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The Postcard Project

We’ve got an awesome little project going. It came about when I was about to take Dave into the classroom to teach a postcard lesson. My sister was in South Africa at the time and I had this bright idea.

I emailed her to ask her to send Dave a postcard, from his Uncle Sol, with something about Africa. Uncle Sol is out and about in the world, and sends Dave postcards occasionally about things he’s doing or places he’s visited.

The first one came from South Africa…

It reads “Dear Dave the Monkey, Having a lovely time here in Africa. Wish you were here. Love Uncle Sol

It also came with a letter telling Dave of Uncle Sol’s adventures, seeing lions, being chased by giraffes and being peed on by a tortoise. Unsurprisingly, the kids thought that was hilarious.

Today, another postcard came, this time from London!

It reads “Dear Dave, as you can probably guess, I’m in London this time. It’s cold and grey and the streets are confusing but it’s very ancient and has lots of history. I’m working my way across England washing dishes so a friend wrote this card for me while I’m working. Love your Uncle Sol

So exciting! We hadn’t heard from Uncle Sol for a while, we were wondering what he was up too!

These postcards are awesome in the classroom for discussing other countries or places, for introducing post card writing, which is shorter and snappier than letter writing (and leads onto an art lesson as the students have to decorate the back of the post cards too!) and an awesome reason to take a puppet to class.

You can read more about the postcard lesson I did with Dave here.

Can’t wait to see where Sol is next!

Puppets in the classroom

The other day I took Dave to the class I was teaching, partly to use him to give them a postcard lesson (Dave the monkey receives a post card from his Uncle Sol, who is in Africa, which leads to the children writing postcards to someone from a country they have studied) and partly because I was curious to see how a puppet in the classroom worked.

The children loved him. I figured they’d like him, but I was overwhelmed by just how much they loved him. We started the lesson by Dave knocking at the door and peering in the window. The class had seen Dave’s political ad, him running for Chief Monkey of Australia (http://www.youtube.com/user/TerribleComfort#p/u/0/17i2UZyw8Ww), so they instantly recognised him and were dreadfully excited. I came in and sat down, and they had hundreds of questions, which I figured they would. I had put aside about 20 mins for Dave questions. They asked a number of interesting questions and some that I didn’t expect.
“Dave, do you have any siblings?” (Yes, two brothers, Bill and Graeham)
“Where are you from? You sound like you have an American accent.” (Dave is actually Canadian).
“What’s your favourite food?” (Bananas, of course)
“What’s your favourite colour?” (Yellow)
“What do you like doing?” (EATING BANANAS!)
“Dave, why do you only have 4 fingers? If you’re a monkey, you should have 5 shouldn’t you?”. (Dave considered his fingers for a second and said “It’s just how I was born. My mum and dad only have 4 fingers, and so do my brothers.” That was not only an unexpected question, but a hard one to answer.)
“Do you have a girlfriend?” (No, but he has a girl he likes, Penelope).

I found that it was easier to answer these questions than I thought it might be, because I’m so sure of Dave’s character. We’ve been working with him for a while and I know how he thinks and how he would answer things. At the same time, since he’s an actor, it was ok to answer questions with not quite the truth for Dave, because this was sort of a role he was playing. So I’m not sure that Dave does have two brothers named after the Goodies, or fancies a girl called Penelope, but he is Canadian and does like bananas. But he was in the class playing a role of a monkey, so he answered in monkey fashion to some of the questions. For example, quite a number of the answers were banana-related.

So once the questions were all exhausted, we went on with the lesson, Dave explaining that he got a postcard from Uncle Sol in which Uncle Sol related some of the adventures he was having in Africa. Uncle Sol had seen elephants, been chased by giraffes and peed on by a tortoise. We talked about what a postcard contains and then we modelled one on the board. Dave wrote one to Uncle Sol (with the class’s help) about visiting the town we were in. Then we sent them off to write their own, and Dave left for a cup of tea in the staffroom. I figured that keeping him in the class as they wrote would be way too distracting.

The students wrote beautiful postcards. Something that I didn’t expect was that when I gave the students the free reign to write the postcards to whomever they wanted, that all but 2 students wrote their postcards to Dave. That was heartwarming. They all drew little stamps on their postcards too, and 90% of those were Dave or monkey related too. He really captured their hearts!

One of the most interesting things I witnessed while Dave was in the class was all of the students were having a ball, they found Dave and what he said all very funny, they were all clearly enjoying themselves, but one of the girls found him so funny that all she could do was laugh, and laugh until she went red in the face, and then keep laughing. She couldn’t answer any question from Dave at all, all she could do was laugh. One of the girls put her hand up and suggested that I talk to this girl, rather than Dave. That was an incredibly helpful suggestion actually. So I told Dave to hush and I spoke to the girl, and then she could gather herself together enough to share her postcard with the class. A few of the girls were also too shy to share their postcards, so the same girl suggested that Dave read those postcards out. Another awesome suggestion, so he read those out and then all the students who had already read their postcards out clammered for Dave to re-read theirs out. Dave sensibly refused, that would have taken all day. One of the shy girls had written a very personal postcards, she requested that I read it out, not Dave. So I obliged, and Dave sat silently and held the postcard for me.

I participated in a Life Education van class for grade 1/2 a few weeks ago, in that there was a giraffe puppet named Harold. Harold whispered to the presenter and the presenter translated for him. “What’s that Harold? You think all the children are sitting quietly? You think that’s really nice?” Harold never spoke directly to the children. I think that’s fine, clearly the presenter didn’t feel comfortable enough in doing a puppet voice and the trick of whispering worked fine, the students all loved Harold anyway. On the way back from Life Ed, I overheard a handful of students debating whether Harold was a real giraffe or a puppet.

I don’t think that a single student in my class thought Dave was a real monkey. I referred to the fact he was a puppet once, someone was pretend shocked (“Dave is a PUPPET?”) but it wasn’t a real reaction, he was just playing along.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a retired teacher, she remembered a marionette performer who came to her town and she took the whole school to see it over a week. She got them to draw the puppets afterwards, and out of 250 students, only one student drew the strings of the puppets. Every other student drew the characters in their costumes, but totally ignored the strings. Which makes me wonder if the students know its a puppet, but just don’t care.

And today, I think that’s the same. The students commented on the fact Dave has no legs, they wanted to know how me moved around, and asked if he had teeth (which he doesn’t) or a tongue (which he does). Dave has one rod to manipulate his left arm, but no rod in his right, mainly because if you have your right hand manipulating his mouth you only have one left hand to wave his hand around. I’m aware that the Muppets usually have two puppeteers per puppet but we just don’t have that many people. Although he has a rod for his hand, I found myself grasping his hand to move it around, rather than using the rod. As I was sitting and at such close quarters, I found it easier just to hold his hand. At one point, one of the students asked me to use the rod rather than moving his hand around by grasping the bottom of it. So they all knew he was a puppet, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them.

Maybe it’s that children have a vast imagination, where plants and other inanimate objects talk and interact, and that they can recognise and accept it in puppets too, which are inanimate shaped objects. Although it works with adults too, pull out a puppet and anyone is transfixed.

I can’t wait until I bring in another puppet.

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