Our puppetry and emotional resilience 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.
In this programme, experienced professional puppeteers instruct nursery and primary one class-teachers how to bring to life and manipulate bespoke mouse hand-puppets made specifically for each participant. When each teacher feels confident and ready, their mouse joins their class and is utilised as a powerful catalyst to stimulate discussion, interaction and problem-solving – either with all the children, in small groups or individual settings – whatever is most appropriate for the educational needs and objectives of the pupils.
Through this interactive process the children continue to practice their own abilities and, by becoming the mouse’s teacher, implicitly reinforce 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 when, for example, a mouse comes to school with a bandage on his tail after fighting with a friend over a scooter.
The mice are also a powerful tool of engagement with pupils in one-to-one settings. Their immediacy and lack of agenda often inspire children to share profound and hitherto hidden thoughts and feelings about challenging domestic situations. The mouse listens and, with the teacher channelling support and advice through it, children begin to develop better understanding of their circumstances and, in time, greater emotional resilience.
With generous sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, we will be working over the next few years with two primary schools’ clusters in geographically remote and socially deprived areas of Argyll & Bute to develop the programme further. During this period, in partnership with the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, we will also complete a robust evaluation of the project’s efficacy, using the results to promote its benefits to other schools throughout Scotland, as well as supporting them to find funds to participate in the scheme.
We developed this programme through a successful three year pilot of the programme at the Pinkie Primary School, Musselburgh, collecting a great deal of anecdotal evidence from teachers confirming that overall, pupils’ level of attention and the quality and length of their engagement with learning tasks showed a greater than average development.
During the pilot, Aileen Campbell, then Scottish Minister for Children & Young People, made an official visit to the school in 2016. Impressed with the programme, she commented: The work that Pinkie St Peter’s Primary School is testing and implementing with puppets to help children vocalise and interact better is also a great example of Getting It Right for Every Child – putting the best interest of the children at the forefront of policy and action.
An HMI inspection of the nursery in 2017 commented: Children and their families had access to a nurturing approach from staff who understood nurturing principles and delivered these. Staff have accessed training in puppetry, they told us this had been very effective in encouraging children’s language development and emotional confidence. This excellent skill should be more prominent in the nursery (HMI Report, Spring 2017).