Category Archives: language & communication

speaking, listening and communication

How to Make Jim Henson Inspired Hand Puppets

Following our visit to the Jim Henson exhibition and the girls fascination with puppet play, they wanted to try making hand puppets.

When they were younger we watched this inspirational video from the 1960’s, where Jim Henson talks about making muppets.

We made a few puppets from old tights with foam pieces for the mouth. The girls didn’t like the foam mouths as it restricted their fingers.

This time, they are a little older and have their own ideas (always better than mine) for making puppets.

The first puppet was made with a sock.  We used a sock from an aeroplane wash kit. They followed the steps on the video and I helped them with ideas.

How to make a Sock Puppet

  1. Cut an oval of cardboard and fold it.

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2. Place the cardboard inside the sock and secure with an elastic band to make a mouth.

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3. Add eyes. We used adhesive Velcro strips to join on our eyes and nose.

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4. Add a nose. We used a pompom.

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5. Add hair.  Use wool, string or fur. This was also joined on with Velcro but you could also stitch it on.

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Step 6: Add a tongue. We made a paper tongue and glued it on but you could also use felt or fabric.

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My daughter named her Izzy. I think she is an amazing addition to our puppet collection.

Here she is in action.

How to Make a Puppet from an Envelope

The Jim Henson video also inspired them to make a puppet from an envelope.

1.  Fold the envelope into a beak shape and decorate it.

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2. Glue the envelope head onto a sock. We used double sided pads used for sticking pictures to the wall.

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3. Wrap material around the sock .

How to make a puppet

4.  If desired add clothes and make hands using sticks and cardboard. American Girl doll, or build a bear clothes work well.

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They decided this one should be called Pierre.

Here is Pierre in action.

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Young Puppeteers: Puppet Play Inspired by the Jim Henson Exhibition at MoPop

My love for Jim Henson’s creations isn’t a secret. As most children of the 70’s and 80’s, I grew up watching Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. I love the Muppet Movies new and old, I cried buckets when I watched the documentary ‘Being Elmo’ and my greatest ambition is to sing on Sesame Street some day.

My love affair with puppets began when I was nine years old and bought Snoopy and Charlie Brown marionettes with my Christmas money.  I joined the Pelham puppets club, who would send me magazines with short play scripts in them. My granddad made me a wooden puppet theatre with a hand painted back drop and curtains you could open and close.  I would perform the plays with my friends and remember making costumes for my puppets and performing a show about a witch for my Brownie pack.

Being an early years teacher, gives me the perfect excuse to continue buying puppets as an adult. I love the way young children respond to puppets and they are invaluable props for my parent and toddler music groups.  My girls have inherited most of my collection and added some of their own.

I have been looking forward to the Jim Henson exhibition at MoPop since the summer.  We decided to save our visit until the winter when the wet weather often drives us indoors. The Jim Henson Imagination Unlimited exhibition continues until 25th February, so there is still chance to visit.

The first part of the exhibition explains Jim Henson’s early career. Jim Henson started out by manipulating his puppets to sing along to  music tracks. At the exhibition, you can choose a puppet, and a track and record the puppets miming along to the music.  The girls were totally captivated and loved watching themselves on the screen. It was difficult to drag them away.

The other sections feature Jim Henson most famous creations.  The journey begins with Sesame Street.  I was very exited to see Ernie and Bert, Grover and the Count.

The girls learned about the generic  blue puppet used in Sesame Street to create multiple characters. The puppet is blank and features are stuck onto the face to change its appearance,  according to the requirements of the script.  The girls played at creating different characters.  We have a similar puppet at home, made by playskool. The girls have made additional features from felt with Velcro attached.

My favourite part of the Muppets section, was a fascinating video explaining how Miss Piggy and Kermit were able to ride bicycles in one of the muppet movies.

The girls loved showing off their theatrical poses and seeing their favourite character, Beaker.

The final section showed exhibits from The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Fraggle Rock.

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Outside of the exhibition was a muppet stage set up with miniature instruments. You choose your puppet, a piece of muppet music and create your own puppet show. The girls thought this was wonderful and they were surprisingly good at it.

