I love reading books for children and young adults.
I like going to movies that have a rating below “R.”
I admit my fascination with shows made for Disney and Nick.
I like to build with and play with puppets.
I talk to stuffed animals, and yes I even sleep with some (they are the perfect size to support my arm, my husband is too big).
I have several collections of music made for children by regular artists.
Sometimes I feel I get along better with kids, then with other adults.
I am in my 40s, and I love all things related to childhood. And I truly believe that those adults who are in touch with their inner child lead happier lives.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, one of my many projects this summer is working with adults with Developmental Disabilities to create some drama/art programming. My artist friend, Jackie, and I go there twice a week to work with this wonderful group of people. At the end of this month, we will be doing a public sharing of some of the things we have done, but my focus has really been on providing this group with an experience that helps them learn, grow, and have fun.
Last Tuesday, the group had an open house and wanted to film the workshop for inclusion in a commercial. So I made sure to plan a really active day, incorporating everything we had done so far–including the fabulous masks and puppets that the group had made. It went really well, and the filming was fun.
However, this is where the issue of AGE APPROPRIATENESS came into play. Yes folks, one of the important people from the company stuck her head into the room to watch what we were doing. Literally, only her head, because to fully enter into the room might actually allow her to sense the energy, learning, and enthusiasm that was going. And what was her reaction? She didn’t like the puppets. She didn’t think they were age appropriate.
Let me backtrack a little to explain. Since this was a new group for me to work with, I had a plan but recognized that I had to be flexible and let the plan grow around the needs of the group. That is one thing that I am good at. So, first I started by introducing them to drama games, and getting them comfortable with using their bodies and their imaginations. Then we asked them to create masks which I thought would help some of the shyer ones come out of their shells.
Then I learned that a group of them are in choir and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon. ” In an Aha! Moment I thought, “ooh, we could use that as a foundation for a drama to explore.” So, I brought the song with me to a session–and in that one we went on a magical imaginary adventure to the beach where Puff lived and the cave where he hid out. Then, in the next class, we had the group build puppets made of egg cartons and paper, and the decorations of their creative minds. Again, my theory behind the puppets was to give them something tangible and comfortable to use as we further explored this world.
On Tuesday, the group interacted with the puppets, the masks, and each other. They had conversations and acted like they were at a party. They came to life.
But remember, the puppets are NOT AGE APPROPRIATE!
Yesterday, I wrote mini-scenes for us to explore, and brought two sheets and a few masks and one puppet to aid us.
Scene I: (on the beach)
Puff: I love you Jackie.
Jackie: I love you too Puff. Let’s always be friends.
We established the beach using the sheet, where we had an imaginary picnic. We ate. We played volleyball. We hunted sea shells. We became seagulls. And then we used the puppet and one mask to practice the scene.
Success #1: The shy man who would never speak or do anything, volunteered and read the lines in a very quiet voice.
Success #2: The woman who said “No!” and would not move, jumped onto the picnic blanket and ate her imaginary chicken nuggets.
Scene II: (Riding in a boat on the ocean!)
Jackie: Land Ho!
We used two sheets to create the boat. One became the sail, supported by two people. We laid the second sheet on the ground and had people sit in the middle. Then we picked up the corners and raised it around them, swaying back and forth so they could feel the boat moving. The rest of the group made wind sounds as the boat moved in the ocean.
Success #3: People jumping at the opportunity to ride in that boat.
Success #4: The older gentleman who is always happy and having fun, but a little hesitant about participating, refusing to let go of the sail because he was having so much fun holding it up and swaying in the wind.
Success #5: Some of the shyer ones again volunteering to speak and become the characters.
Success #6: The man who is somewhat higher functioning, but can be very taciturn and grumpy when things don’t go the way he wants them to, leaping up to become the King and embodying that king in body and voice.
Scene III (In the Cave)
Puff: Where are you Jackie?
Jackie (outside of the cave): I’m too busy, Puff.
Puff: ROAR (sobs)
This time the two sheets became the cave. Four people held up one for the ceiling, and the other formed the floor. Volunteers again leaped at the opportunity to sit in the cave. When I asked what we might hear in the cave, everyone said “water.” So I grabbed my rain stick and handed it to the one woman who had not participated much at all that day. She simply sat in a chair and watched. She took the rain stick and helped create the glorious drippy atmosphere. Then, as we started with the lines, I realized that caves should echo. So everyone became part of this scene, with one person saying the line and everyone repeating it several times to create a cavernous echo.
Success #7: Full participation in this imaginative journey.
Now remember folks. We achieved all of this using things that might be inappropriate.
I wish more adults had the courage to embrace child-like things, because it brings joy.
And for this group of adults, it also brings other important things like:
- The ability to communicate
- Use of their imaginations
- Use of their bodies
- Fine motor skills in order to use the puppets
- The chance to speak despite shyness.
- The chance to touch in a caring, safe way.
- The opportunity to travel even in imaginary places
So I am going to continue to embrace the inappropriate. Anyone want to join me?
Please check out this post written by Diane who used puppets in an even more powerful way, but faced the issue of inappropriateness as well.