Molly Piper has worked as an artist and children’s author since the 1980’s, and in 2009 she created the Acorn & Rose Puppet Theater in Yelm. She has given shows and workshops for libraries, schools, museums and homes throughout Washington. Here, she shares some of the adventure.
I had worked as an author and artist for decades, taught in every possible venue, and found myself in 2009 wondering what new adventure I could come up with. Out of the blue, I was offered a grant to teach writing to fifth and sixth graders. These kids told me they were tired of writing at the end of long school days, so we switched to puppetry. My restless, rebellious charges calmed down to a happy hum when given earthen clay to fashion into puppet heads. Yup, kids these days still like dirt! They loved the feel and smell of clay, and were passionate about sculpting tiny heads. Eagerly, they took on the fine-tuned work of detailed papier-mâché, painting, and sewing, and were exuberant about bringing their creations to life in a play before family and friends.
Ultimately, these students were the ones who inspired me to design and build a puppet theater and take what is now known as Acorn & Rose out on the road.
My first solo performance had eight puppets, which meant eight different voices to keep distinct, to say nothing of all their interactions on the play board and with the audience. I was terrified! To my amazement my little audience of forty kids and pre-teens sat quietly responsive for a full forty-five minutes. So, I expanded my repertoire, gaining confidence as I went along, and can say for sure that shows and birthday parties are a lot of fun to do. Especially, though, I like showing kids how to do things.
Kids live in the present moment without duplicity, well aware that what adults say and who they really are can be two different things. Usually they stay quiet about this, but puppets can give them a safe way to express truthfully without getting in trouble for it. Also, there are moments when a child needs to reinvent herself, and a puppet offers the perfect opportunity to behave in new, productive ways.
As a visiting artist who gets to do special programs in schools, I’m allowed to seek out what matters to kids. They all love learning about animals and nature. Last year one of my groups of first graders was impressed by a whirlwind they saw on their playground. They were mystified by leaves rising up in spirals of invisible air. So we got into it – there are endless spirals in nature, in the weather, in galaxy formations, in seashells and pinecones and flowers, spirals right down to our fingertips. I brought my kids lots of books showing these things, and some of them were so taken they tucked the books inside their desks to study in quiet moments. We made up a song about spirals for the kids’ puppets to sing. They drew spirals in tiny booklets they had made to share with their puppets. In a playful way, we really expanded their interest in reading; they felt a great respect and connection to nature. They were writing and reading with tiny sidekicks they themselves had made, named and given voices to.
In addition, I’m doing private tutoring for three little girls who are in love with mermaids. With help, they’ve made their own mermaid puppets.
Part of the inspiration for this has come from dozens of wonderful library books about our oceans, and the girls love pouring through them. They’ve become mystified and delighted by seahorses, octopi and other sea creatures, and have learned to draw them quite well. Now, we are making up a puppet show together – brainstorming, mapping, drawing and singing a story that is loaded with information – all skills they will not forget. It is all coming from them, so they passionately want to do the book-learning, preparing the big surprise they will share with family and friends. This is folk art woven into academics, and it works very well.
In the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, children used to learn on farms and homesteads, and they were taught skills as apprentices. Mixing puppetry with current-day education offers some of that. Kids gain experience and self-respect by doing things hands-on, and their confidence grows as they meet challenges, ask questions, and find solutions. People who are now grandparents and great-grandparents learned to memorize long poems, they knew how to repair things and make something out of nothing. Being frugal, thrifty and imaginative means that a button, a scrap from an old shirt, or an unmatched sock can be used to make a toy that brings meaning and joy. This is not instant gratification or entertainment; it is work that requires patience, imagination, and cooperation.
If I have learned anything from being around children over several decades, it is that they are overloaded by the thinking that goes into their movies and video games. The numbers of cable channels for kids, even educational videos and games, lead children to become passive and zoned-out in front of screens. Nothing can compare to time spent talking, playing or reading with an adult who is really with them mindfully, working together on a project that involves mastering new skills and bringing them to fruition. There is deep and lasting satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands, or making up a story from things you have learned. Kids thrive with eye contact and the joys of conversation, and the ups and downs of working on projects they care about.
A question for members of The Mountain News community: I wonder what senior citizens and elders have to say about sharing hands-on experiences like this with children. What do you remember about your childhoods and raising children? What do people with grey hairs see and feel that would benefit parents, teachers and children today? Kindly share your comments with us, for all to see and learn from.
