Discovering Waldorf - 'Waldorf Puppet Plays" - The Magic Onions

Discovering Waldorf – ‘Waldorf Puppet Plays”

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One of my most favorite Waldorf traditions is watching a puppet performance. It is totally amazing to watch the puppets take on a life of their own, their gentle graceful movements drawing the listener into their magical world. I am always so enthralled that I completely forget to watch the expressions on the faces of my children, in fact, I completely forget that I am not a child myself. Only when the play is over do I realize that my children have sat quietly, just as spellbound as I have been, for the whole play. It’s a delightful medium and that is why I’m so excited to introduce Caroline who is going to discuss Waldorf puppet plays with us. Caroline is a Waldorf play-group teacher who lives in Munich, Germany and, as you will discover, her English is enchanting :-)

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Waldorf Puppet Plays by Caroline

Especially in the fast pace of our time, where children can be overwhelmed with quickly changing pictures and impressions and add to that the extensive media consumption, puppet play, as carried out in Waldorf education, with its calming rhythm and continuity, can not be valued high enough.

Stories that are presented to children on TV often contain fast changing pictures and scenes, that will confuse their mind as well as their senses, whereas the simplicity and calmness of puppet play allows the children to follow the story, step by step. It stimulates their fantasy and strengthens their life forces. Looking at the development of the young child, the unfolding of their senses, puppet play is clearly a natural continuation of storytelling and fingerplays are appropriate for the youngest as well as for school starters.

Although the following might sound like a lot of rules to follow, you will feel that it is all very natural to implement and with a bit of practice, puppet play can become a beautiful and important part of life with your own children or in a playgroup.

Simply put, puppet play is usually a rhyme or fairy tale that is accompanied by puppets, moved by the story teller, who is sitting visibly behind the scene while telling the story to the audience.

Necessary preparations: The scenery and the figures need to be arranged. The simplest scenery is often the best — simple offers a scope for the childrens’ imagination.

When preparing the play, one can choose to do it by oneself or to involve the children, either by letting them watch or even help with the preparations. Children love to participate and when they see the scenery evolve, their imaginations are sparked and they feel motivated to create their own play later on. In any case, the process of building up the scene should be thoughtful and affectionate, the figures being placed or hidden at their starting point in the story. Now the stage might be carefully hidden under an additional piece of silk and revealed when the play starts.

The stage: The scenery should be at the eye level of the audience, which means a small bench or table serves well, but the floor can be just as practical. The children sit in front or in a semicircle around the scene. If possible, the story teller who is sitting behind the scene should be wearing clothes that won’t attract too much attention — light and plain-colored.

Colored silk or cotton cloths are often used to simulate the landscape of the story.

These at hand, green clothes can make for meadows, blue ones for the lake, pond or river, brown and gray are suitable for wood or mountains.

Natural materials, brought home from outdoor adventures, that are also used for nature tables, like stones, roots or cones can make for trees, walls, rocks etc.

Often a little lantern is lit and placed near the scene.

Figures/People and Animals: These can be very simple as well, leaving room for the childrens imagination. Simplest of all are puppets made from silk clothes just by adding a few knots.

Figures made of felt are wonderful, even more so, when the children have been involved in making them. The puppets can be plain white or colored, they don’t even have to have a face. By listening to the story the childrens minds will add character by themsleves.

The story: If one is new to puppet play, one should choose a short story or simple rhyme that is easy to remember, so one does not have to read off the paper. If that should be necessary, because the story is longer, a second person, sitting next to the stage can slowly read out the story, while the other one is moving the figures around the stage.

For the youngest, simple rhymes are most appropriate, the rhythm often being more important than the content. For older children one can choose ever more complex stories, like „The Shoemaker and the Elves“, „Sweat Porridge“, „Mashenka and the Bears“, later „Mother Holle“, “Rumpelstiltskin“ or the like.

10 to 15 minutes is enough for small children. The stories should not be longer than 25 minutes even for schoolchildren.

Narrative style: Calmness and serenity are a must, no dramatization is needed. The voice of the narrator should be calm. The figures are to be moved carefully, no jumping or jolting. If it is necessary to change from one hand to the other this should be done slowly.

Music: Before, after or during the puppet play a little song can be sung, or a piece of music can be played on the chimes, harp or flute, to get in the right mood.

Repetition: As is equally true for storytelling, children will ask for the same play over and over again. They will be happy listening to the same story for days and weeks. To answer this need for repetition is important for their development. The program does not have to be changed very often.

Honestly, you should not feel overwhelmed or pressured by these basics. In fact, you should just go ahead and try the activity and see what feels right for you and the children! I truly hope that you find it a pleasant addition to your life with children!

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Thank you for this delightful discussion, Caroline. Oh, how I would love to be in your audience one day… I can tell you are utterly magical with puppets.

Caroline’s blog is called Naturkinder and she has the ‘translate’ function so that you can read it in English… pop on over for a visit.

Here are the other articles in the Discovering Waldorf Series.

If you have an idea for an article you would like to share on Discovering Waldorf, send me an email vined( at )ymail ( dot )com

Blessings and magic,

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Donni Webber is the mom behind the popular natural living Waldorf website and blog, The Magic Onions - where the magic of nature and the wonder of childhood collide to make each moment a precious gift. She is a photographer, writer, crafter, wife and mother of two inspiring young children. Her work has been featured in many popular publications, including HGTV, Better Homes and Gardens, Disney and Apartment Therapy.

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  1. These steps to a successful Waldorf puppet play are great! Thank you. I’ve seen first hand the calming effects that these simple steps can bring to a room. Telling the story calmly, with fluid motion really seemed to change the way the group of little ones (ages 1-5) reacted to story time, vs the previous story times before.

  2. I miss the days of waldorf puppet plays. Our children would come home from their waldorf preschool and create beautiful magical little scenes. I’ve actually been contemplating making some simple walorf-style marionettes to see if I can intrigue their little minds to explore the plays again.

  3. Thank you for this post! I’ve been wanting to try out some storytelling both with my sons and my students, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. Now I do!

  4. Love puppets! We just saw the Tanglewood Marionettes at our local high school. I hope to learn to make wooden marionettes this Spring!

  5. oh boy! I so love this!

  6. What an informative post- I enjoyed the break down- my monkeys have enjoyed going to puppet plays but I am now inspired to create our own- have a great day!

  7. I do a Waldorf-inspired storytelling day with props each week with my boys, ages 5 and almost 3. My problem is that my oldest wants NOTHING to do with repetition! He definately does not want to hear/watch the same story again and again. We do oral storytelling each night before bed about a mushroom family and he is the same way about that. Any thoughts on this?

  8. Thank you Dear Magic Onions for this post as I am getting ready to put up a puppet show for my 7 year old daughter’s birthday party on November 4, 2011! Wish us luck! We are doing Snow White and Rose Red.

  9. Indeed puppets are just so cool to watch, my brother does amazing shows with puppets.

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