Living Arts Weekly: Creative Exploration through Storytelling

April 23, 2023

Rahima Baldwin Dancy performs the Snow Maiden

Story time has always been one of my favorite parts of the day for my own creative exploration. I’m an artist by nature, so the handwork portion of puppetry is very rewarding, but so has been the discovery of “non-traditional” performances. Carefully planning out a puppet show, imbuing our puppets with life and living into the story through our gestures brings rich imagery that deeply nourishes the child’s soul and budding imagination, and it is important to continue to gift them with these experiences. However, much of this can be offered with other forms of storytelling as well. Furthermore, exploring different options also makes puppetry more accessible for a variety of teachers and care providers.

If needle felting, sewing, and so forth don’t come naturally to you, but you love to paint or find gesture work rewarding, use them in your storytelling! Allowing oneself the freedom to explore different ways to perform stories is fulfilling. We are given opportunities to connect with stories more profoundly which deepens the experience for our children as well.

Through the years I have explored storytelling with gestures, shadow puppets, luminaries, musical instruments, watercolor painting, and moving pictures. A number of years ago I also started having the children act and it has become one of my favorite and most consistent traditions because of how deeply they live into the stories through their acting. (There is so much to be said about this as well, perhaps an article for another time!)

Then in my last year of teaching at Rose Rock School, I tried allowing the oldest children to take part in a small amount of puppetry during “formal”story time. They had frequently set up their own puppet shows at playtime and I thought, “Why not try it out during our story time together?” While it took a little different planning than usual, overall it was delightful. This past winter in the Wind Rose at City of Fountains, I took it a step further.

I decided to include my five to six year olds in a puppet show of The Mitten. They had been learning to sew with great enthusiasm and the idea evolved organically from those projects. I chose The Mitten since it is such a delightful but simple story, with one narrator and little dialogue. After selecting the animals we would feature, they chose one for themselves and sewed it from felt. Once the puppets were complete, we talked briefly about how their animal moves, and they practiced. Then for the show, they took turns walking their puppet across the scenery to tuck them within the mitten. It was a big hit and the children eagerly asked for another chance to create and perform in another show.

As I began preparing for a special end-of-the-year story for my five rising first graders, I knew the perfect opportunity had arrived. This past week each of them created a small bendy doll (from this tutorial). They participated in each step: cutting the chenille stems, holding the hair in place to push chenille stems through wooden beads for heads, and so forth. Wrapping thread around their chenille stems was one of the most challenging parts, but they all managed well. I helped them cut out dresses of their color choice, and they were able to sew them in one sitting. I used a bit of hot glue on each doll to secure the hair down to the bead and tuck loose ends of embroidery thread. It was wonderful fine motor coordination practice and they were incredibly proud of their work.

Next, we will practice how to “walk” their dolls and hear the story I selected– a version of “The Golden Fish” by Cynthia Aldinger that I adapted for our use. They will also help to create the scenery when it is time for the puppet play. They are very eager to take on this “big kid” role in creating a story that is brought to the younger children in class, and it feels like a perfectly appropriate occasion to celebrate their rising up to First Grade.

When all is said and done, I will share pictures of how our puppet show turned out and a bit of my observations on including them through the remainder of this project.

Blessings on your own story explorations!