The Zoologics of Puppetry ...

Seeds, Grains, & Pearls

By Wendy Agnew

As chunks of war and slabs of extinction slam into the membrane of the future, it becomes expedient to focus on the multifarious phenomena of interface and catalyst. The problems do not disappear but transform when seen from edges and inceptions. (They also tend to become more interesting, more faceted, not quite diamonds of potential but not quite clobbers of Cain either.)

Working with interface is vital but can be elusive because control must be given to the subject. Objectivity can provide entrance, but to embrace and understand, demands affective resonance. How does it feel on the inside? Walk a mile in my shoes. What is the space between thee and me? And catalyst … what begins it? A bang? A whimper? And are endings the necessary prelude to new beginnings? Montessori suggests, in To Educate the Human Potential, that the prime concern of educators is: to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.

I look for seeds – as catalysts … or grains of sand - prompting layers of interface - in the oyster of time.

Here is one tiny example:

Animal Mentors

Materials: Animal puppets or models, story cards, scarves, instruments, etc.

Motivation: To foster an innate sense of respect and wonder for the other-than-human world. – To provide a catalyst for the embodied knowing in our evolving brains and bones…

Method: Phase 1 – Researching ~ object to subject - Guide prepares for a humble act of what Morris Berman calls participating consciousness[1] by translating information into dialogue… (Make into little booklets or cards in the subjective voice – shorter for younger children, longer for the elders – excerpt Included below*) I often begin with a guided visualization, inviting the students to “lie down and dream of a time when they were …” This creates a sense of peace and allows the children to imagine hatching, or sprouting, flying, or swimming … some students begin to spontaneously move as you unfold the life of a particular creature. Guided visualizations foster a sense of kinship.

Phase 2 – Meeting and Greeting - Once intimate with the wonders of a particular animal, Guide dons puppet – hand made, donated, or purchased, and introduces it to the children. This is wonderfully fun and evolves as you go. Tip - focus on the puppet as s/he speaks. Play with comparative anatomy…“How do you pick up your food?” “Where are your houses?” “What’s become of your tail and claws? Etc.” The tone is respectful, and everyone takes turns answering, asking, and following the thread of the discussion.

Introduce the idea that animals have much to teach humans and, that some humans ‘go to school’ in the wild, often learning from animal mentors. At this point, younger children may wish to move into art and research. For older children continue on …

Phase 3 – Challenge the children to gather in small groups (of approx. 3), choose one puppet per group and its card, and, via whispered discussion, find a way to tell parts of that animal’s story using scarves, bodies, simple props, etc.

It helps to give a time limit and encourage the use of slow motion, sound effects, and freeze frames.

Children may rotate puppet as narrator while the other children in the group help animate the story.

Musings: After the groups present, have a quiet period for reflection and then share thoughts about kinship and learning between human and other animals. Let one of the children be the chairperson and guide the discussion. This can lead to artwork, poetry, journaling, further research, sculpture, the mathematics of conservation, collaborations of letter-writing, fund-raising …etc. And can be tailored for children aged 5 and onwards.

More: Meditation and guided visualization can provide a ground for mask and mural…

Bird Mask – (feathers and plaster) & King-Sized Bed Sheet Mural inspired by Dorset Print

Stories of the Universe can inspire animations of evolution… (See resources below).

We may provide seeds and grains, but its children who create the pearls. In animating the following, it was a delight to see a large group of children organizing themselves from smallest to largest to make a deft shell exchange while a ‘hungry octopus’ waited in the ‘shallows.’ Comment from smallest ‘crab’ – “poor fellow – he has to eat someone – I think I might have to give myself up!” All the ‘Hermit Crabs’ objected strenuously, so we made the octopus a juicy fish from several spare scarves and both the food chain and the vacancy chain were satisfied!

*Excerpt: There is a cool thing we do! We sometimes make vacancy chains. Even though we’re called ‘hermits’ we work together! When we find a nice big shell we gather around it and form a sort of line from largest to smallest. When the largest crab moves into the new shell, the second largest of us gets the discard. Then the third largest crab can have the shell the second largest crab gave up and so on! No time to argue with hungry predators nearby. Are we ready??? ©


Video: Hermit Crabs - masters in cooperation and tactile finesse

Shell Exchange (vacancy chain) – from BBC Earth

Third season from Jonathan Bird’s Blue World

Books: The Universe Story Trilogy

Born with a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story (Book 1)

From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story (Book 2)

Animals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story (Book 3)

Author: Jenifer Morgan, Illustrator: Dana Lynn Anderson

A recent book for children (age 2-7) develops a profound sense of interconnection with the Universe and fellow inhabitants through evolution…

Grandmother Fish, Author: Jonathan Tweet, Illustrator: Karen Lewis – review …

And of course … Go out into nature and immerse …

[1] Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981).

Polar Bear on a bedsheet - inspire by a Dorset Print