This programme harnesses the subversive power of puppetry to raise levels of attainment and self-confidence among Scottish nursery, primary one, and primary two school pupils. It helps to improve and enhance communication, confidence and problem-solving abilities, particularly among those children who lack effective conversational and interpersonal skills.
We are very pleased to announce that we have been awarded £24,000 by Baillie Gifford to support the next stage of the programme’s development, enabling us to run it for the next three years (2019 – 2021) in the three-school cluster on the Isle of Bute (North Bute, Rothesay and St Andrews Primary Schools.)
In partnership with the University of Glasgow, we will complete a rigorous qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the programme in both educational and health-based contexts, demonstrating our programme’s effectiveness and the positive outcomes which accrue. We will use this research and the results gained to seek further funds to roll out the programme to other Scottish primary schools, particularly those in areas of social deprivation and/or geographical isolation.
The programme was originally developed in 2015 at the Pinkie Primary School, Musselburgh (Edinburgh). We were approached by the school’s headteacher, who was becoming increasingly concerned that a small but significant number of young pupils, primarily from more chaotic family backgrounds, were disproportionately challenged by the expectations and demands of school life. As a result, they were losing considerable amounts of learning time, were educationally under-achieving, and very often demonstrating negative and stressed patterns of behaviour.
The pilot aimed to test the use of puppetry in a classroom-setting as a catalyst to nurture and strengthen emotional resilience among nursery and primary one pupils. Through this imaginative and engaging intervention, we also aspired to increase levels of confidence, problem-solving abilities and educational attainment.
Our programme begins with leading puppeteer Ailie Finlay tutoring nursery and primary one class-teachers to use and engage confidently with mouse hand-puppets made specifically for them. As well as learning how to manipulate the puppet, each teacher creates a character and back-story for their mouse. When the teacher is ready, the puppet joins the class and is utilised by them as a powerful catalyst to stimulate discussion, interaction and problem-solving. As a new pupil, each mouse faces the daunting challenges every child has to cope with, so they ask their classmates for advice, as well as for help in completing successfully the many educational tasks they are set each day.
This interactive approach helps to facilitate a more positive learning environment, encouraging the development of children’s problem-solving strategies and abilities. By encouraging the pupils to become the mice’s guide through school life, it implicitly reinforces a self-belief that they have confidently and successfully mastered new skills, educational information and concepts.
The puppets also provide a dynamic stimulus for more general class discussions about personal attitudes and behaviour, as well as in one-to-one settings with individual pupils. Their immediacy and lack of agenda often inspire children to share profound and hitherto hidden thoughts and feelings about challenging domestic situations.
As Ailie describes:
Puppets have been captivating children (and adults) for centuries. Glove puppets have a particular appeal. They are ‘the little guy’ trying to get by in a big person’s world. This is something that children can instinctively relate to. The puppet’s charm naturally encourages an empathetic response from the children.