tissue paper attached to string or pipe cleaners. Our puppet friend above was created from a white gauze bandage by a young patient on our Puppet Portal Project.

Alternatively, you can ‘build’ a puppet on a child’s hand or foot directly using a sock, glove or slipper, adding all the features of a puppet the child would like to add and interacting with the puppet as it develops. This works especially well with bed or wheelchair-bound children.

Puppet performances can happen anywhere that is most convenient for children to play or perform on e.g. a bedside table on wheels or a tray that can be placed on a wheelchair.

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