A guest post from preschool parent Yar Woo describing how one PKS preschool class approached learning this year.
It’s sock puppet making time.
I’m sitting at my preschooler’s Back To School Night, where for the last half hour I’ve been listening to her teachers explain their philosophy, goals, and curriculum for the upcoming school year. They are wonderful, lovely people. But I can’t help feeling just a tiny bit of resentment as they explain the next phase of the night’s program -- each of our kids has decided what kind of sock puppet they want us to make for them, and now we have to actually do it. This is potentially problematic for me because:
- I have the arts and crafts skills of a gorilla. Not one of those talented gorillas either, like the one that painted all those pictures. Definitely a gorilla on the less dexterous side.
- I don’t trust my child to give me something easy to make (“A sock” would probably be my best bet, honestly).
I smile my best “totally excited to do this” smile and accept my assignment. My kid wants a bird. Could have been worse... some other parent got stuck with a “monkey rainbow.” No time to gloat. Need to start working. What the heck -- did all these other parents get doctorates in sock puppet making or something? Time’s up. My puppet ends up looking like a bird that just went on a blind date with a plate glass window.
“At the beginning we thought it was just going to be a gift from the parents to their children. But over time, we noticed the children taking a lot of interest in them. We started thinking, ‘How can we use these puppets to help critical thinking and communication skills?’”
That bird, the monkey rainbow, and the other 21 sock puppets that the Coconut Tree class parents made that night ended up evolving into a major part of the kids’ curriculum over the course of the year. It wasn’t planned that way. One of the teachers, Daisy, explained to me, “At the beginning we thought it was just going to be a gift from the parents to their children. But over time, we noticed the children taking a lot of interest in them. We started thinking, ‘How can we use these puppets to help critical thinking and communication skills?’”
This kind of natural evolution is a planned accident. “We don’t have a curriculum for the whole school year planned out,” says Daisy. “We have basic skills and goals that we want to develop, and we follow the children’s interests.”
The teachers quickly found that the puppets were a great medium for kids to develop their communication skills. “It can be hard for children to express themselves -- it can actually be easier for them to express their needs and feelings through the puppet. They see the puppets as themselves,” explains Daisy.
Budding literacy is also a priority for the Coconut Tree teachers. The kids created an “All About My Puppet” book that gave some critical information about their puppets. For example, it was only after reading these books that I realized how much sock puppets enjoy eating bananas and playing with trains. The idea to make the books actually came from the students -- according to the teachers, a couple of students started the activity and the others quickly joined in through the magic of peer pressure.
The puppet project spread into many other activities in the class as well. The kids have been making clay sculptures using their puppets as a model. They worked on presentation and public speaking skills by talking about their puppets and their books during show and tell. Overall, it’s astounding how this 15-minute craft project turned into such a diverse set of activities, all inspired by how passionate the Coconut Tree children are about their puppets. And they are passionate -- when I asked kids in the class to show me their puppets and talk about them, I got swarmed. Some choice interactions:
Child: “Mine is named Cat.”
Me: “Oh! Is he a cat?”
Child: “... No.”
Me: “Where’s your puppet?”
Child: “I lost my pen.”
Child: “My puppet is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
Me: “What does he eat?”
Child: “He likes to eat veggies.” (Note: this is scientifically inaccurate)
There you have it. With the exception of paleontology, the Coconut Tree kids are learning valuable early skills, all through the magic of sock puppets. Time for me to practice for next year...
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