This inspired them to make a puppet show at home. They often make puppet shows on the stairs, peeking over the bannister. This time, we made a screen from our photo backdrop.  The girls went to town customising it and spent the next few days writing a muppet show, full of jokes, magic, music and dancing.

My favourite was four puppets singing along to the Pentatonix sugar plum fairy.

The song features Kermit, the wotnot, and one of our favourite puppets, a Melissa and Doug ballerina named Peh .The girls called her Peh because when she dances her hair falls in her face, so to get it out of her eyes, she tosses her head, saying, ‘peh’.

We have a few recent additions to our collection.

Melissa and Doug chef

Melissa and Doug cowboy and his cow.

A giraffe

And a cute cat.

We’re now adding even more to our collection, as I’ve discovered Goodwill online is great place to find unusual puppets at great prices. I’m a little bit hooked. I recently won an amazing Jim Henson puppet ( more on that to come soon).

I love how the puppets have inspired them to create stories, costumes and props. They have also become interested in how puppets are made, what makes a particularly good puppet and how to be a ventriloquist. I’ll share some of their home made puppets in a future post.

Disclaimer: this post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase products via these links, I receive a small compensation.

What is That White Stuff Flying Around? Co-constructing Knowledge, Sustained Shared Thinking and Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eyes.

Disclaimer the links to books referenced in this post, contain Amazon Affiliate Links.

Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLS in our teacher-child interactions.  OWLS stood for

Observe

Wait

Listen

Speak

Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult.  In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.

If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)

My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.

The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses.  They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.

Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.

As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world  to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.

 

As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.

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The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.

Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.

The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.

I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.

The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood.  The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.

Questions to Encourage Sustained Shared Thinking

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To be perfectly honest I hate that in my profession they keep inventing new buzz words for age old ways of working and interacting with young children.  It feels to me that it is a way to make some feel superior in their understanding to others.  If you don’t quite get what it means it is quite likely something you are already  naturally doing, but without giving it a name.

‘Sustained shared thinking’ occurs when two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity, extend a narrative etc.

Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding. It was more likely to occur when children were interacting 1:1 with an adult or with a single peer partner and during focussed group work.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project (2004)

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If you are engaged with a child’s play, if you are working together, listening and sharing ideas, if you are helping a child to understand something, you are likely engaged in sustained shared thinking.  Imagine blowing bubbles for a toddler, they watch the bubbles and watch you blow them.  As the bubbles blow away, the bubbles pop and the child continues to look for them.  You might blow a bubble onto their hand so the child can feel it pop or show them how to pop it with their finger.  The child engages in a new game, popping the bubbles for fun. This is sustained shared thinking.

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I often see questions asked about suitable activities to promote sustained- shared thinking.  Any open-ended, creative activity will lend it self to sustained shared thinking – the key is the level of engagement and nature of interaction between teacher and child. Also any genuine discussions you have with the children when you are learning from one another and discussing in depth opinions, thoughts and ideas are examples of sustained shared thinking.  Take time to listen and understand what the children are thinking, before jumping in with our own ideas.

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It might be helpful to think of these questions.  If you can use these questions in your interactions with the children then you will be engaging in sustained shared thinking.

 

Elaborating

That’s really interesting, can you tell me more?

Re-capping

So you think that…..

You started with…..

Offering own experiences

When I was little I thought that….

I like to listen to music when I am busy.

Clarifying ideas

So we think that the sugar will dissolve in hot water?

I think I understand let me just check what you said.

Suggesting

Can I show you another way?

How about if we try this?

Perhaps we need to think about it?

Reminding

Don’t forget that you said the sugar would dissolve in warm water

Let’s just go back to what you did/said/thought.

Encouraging

You thought really hard about where to put the door, now where could you put the windows?

Speculating

If we try this what might happen?

What other ideas might work?

Are there any other possibilities?

Do you think the 3 bears would like Goldilocks to be their friend?

Asking Open Questions

How did you…?     Why does this…..?   What happens next?

What do you think?  Where would you?

