By Andrea Burns
This St. Patrick’s Day Seamus O’Shahaunessey, a spirited leprechaun, will visit Valley Pre-School and spread some springtime cheer, dance a jig with the kids, count shamrocks, repair a few of the children’s shoes with his leprechaun shoe-making skills, and even share his gold.
Like many other characters that make appearances at the school throughout the year, O’Shahaunessey is a puppet.
“Puppet characters have a unique way of reaching young kids because they move, act and sound like humans,” said Audrey Laird, a puppeteer and teaching artist for Valley Pre-School. “This taps into the children’s imaginations and gets them actively involved in the lesson. When a puppet like Witch Millie flies by the window on her broom before entering the classroom, the whole energy of the room changes as the students enthusiastically await their guest.”
In addition to the special guests that Laird brings to the Valley Pre-School, the teachers use resident puppets like Willie the Wizard to introduce new letters of the alphabet, and Mr. Moose and Crazy Clyde to make learning about virtues such as gentleness, generosity and self-sufficiency entertaining and a little easier to understand.
So that the children could get a feel for making puppets come alive, two years ago Valley Pre-School launched an after-school program focused on puppetry. The six-week sessions introduce children to various types of puppets, including rod, hand, string and shadow. During the 90-minute classes, the children work on their own puppets and scenery, practice a short “show” based on a song and perform it at pick-up time for their parents or caregivers.
“I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of puppetry in teaching children valuable skills,” Laird said. “When children use puppets, they enhance their creativity by putting their own spin on things they’ve seen or experienced. They also develop speech and language skills by experimenting with different voices and sounds. By operating the puppet and synchronizing its speech with the mouth and body movements, they advance fine-motor skills. And when they hear laughter and applause from the audience, they gain a sense of accomplishment.”
Valley Pre-School’s puppetry program has caught the attention of the “Puppeteers of America,” and asked Laird to present at its national festival at UCONN in August as part of the Professional Day for the Teaching Artist and Therapist. The Granby Education Foundation has also awarded Valley Pre-School a grant in support of the after-school program.
“The puppetry program is just a small extension of the vibrant and creative environment that Valley Pre-School fosters and offers to its children every day,” Laird said.
Valley Pre-School is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 school year. For more information, call 860-653-3641, or visit www.valleypreschoolinfo.org.