TOS Crew: Puppetools

All right! *folding fingers together, cracking knuckles, getting down to business*

I have access to the computer again!

So here you have the first of several reviews for this week.

TOS Crew

Through the TOS Homeschool Crew I’ve been introduced to a website devoted to restoring fun and a sense of wonder to learning. Puppetools is a subscription-based website that promotes using puppets in learning situations. The site has a deceptively simple homepage, and if you follow my link there (or type in “www.puppetools.com”) you won’t see much as a non-subscriber, just descriptions of the links on the site.

If you’re the artsy-craftsy type you probably won’t need this website (you can probably whip up puppets using stuff from around the house, like egg cartons, feathers, glitter, and glue), but if you’re stuck in an academic rut, if there’s no joy in learning and “school” time is drudgery, Puppetools might just be that creative spark you’re looking for. I can also see its usefulness for a homeschool co-op, Sunday school, VBS program or Backyard Bible Club.

A one-year subscription costs $20 for an individual or family, or $99 for a group (see details at the bottom of this review). With a subscription, the whole site opens up. The concept is built around simple yet elegant puppets based on a hinge developed by Jeffrey Peyton, the site owner.

Site features

On the site you’ll find:

– Templates for building 37 puppets. These will get you started, but once you master the underlying hinge you’ll be able to branch out and create your own patterns.

– Lots of videos of people (adults and children) making and using puppets; still photos of many more puppets to get you thinking and creating. I found most of the videos in the  “resources and workshop area” (under the “Students” tab), along with PDF files showing how to construct and use puppets.

– Audio files offering encouragement, instructions, suggestions. Similar messages are tailored for differing age groups, some addressed to parents of 3- to 5- year olds, and some (ages 6-12 and 13 and up) directly to students

– A Forum where teachers interact, asking and answering questions and offering suggestions for incorporating a playful spirit into education.

– The author’s research on “The Science of Puppet Play” in a series of downloadable PDF files. Topics include brain integration, communication, the ways we assimilate and use information, and how play fits into the picture. (These are found under the “Educators” tab.)

Some practical considerations

I have to admit I found the site confusing at first. I had the feeling of stumbling around as I clicked on various links and tabs, and while I found treasure I also had a little trouble getting back to find something I’d looked at earlier. As I revisited the site, of course, growing familiarity helped.

I’m told that the site is cumbersome for dial-up users, so that may be a consideration.

The puppets are constructed from paper, which is not the most durable material. Cheap construction paper (you know, the standard kind that fades and deteriorates fairly quickly) just won’t cut it. You need to use good quality materials that can stand up to flapping and moving around. High quality construction paper works better than the cheap stuff, but I’m wondering if perhaps thin cardstock or posterboard (or even felt) might be a better idea. I haven’t tried making puppets out of posterboard, though. Even the pricier construction paper needs some reinforcement (like duct tape or that durable clear mailing tape) for any sort of puppet longevity, I find.

Practical application, personal experience

In our family’s experience, we’ve found that a playful approach leads to higher interest. Now, I’m not saying you have to get up in front of your children and talk in silly voices and jump around and wave colorful things to get them to pay attention. Not all the time, anyhow! (Actually, that just might be a road to disaster, giving children the idea that if it’s not entertaining, it’s not worth paying attention. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work tends to make Jack a jerk.)

However, we joined a homeschool science class some years ago. We had a middle-school child and two preschoolers at the time. Part of the class was the “Family Report Night” at the end of the term. Each family worked on a project and presented their findings. From comments I heard after we presented our first report, I gather the reports were pretty dry: students standing in front of the class, reading their reports.

Never having been to a Report Night, and wanting to involve our little ones (it was all about “Family Reports” after all!) we came up with a skit. Our topic was the planet Mars, and in our skit we presented a version of a very old television game show; I think the title might have been “To Tell the Truth.” Each of our girls was Mars: the eldest (who was enrolled in the class) was the planet Mars, the 5yo represented the ancient god Mars, and the 3yo was a Mars candy bar. We prepared the girls with answers to a list of questions (Where are you likely to be found? What are you made of? …that sort of thing) and handed out the questions to the audience; they could ask any of the three “Marses” any of the questions on the list. At the beginning, each of the girls introduced herself as “Mars.” At the end, of course, we had the standard announcement: “Will the real planet Mars please stand up!”

It was a fun way to present all the facts we’d learned about the planet Mars!

Another family presented their report in the form of a puppet show, and they had the full attention of the class, from parents and older students on down to the youngest members of the family attending!

Report Night has never been the same. Science facts are presented at Family Report Night with imagination and flair, and instead of droopy eyelids while listening to yet another droning account, we sit up and pay attention and learn!

Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Puppetools could be a good tool for your family, or your co-op, if you need encouragement or ideas for building and using puppets in playful education. You might even sponsor a puppet-making workshop. Spread the imagination!

Puppetools Pricing Details

Pricing information from the site owner:

*1) $20.00 INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION:* Designed for individual users. Get complete access to all resources for a full year. Upgrade to the group subscription any time for $79.00. Ideal for individual users / households.

*2)* *$99.00 GROUP SUBSCRIPTION (Habitat): *Designed to be shared among  small & large GROUPS such as families, home schoolers, classrooms, scout  troops, 4-H, entire schools, and non-profit organizations with  educational missions. This is the best way to derive the greatest benefit as the group subscriptions as up to 30 people can share the cost and enjoy the ride. Need access for more users? No Problem — you can simply add more users anytime in lots of 50 or 100 and the cost can be as low as $2.00 PER USER. The purchaser (account owner) may assign up to 15 administrators per account –all users receive access to all resources for a full year.

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