Shayna, Schools Learning Officer tells us how she put a fresh approach on the Horniman’s Make and Take a Puppet workshop.
My name is Shayna and I’m one of the Schools Learning Officers here at the Horniman. Some 31,000 school pupils take part in taught workshops at the Museum and Gardens each year. The Make and Take a Puppet workshop is a favourite with Key Stage 1 in the colder months.
We start by looking at and trying out some of the Horniman's Sanchar rod puppets from India. Pupils are challenged to guess the secret ingredient in the papier-mâché heads – fenugreek (a curry spice). Their answers range from cinnamon to bacon crisps! Next, I tell the Indian story of Rupa the Elephant by Mickey Patel, with its morals of self-acceptance, diversity and kindness. I encourage pupils to remember these values during the craft activity – making rod puppets to take away.
Although the workshop was popular with schools, the team felt it was a little prescriptive and relied too heavily on unsustainable materials. So I set about a revamp. First, I found sustainable alternatives for the materials without increasing the cost – scrunched up newspaper instead of polystyrene balls for the heads; masking tape instead of sticky tape; cotton instead of synthetic felt. The sequins had to go too.
Fabric was the trickiest to source but eventually, we managed to secure a supply of used white cotton napkins (washed, of course) from textile recycling firm LMB. To jazz these up I introduced Indian block printing, which teaches pupils a new skill and links to the Indian heritage of the rod puppets at the start of the workshop.
To make the workshop less repetitive, pupils are now given a choice between four different animal faces and feet for their puppets – tiger, leopard, elephant or peacock. To add some differentiation, the feet can be cut out in two different ways to cater for different levels of dexterity.
I wanted to add one premium item to enable pupils to personalise their puppets. I knew I’d found it when I came across some beautiful animal-print Washi tape. It’s great to see how creative the children are with just a small piece of this – fashioning it into a collar or even a bandana or bow.
As a final flourish and a nod to the fenugreek earlier, I spray some mixed spice scent onto each puppet. This fills the room with the smell of gingerbread, which is a lovely way to end the session.
The revamped workshop has been well received by pupils, teachers and parents. One teacher mentioned that our shift to sustainable materials tied in with their focus on sustainability in Science. Another teacher, who had done this workshop before, remarked that the block printing has added more skill and creativity to the session. The real seal of approval for me was overhearing a pupil saying, “I can’t wait to play with it!”