P.S. Please visit Molly at www.acornandrose.com
© 2011 Molly Piper
All pictures courtesy of Molly Piper
What a gem Acorn and Rose Puppet Theater is, Molly. Thank you so much for sharing your story of how it came into being and your view on how it impacts kids. I agree, too much screen-time is dulling our kids. As a therapist in foster care, I endeavored to limit my kids to 1.5 hours of total screen time – TV, cable. games, Sesame Street – whatever, per day. It was tough.
When I was growing up, the Boy Scouts were my saving grace. Camping, being out in the woods, taking care of myself – those were the big things.
Molly I loved the story of your latest adventure…keep me posted as I know with you the adventures will never stop:)
Awesome puppet adventure!
so True, thsi is so true. Ican tell youshe is right…….. kids belong back in nature, workingwith their handsand hearts. We allneed to slow down. i’ve allways been proud of my handmade craftsand stories in our famly, kidsneed the chanceto slow down. And this lady. So many peeple are out gosipping, she got upand made something out of nothing.
It appears that some folks are having difficulty finding this commentary section and as a result have sent emails to Molly to express their views. Here is one of them:
From: Wren song
Date: Sat, 10 Sep 2011
Subject: Re: article
To: molly piper
What an exquisite article – you are so well spoken and inspiring! It is so professional (not that I am surprised) and tastefully done. Bravo!!!!! I am forwarding this to Emma and Maggie in case you haven’t yet.
I couldn’t leave a message for some reason at the bottom of your article – it could be AOL
Thank you for this treat !
I couldn’t agree more that meaningful hands on experiences lead to happy, creative children; especially if they have some choice in the activities they pursue. When we explained to our 4 year old daughter some 20 years ago, that there would be no more tv in our home, we expected quite a bit of resistance. Instead, when we replaced that time with read alouds and activities, she became happier. To our surprise, she offered little resistance at all, except for occaisional bargaining for videos, which we did allow. It’s, of course, not always easy or possible to squeeze in that time with our children; so it’s wonderful to have programs like Acorn and Rose to help supplement our own efforts. Thanks, Molly for the great work you do.
What a great article! It reminds me that spending time filled with discovery and fun with kids brings back the “kid” in all of us — seeing the wonder in the simple things and being happy in the moment! Thanks!
Sad note Michael Sky passed a few months ago. Penny is on Orcas Is.
Jean, I absolutely love that you are placing such constructive focus in a delightful venue for children. It is what is so needed these days! Taking your most wonderful art talent mixed with creative genius and adding whemsical fun makes for a unstoppable forward movement guaranteed to bring laughter, self confidence and true joy to many hearts. Just Lovely! So, happy you are sharing! Thank you for your artical. Trena
Thanks Trena! It is funny about the name Jean, because there is a comment from someone named Jean, and then one from Harvey who calls me Jeanie, but people who do not know me would not understand that Molly Piper goes by Jean and Jeannie as well as Molly . . . 🙂
That said, I appreciate the comments from everyone, thank you for your kindness and insights about children and all that they need to grow on . . . what’s that saying? “It takes a village to raise a child,” a village of living, breathing people with stories and talents and wisdom to share.
OMG! Another delicious drink of magic and wisdom from Molly Piper’s bottomless well of inspiring creativity.
Lovely article…fun and enlightening… Molly Piper is the inspired polisher of precious jewels: children’s hearts and minds.( And Adults too! ) Thanks for your great big as life work/play, Molly. And thanks for reporting such uplifting material, Bruce. Imagine if this went all over the world.I hope it does…starting here…I am passing this on to everyone I know.
Thanks, Marcia, for your kind support. With your vast social network, I trust the Mountain News will shortly be read around the globe!
Thanks Marcia, very sweet of you!
Thank you, Molly (Jeannie) for all you do for children. Olivia absolutely loved being with you and all that you taught her. She would love to continue her adventures w/puppets!
We are so fortunate to have this very talented lady in out community. She knows that children are the future and she is inspiring them in ways that many of the schools do not have the facilities to teach. The puppets are a good vehicle for adults as well as the children because we can imagine and express ourselves in a unique and unlimited way.. Puppetry allows us to be anything or anyone we want to be.
Molly’s ability to stimulate her student’s imagination is phenomenal because then they can apply what they have learned to everything they encounter in their lives with an open mind.
Her adventures reveal not only a very creative mind, but a lady with wisdom and vision, who sees an opportunity to both teach and entertain at a time when budget cuts and shifted priorities have left little room for these refreshing and innovative approaches to education in the doldrum of a sterile classroom.
I hope she teaches an adult class, because I will certainly be there.
Lovely work you do Molly Piper! What fun! Kids need someone to help steer them away from T.V. and video games and into a true imaginitive, creative, interaction. Good for the brain and the heart 🙂