Saturday, March 27, 2010

More on bats

Yesterday and the day before I had my first sessions of the residency "Learning about the environment through the arts," through the school district and the Lied Center of Kansas. I wrote about the preparation for the residency a few weeks ago.

The marionettes I was making didn't quite pan out. The Model Magic bat wasn't quite flexible enough. I found a bat marionette online and ordered it. The "Boingy Bat" arrived on Thursday, about an hour before my first session. It's fun, but more of a chachka than an actual usable marionette. Still, in a pinch it works to explain about marionettes in the context of other puppets.

Here are the other bats I've been using. The little black finger puppet is great for showing the bat's structure--those looong fingers that make up the ribs on the wings are very cool!

Prince (formerly known as Frog), Trixie and the Baby are all part of these sessions. One point I've been making is that puppets have distinct characters and voices. I illustrate this by switching the voices around, for example giving the Baby Trixie's voice. Weird!

Before I bring the baby out, I tell the kids I'm going to show them the biggest predator of bats. Then I bring the baby out. What? A baby?! I explain that of course not when she's a baby, but that human beings destroy bat habitat (say that five times fast), and other habitats as well.

I'll meet with these six groups again after they've visited the Baker Wetlands. They already know and understand a lot about the environment. We'll see how it expands in the second session.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Back from New Jersey

Last week I was fortunate to have work in Cliffwood and Rumson, NJ, telling stories to preschoolers through fifth graders. I stayed with my friends Susie and Dagmar and also spent a good chunk of time with Carol Grosman. More on Carol in another post.

Sometimes when I'm on the road, I notice interesting differences. Here's a sign from the school in Cliffwood. I've never seen this wording in Kansas:

"Egress" always makes me think of PT Barnum, who put up a sign that said, "This way to the egress." People expected to see an exotic animal, but what they found was the exit.

Here's another sign, this one in Rumson:

I've played bocce in Kansas, but at a friend's house. I've never seen a bocce court in a public park in Kansas. New Jersey, yes, Connecticut, yes, Kansas, no.

Though the punctuation on this sign is puzzling, the sentiment is not:

No signs here. Just beach and jetty, water and sky. No salt water in Kansas. Hmm, my Rhode Island roots are showing!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Batty about bats prep

I'm getting ready for this year's 2nd grade school residency, Batty About Bats: Learning About the Environment Through the Arts.

Last year's focus was on butterflies and dragonflies. This year the kids will visit the Lied Center to see a puppet performance of Stellaluna before our sessions begin, so the focus is on bats. And puppets. And stories. And the wetlands. The overarching theme is lifecycles, a topic addressed in the 2nd grade educational standards.

I'd like kids to understand how animal puppets mimic the animals they represent. I also want them to see different kinds of puppets, so I tried to build a bat marionette. I'm not sure if it will work, but it was pretty fun to make. Here's the result so far:

I know, the head looks more like a deer than a bat. I like working with Model Magic, but details are tricky in this medium. One difficulty in this is that the wings don't have a lot of flexibility. I've also been playing with a fabric marionette with a Model Magic head, but I'm not far enough along to show it.

I also came up with a simple finger puppet kids could make with craft foam. I tried a couple of thicknesses, finding that 2 mm was the best for wing flappability. Here's the result:
Kids will add the skeletal structure and may decorate them in various ways. I made mine plain.

At a meeting with the teachers the other day, they asked about materials. I was set on the foam, but as we discussed it and they played with the foam puppets, they wondered if construction paper or oaktag would work as well. Brilliant! I love working with teachers--they often see the obvious when I've been blinded by my first idea.

More on this residency as it takes shape. The show at the Lied Center is next week and I'll start meeting with the students after that.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Signs of spring

This has been a colder and snowier winter than I can remember in Kansas. Though the snow has mostly melted, I've just had to buy more firewood for the woodstove. I'm hoping this will keep me warm for the next few weeks.

Still, winter is losing its grip. This crocus proves it to me.

Oh, I know we'll have at least one more snowstorm, as we always do, but it won't last. I'll put the porch swing back up and watch the neighborhood come out of hibernation. We'll all shake off our winter lethargy.

That reminds me of the folktale from North Carolina about why bear hibernates. He was a terrible grump, stomping all over the smaller animals' homes. They decided to do something about it. After he went to sleep in a cave, they covered the entrance to the cave. He woke up from time to time, but because it was still dark, he thought it was still night. He slept for months. In the spring, the small animals got worried and went to check on him. When they uncovered the entrance, the light shone in and woke him up. He was in such a good mood from sleeping so well, he has hibernated every winter.

Time to put another log on the fire.