Margaret Sahin finds that puppets allow children to explore behaviour and relationships
I inherited a set of homemade puppets when I joined my Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 class. They had been made by a previous class of children from papier mache and had been painted and varnished. A number had irregular features which added to their charm, and one was even more misshapen and bright blue. This one became a valuable resource for my assemblies based on behaviour and friendships. Putting him into a group of puppets threw up some attitudes of prejudice that surprised me. It also gave me the opportunity to explore these feelings.
For instance, I once introduced one of the puppets to the children and said he was having a birthday. Larry Lamb's mum had said that he could invite five children (puppets) from his class. That was all she could manage so perhaps my class could help him choose because it was really difficult. All the puppets wanted to go.
Jimmy is Larry's best friend. They play together a lot. "I hope you're inviting me - it'll be a laugh," he says.
Rosie lives next door to Larry. Her mum and Larry's mum are best friends and like them to play together, but Larry does not like Rosie much because she whines. "You have to invite me. My Mum will tell your Mum, so there," says Rosie.
Patch is a quiet, nervous lad, who is new to the school. "I'd love to go, but I don't suppose he'd want me to."
Greeny loves parties and is friends with everyone, but he also likes his own company. "It would be good, but I don't mind."
Jack is big and overbearing. "You'd better invite me or I'll beat you up."
Pally, the blue puppet, doesn't go out much, but likes playing with the others at school. "I would like to go," he says.
Jenny likes playing with the boys' group and loves boisterous games. "Can I come to your party, Larry?"
The question is, who should Larry invite? Several children decided Jack, the bully, had to be invited. Several children were equally certain he shouldn't be. This provoked a good discussion as to how to deal with threats and aggression. Who could help? Who should be told? Was that the right way to get yourself invited to a party? Why did he feel that was the only way to get invited?
Should Rosie be invited? Larry's mum might insist, but Larry should be able to have his point of view.
What about the shy child? Should he be overlooked because he is not assertive. Would it be a kind gesture to invite him and make him feel more part of the group? Would this help him to be more confident and join in more?
Working with and through the puppets a whole range of children's own personalities, expressions and feelings can be explained. Alternative points of view and coping strategies can be tested without anyone feeling targeted.
But what about Pally? "Larry shouldn't invite him," say some children.
"He looks funny," they reply.
A whole new discussion is born. Is being different any reason not to be included? Do you only chose good-looking friends? May life be a bit difficult for Pally if he is self-conscious about his looks. I make him say sadly: "He won't want me because I look funny. I can't help how I look. I do try to be friendly."
There are no right answers and the teacher certainly shouldn't have the answers in their head. His or her job is to promote discussion and the idea that there are at least two sides to every story.
Maybe at the end, Larry can make the choice but also decide how best to tell those who are not selected. How will each puppet react to being, or not being, invited?
The children can help. Deciding how the puppets will respond helps them to formulate strategies for themselves.
Margaret Sahin teaches at Bardwell School for children with special needs, in Oxfordshire