Appropriate Age Appropriateness

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.

Some of the fabulous masks.

It worked.

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.

A Puff puppet. The body is paper and "flies"

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!

Puff: Roar!

King: Welcome!

Pirate: Arrrr!

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
  • Etc.

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.

33 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vixter2010
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 07:58:48

    I think embracing child-like things is a great idea and I’ll always love Disney! Have you seen ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ – hilarious puppets in that 🙂


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 08:08:38

      I started watching it but the disc was scratched and I never got back to it. I’ll have to revisit. 🙂


  2. jgavinallan
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 08:12:13

    I really can’t say any comment on what you are writing…reason…I really agree with the idea…I was accused of being very childlike in my tastes for books and film…for a long time..and also it was said…I think the expression is…attached to my mother’s hip.
    I still miss the attachment.

    loved this article.


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 08:15:52

      I think it is good to stretch away from your mother’s hip. But I also think that we live only in the adult world of responsibility we lose out on something very important.



  3. Kathryn McCullough
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 09:15:21

    This is sheer brilliance, Lisa! Brilliant! I want to think about this while I am working in the garden today and get back to you! I just don’t know how to express strongly enough how f*cking brilliant this is. Age approriate, my a**! God, Lisa, this is glorious and stunning success! I am blown away! What a huge and magnificent gift! This post needs to be Freshly Pressed!


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 09:55:58

      This means a lot since you have worked with this population and know. I long ago gave up the dream of being Freshly Pressed. It seems beyond me. Maybe they need a FP recommendation form.

      Thanks so much


  4. blueboxartstudio
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 10:31:42

    Very simply, YOU ARE AWESOME AND TRULY KNOW YOUR STUFF!! We are so lucky to know and have to opportunity to work with you!


  5. Julia Munroe Martin
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 13:48:26

    Am I missing something? Is the “inappropriate thing” being too “childish”? Really? I worry about myself if I don’t feel like having fun and playing and laughing at “inappropriate things” like childrens books and movies and TV shows! It’s such fun! I think the puppets are fabulous (and they obviously work!).


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 20:06:54

      You are not missing anything Julia. The powers in charge at places like this and at nursing homes fear that, if a family member should walk in when people are playing with puppets it would be seen as inappropriate. It is truly frustrating.


  6. Tori Nelson
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 15:55:37

    Am I ever appropriate? I mean EVER? I’m all in. We could protest Appropriateness!


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 20:07:35

      No, Tori, you are never appropriate. But neither am I. That’s why we get along so well, even if only on the virtual plane.


  7. nrhatch
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 21:23:44

    She’s a silly rabbit . . . Trix are for kids. Puppets are NOT.


    • Woman Wielding Words
      Jun 17, 2011 @ 21:28:49

      Brilliantly put. I love Bunraku. I was lucky to see them in Japan. My husband studied with some Japanese masters.


  8. Kidspartyheaven
    Jun 19, 2011 @ 10:55:09

    As a very childish 47 year old I applaud you. I am also a very happy and calm person and trust me, that is no coincidence. It’s odd that we can see the benefits of laughter but cannot allow people to use the power of silly to grow. I believe that our society has got it so wrong when it comes to this ‘age appropriate’ thing. It’s to do with well meaning political correctness. It comes from a good place but it isn’t thought through. I face this sort of idiocy all the time in my job. I worked with a puppet in a locked ward in a mental institution on a pilot project a few years ago. My fairy brought laughter to a very depressing place. My fairy brought words out of sealed lips. My fairy brought hope to a hopeless situation. Was she appreciated? Yes , by the patients, yes by the doctors who thought I was a great laugh… but HELL To the NO by the powers that be who accused me of making their patients delusional. They thought I was just some tree-hugging lefty who couldn’t possible know anything about psychological distress. What did they know? They weren’t even there to witness the smiles from the morose and the hugs and real connection from the people that had been shut down for months.
    I despair, I really do.
    Now I’m off to blog about this.
    Thanks for getting me going.



    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Jun 19, 2011 @ 13:04:12

      It just makes me so angry at the evilness of the powers who make judgment calls without bothering to see reality. This is why the education system suffers. This is why the arts are being slashed left and right. And this is why people are treated different instead of making connections through magic and joy. Kudos to you for your fairy love.


  9. Trackback: Silly is a serious business. « Diane's Puppets kids party heaven
  10. Kidspartyheaven
    Jun 19, 2011 @ 12:16:51

    Hello again Lisa, I’ve linked to this post in my latest blog. I hope you don’t mind, but I think it’s a rather important reference for the post that I continued to write.
    Thanks for inspiring me.



  11. kidspartyheaven
    Jun 19, 2011 @ 16:50:57

    Thanks for the trackback! Much love.


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  15. She's a Maineiac
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:10:43

    That is an incredible story. How simple things like props or using our imagination can bring us out of our shells! I worked in special ed for years and we always used whatever props, arts and crafts or social games necessary to create a safe, but exciting learning environment for the kids to explore and even gain new skills in the process, so why on earth can’t we do that at any age?! Kudos to you!


    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:34:17

      It amazes me that people imagine there is an age when we outgrow fun. As if some imaginary age line marks a demarcation between the joy and adult responsibility.


  16. Donna Jean
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:20:40

    I sometimes found resistance from family members when I engaged my mother who has Alzheimer’s in childish activities. My mother can no longer read, follow the rules of a simple card matching game, or follow the plot of a television show. She is also limited in movement because of peripheral neuropathy. The resistance to childish activity stopped when she was in a nursing home for several months after a fall. She alternated between weeping in despair and lashing out in anger. I bought her a stuffed bunny. She latched onto that bunny like a security blanket. Now when we go somewhere, family members say, “Don’t forget her bunny!”


    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:03:44

      I love this Donna, and it is further evidence that everyone needs a little stuffed animal love in his/her life.


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  18. mum of all trades
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 13:00:15

    I always thing of age appropriate in terms of things not being too old for younger children or teens. I have never ever thought of anything being too young for someone. Sounds like a jobsworth to me.
    You sound like you are doing a wonderful job. There is nothing better than what you are doing to draw people out of themselves.


    • Lisa Wields Words
      Oct 21, 2011 @ 14:14:59

      It was a great experience and I hope to be able to do more programs like this in the near future.


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