Offering Alternative Viewpoint

Let’s pretend we are…… What might we do?

Perhaps Goldilocks didn’t think she was being mean when she ate the porridge?

Disclaimer: these questions came from training delivered by North Somerset early years team but may originate from another source.

Steady Beat Action Rhymes

My Children are big fans of Beat Baby and love to play rhyming games. Some of these activities and the way they help with early literacy development are documented in a previous post about Musical Games . Recently we were reading Ros Bayley’s Action Raps and then continued to make up some of our own.

After a few rhymes with me leading the way, my 4-year-old decided to have a try.

Traditional Childrens’ Parties Promote Communication Skills.

Many of us provide elaborate parties for children under the age of 5 and then find that they are happy just ‘playing’.  I’ve adapted my parties over the years. I found that before the age of 3 my children were happy to have one or 2 friends visit to play games and eat cake. Even when they were a little older they mostly enjoyed a few crafts, games and dancing.

According to a recent study by I CAN the communication charity, my children are not unusual. In a survey of 1500 parents they found that the top 5 party pursuits for under-5’s were:-

  1. Dancing games like Musical Chairs, Musical Statues and Musical Bumps
  2. Party games like Pass the Parcel and Pin the Tail on the Donkey
  3. Playing outdoors with other children
  4. Eating party food
  5. Singing and rhyming  games like the Hokey Cokey and Row, Row, Row Your Boat

I CAN Communication Advisor, Kate Freeman said “The top five activities all involve communicating and socialising with their friends – from pass the parcel, which boosts turn-taking and listening skills to singing and rhyming games like the Hokey Cokey. This type of activity enhances children’s understanding of the structure and meaning of language – and there is no better environment for a child to develop their confidence than with a group of friends and adults in a relaxed and fun setting like a party”. Furthermore, mealtimes and snack times are a fantastic opportunity for young children to continue to develop communication skills.

Fun games to play at parties to develop children’s communication skills include:

  • Singing and rhyming songs – a great way to help children learn vocabulary and have fun making music together
  • Playing clapping games (Pat-a-Cake) –  to help children to develop their coordination, control and movement as well as learning vocabulary and social skills
  • Word Games (Simon Says and I Spy)  – to help to develop children’s vocabulary about the world around them and to listen to instructions  (These games can be adapted to easier versions for younger children)
  • Turn taking games (Pass the Parcel) – to help children to learn when to talk and when to listen
  • Games like musical statues to encourage children to listen carefully.   Listening skills can be developed further by saying ‘Stop’ in a quiet voice instead of pausing the music.
  • Imaginative play like toys’ tea parties  help children to expand their language.

When I was teaching in nurseries we often used to play ‘ring games’ like ‘Farmers in the Den’ and ‘Hokey Cokey’ if we had bad weather and it was difficult for the children to play outside. They were always a firm favourite.  The children also loved playing picnics or tea parties.

I CAN is inviting nurseries, pre-schools, childminders or community groups to take part in their annual fun and educational event . This year I CAN is partnering with Entertainment One to make its pre-school character Humf the brand ambassador. The 2013 Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf  asks groups to organise sponsored tea parties where children can join in with popular songs and rhymes to develop their communication skills in an enjoyable way. I organised an event years ago with my pre-school music group. We learned  new songs and the children were awarded stickers and certificates for their achievements.

The singing and rhyming activities for the 2013 Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf have been developed by I CAN speech and language therapists and teachers. Lesson plans, which include Humf and his friends in the activities and illustrations, link to key aspects of the new Early Years Foundation Stage including Communication and Language, Physical Development, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. All the activities are aimed at supporting and developing children’s speech and language skills.

Being involved with the Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf encourages children to think about communication, whilst helping support those who find talking and understanding difficult.

Chatterbox Challenge week is 1st – 8th March 2013 and most groups will be holding their Tea Party with Humf during this week, though groups can actually take part at any time during 2013.

To register and get involved in this year’s Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf, go to www.chatterboxchallenge.org.uk

Activities to Build Children’s Language Development from Ages 3-5.

