Puppet shows teach students to put classroom learning into practice

April 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Teachers-in-training need to learn a lot of different skills, but Jordan Gardner never imagined sewing would be one of them. The culminating project in ECE 451 Instruction in Early Childhood Education Derived from Development Theories is the performance of "The Happy Valley Show" puppet show, with puppets made by Gardner and her classmates.

"This is my first time ever sewing, so it took me a long time. The head alone took about four weeks to finish. Then I was like, 'I've got to move a little faster here.' It turned out to be fun, but definitely a process," Gardner said.

Joe Valente, associate professor of education (early childhood education), started "The Happy Valley Show" years ago as an in-class activity inspired in large part by the internationally famous children's show, "Sesame Street."

"'Sesame Street' is guided by empirical research, in-depth focus groups and reflection, and an inclusive ethic," said graduate student Hilario Lomeli, who teaches one of three sections of the course. "Each element in 'Sesame Street' is approached with rigor and care underscoring that while this is a show designed for children, it is a serious engagement of early childhood pedagogy, educational philosophy and inclusion. Our course seeks to draw on this lineage to approach our own 'Happy Valley Show' with the same kind of intensity and intention."

Graduate student Alex Collopy, instructor for another section of the course, said they started to bring the puppet shows out into the community because "in addition to them doing this work … it also started to bridge this gap between what they were reading and what's going on out there on the ground."

The theme for all of the puppet shows is inclusion, with a twist for those in Collopy's section.

"We have to make a script including inclusion, to talk to the kids about inclusion without exclusion," said junior Emily Pilewicz. "We can't intentionally exclude someone to use inclusion. So, it makes it a little more difficult, but it's an interesting way to talk about it."

Added sophomore Victoria Minnick, "It's supposed to be a natural thing that they learn and understand. For our plots, we had to be creative and think of ways to show what inclusion is without telling the students this is what you're supposed to do. It's something we're supposed to model and they're supposed to learn from that."

Collopy said that while working on the puppet project, "students practice a relational approach to inclusion we hope they will take into their teaching practice. Dr. Joseph Valente started 'The Happy Valley Show' so that students had an opportunity in class to experience, consider and articulate our ways of relating to one another in the classroom."

In putting together their shows, Collopy said the students learn about where they will be performing and are encouraged to incorporate things about the site.

"For example," she said, "how old are the children? How do the children engage with their teachers there? How do teachers engage with the children? What behaviors, language, routines, even toys, are relevant and interesting to the children at that site?"

The puppets are the vehicles through which the students impart the lessons they learned in the classroom this semester.

"The class is really awesome," Gardner said. "We do a lot of really cool readings that are things that you might not ever think about — things that impact children in the learning environment. We took different aspects of the course readings, field notes and observations we've done, and brought them into the puppet show, at a level that young children can understand, to bring those messages in at an early age."

Not all students in the class are in teaching majors. Junior Emma Islinger is in rehabilitation and human services.

"I want to be a child life specialist, which is a therapist for kids in the hospital," she said. "One of the things that I really like about the puppet is that part of my future career path is trying to make the process of whatever children are going through at the hospital less scary. The puppet is something that I can incorporate as a tool to help break down those barriers."

This semester, there are three sections of ECE 451, taught by Collopy, Lomeli and Peggy Fitzgerald, instructor in education. Students in those classes will present their puppet shows the week of April 15 at Schlow Library in downtown State College; the Bennett Family Childcare Center and the Child Care Center at Hort Woods on the University Park campus; the State College Friends School; and the Gray's Woods Community Education Extended Learning (CEEL) Program. The Schlow Library show, scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, April 15, is open to the public.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2019