Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#Storytelling Puppet Theater: a Social-Cognitive Workout / #family #socialskills #specialneeds #autism #parents

The idea of creating your own home storytelling theater can serve as a way for young children, especially those with special needs to appreciate different points of view and to even act out those differing outlooks in a safe setting. This metacognitive activity helps one rethink how they approach their thought and the world. Each character acted out has the potential to have a storyline that the puppeteer assumes during the story time. Repetition of an activity like this stays within certain established parameters, yet retains a novelty each time a story is performed in the theater. 

My first storytelling theater was fashioned out of plywood. I had painted it over to look like a castle and added a knight to stand guard by the castle draw bridge. Ivy crawled up the castle walls. In my second theater, I may end up doing it out of tempered hardboard and using cloth string as ‘latches,’ to tie the different hardboard sections of the mini theater together. This makes it faster to build, easier to make, transport, less bulky and becomes less of a danger risk if it were to topple over.

From a social skills development perspective, having storytelling puppet theaters is a practical, rapid way to have a student see things differently. A story can take one minute and can be a conversation. That conversation can lead to awareness and better choices. In that case of many individuals on the autism spectrum, the theater works magnificently well because the framework, or context stays the same while the storyline is apt to change. For very young children, this time can be one were their vocabulary and comprehension expands.

Invariably, the success of this endeavor in any home will rest on the initiative and leadership of the parent in making the theater a fun experience. One mom and child may decorate the outside of the theater that faces ‘the audience’ in order to set a theatrical tone, while a dad and child may co-create character figures or sock puppets. Sock puppets may be the easiest to do, yet think of how it has been done for ages by the Chinese with their own puppet theaters. Creating better quality characters, rather than the same sock puppets each time may be what is needed to make the story time an entertaining, learning experience. 

Surely, a Spiderman character and a PlayMobile figure can act out on any stage, yet making our own characters invests a part of ourselves into the project in a more personal way. So just as it takes time to build the theater set, take time to build cool characters for the storylines with your children. Older children can help write a short script or do storyboards to sequence the action. All this develops executive function skills and cross-hemispheric connectivity and places oneself in the role to engineer, innovate, problem solve and think creatively in a relaxed setting.

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