A few years ago I ran training sessions for early educators and parents on communication, language and literacy. Many of the resources we recommended, including the excellent dvd Chatter Matters, came from the Communication charity I CAN. One of the key messages of this training was that ‘reading and writing float on a sea of talk.’

Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Advisor and experienced paediatric speech and language therapist says:

Given the right support, many children learn to talk without too much effort. There’s a golden age for learning to talk – this is before 5½ and so skills learnt at this age bring great benefits later on. Evidence has shown the early years to be a vital time for supporting all children’s communication, as well as a time to identify any difficulties and put support in place to improve a child’s overall life chances.

I was very excited to review I CAN’s latest resource Chatting with Children.  This is a really nicely presented set of 30 cards with activities for promoting speaking and understanding for children aged 3-5. The activities are simple and require no specialist resources. Some are copying or guessing games of the kind we often play in the car, some require household objects and a couple that I played with my 4-year -old and 2-year-old  used our musical instruments box . These games would be great for including in my music groups.

Each card has ideas for making the activity easier if your child is struggling or more challenging if it is too simple. The activities are equally suitable for large groups or one child. They are a great resource for families and could provide a wealth of ideas for small group times at pre-school. Many of the cards remind me of games I played with the autistic children I worked with, helping them extend their vocabulary and comprehension and categorise language. These cards would have been an invaluable resource for these families.

The cards focus on a number of skills, listening, developing vocabulary, social skills and understanding what is said. The games are varied  and can be played for a few minutes or half an hour or more.listening games My 4-year-old loved the listening games, playing hide and seek with our timer and listening carefully for the soft tick to help us find it and making sounds with household objects and guessing what they might be.

Chatting with Children is also available as part of a brand new boxset being launched this month by I CAN – the Early Talkers Boxset (£19.99). The boxset contains the original Babbling Babies and Toddler Talk as well as the new Chatting with Children, and has been created especially for parents and Early Years practitioners supporting babies, toddlers and young children in learning to talk.

The three packs between them, contain activities for children from birth to school age. I  was so impressed that I am going to order the box set for my brother to play with his one year old twins.

Chatting with Children is available in paperback for £7.99 paperback and hardback for £12.99 .

All proceeds go towards I CAN’s work with the 1.2 million children in the UK who have long-term speech, language and communication difficulties. To purchase Chatting with Children or the Early Talkers Boxset comprising all three activity card sets visit www.ican.org.uk/bookshop .

“Any parent with a question or concern about their child’s communication can contact the I CAN Help Enquiry Service for a call or email from a speech and language therapist – visit www.ican.org.uk/help

This is not a sponsored post, a copy of chatting with children was received for review purposes

Kate’s Top Tips for Chatting with Children aged 3-5 years old

Be quiet Take time to talk to each other in a quiet room. Turn off the TV and radio, and shut the door to block out any other background noises. Children have to learn to block out background noises, so they need a quiet environment to focus on the sounds they hear.

Be face-to-face Help young children to see your face – make sure you’re at the same level as them. Sit or crouch opposite them as they play, or sit them on your lap. Sit opposite the child so you’re face-to-face with them. Being face-to-face means that the child can see you and your facial expressions. Also, you can see them and their responses and reactions to the games you play together or the conversations you are having.

Don’t rush – take plenty of time Young children take longer than adults to process what they hear – sometimes up to 12 seconds. They need plenty of time to respond to you.

Be patient Young children can easily lose interest in what you’re doing – this is perfectly normal, especially for 3-year-olds. Don’t worry – just stop the game that you’re playing together and try again another time.

Be prepared for anything Follow the child’s lead and adapt the game or conversation to fit in with what they’re doing. This can help maintain attention on particular games.

Ditch the dummy A dummy gets in the way of attempts to talk during conversations and games. Children of 3 and over don’t need to use a dummy.

Use the language you naturally use at home It’s important that you speak naturally to young children; this helps develop their language skills.

Enjoy it This is a special time together, so have fun playing, chatting and learning about each other.

Chatting with Children, a new activity pack for adults to help develop communication skills in children aged 3-5 is available from I CAN www.ican.org.uk/bookshop

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