Community Helper Puppets

PART ONE: What is community?

The theme for the 2nd grade year is community! We begin the unit by discussing what a community is, defining a community as a group of people that live and work together. I then ask my young artists to name some of the members of our community and describe how we all play a role in helping our community.

After creating a list of who some of these community helpers are I ask my young artists to visualize what they think those different community helpers look like. I instruct them to close their eyes and imagine "What does a doctor look like?" After a minute or so, students turn and talk to the person next to them and describe what they believe a doctor looks like.

Depending on the responses you hear and previous background knowledge, this can be a great opportunity to discuss bias in regards to gender stereotypes. You may want to ask your young artists the following question to guide the conversation:

  • How many of you imagined a male doctor? Why do you think you imagined a male doctor?

Then introduce the terms gender, bias, and stereotype to your young artists.

  • Gender [ jen-dur ] (noun) the state of being male or female. ‘Gender’ also refers to the social roles, behaviors and traits that a society may assign to men (masculine) or to women (feminine).*

  • Bias [ˈbīəs] (noun) is a judgement in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another.*

  • Stereotype [ ster-ee-uh-type ] (noun) is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a thing or group that is based upon how they look on the outside. Stereotypes can be positive or negative.*

Ask students to reflect on their initial visualizations. Was their first thought of what a doctor might look like based on a bias or a stereotype? What is another example of a gender stereotype? How can we work to challenge these biases or stereotypes we might have?

NOTE: For additional information on addressing Implicit Bias in the classroom I recommend the lesson 'Seeing Our Own Bias' in the book "Being the Change" by Sara K. Ahmed. For addressing gender stereotypes in the classroom I recommend "What are Gender Stereotypes?" lesson by Learning For Justice.

After this conversation we take a look at pictures of different doctors and we discuss the similarities and differences we see between the images. We come to the conclusion that not all doctors look the same- they can be any gender, age, race, height, weight, etc. However, there are some similarities we see in their clothing that they may wear in order to perform their job. I repeat this activity with construction workers, teachers, and artists as well. In the end there is the understanding that there is no "one" way a doctor, construction worker, teacher, artist, etc. "looks." And that it is actually our interests and skills (not gender, race, physical appearance) that should lead us to certain career paths.

We end class by thinking about a community helper whose role we personally admire. I then asks my young artists to create a drawing of that community helper, keeping in mind that they can look however they imagine! My young artists will later use these drawings as references for constructing their puppets during the project.

PART TWO: Sculpting Our Puppet's Head

During today's class students will sculpt the form and facial features of their puppet's head. I begin class by talking about the difference between shape and form, explaining the importance of sculpting from a profile (side) view. We then complete the following steps to sculpt our heads:

  1. Provide each student with one 2" Styrofoam ball and a wood stick. Place the wood stick firmly inside the ball (as close to center as possible).

  2. Next we will sculpt the puppet's facial features from a profile perspective. Ball up a piece of aluminum foil and tape it onto the bottom of the ball where it meets the stick (this will be the puppet's chin). Next fold and wrap a piece of foil on the top of the stick where it meets the ball (this will be the neck). Lastly, fold the foil into a triangular shape and attach it for the nose.

  3. Students will then wrap the puppet's head using plaster strips. Ensure that students add one strip at a time and smooth the plaster as they go along.

PART THREE: Painting Our Puppet's Head

During this class, young artists will mix various paint colors together to paint their puppet's skin. We begin class by reading the story "All the Colors We Are/Todos Los Colores de Nuestra Piel" by Katie Kissinger. Remind students that our skin colors are unique and that we get our skin color from melanin, our ancestry, and the sun. Remind your young artists that their community members can have any color skin, but they need to mix it themselves and not use a color directly from a bottle. Encourage experimentation with mixing various browns before deciding on a color. They will then paint the entire puppet head with that skin color (making sure to cover all the plaster).

While waiting for the paint to dry, have students draw eyes and a mouth for their puppet on a separate sheet of paper. Remind your young artists that just like with the skin, their community members' facial features will all look different. I have them trace their pencil with a sharpie before finishing with colored pencils. Once the facial features are drawn and colored, they will cut out and glue their eyes and mouth onto their puppet head.

PART FOUR: Sewing Our Puppet's Bodies

Once the heads are complete, it is time to move on to the body! I have students select from one of two patterns I have created (their puppet can either have on a long sleeve or a short sleeve shirt). They carefully cut out their pattern before selecting and placing it onto the fabric. They then use a marker (similar in color to the fabric) to outline and trace the pattern onto two pieces of fabric. I have them write their names on the pattern and place it inside a bag with their materials in between classes.

After students have cut out their pattern, it is time to move on to sewing! I teach students to use either a running stitch or a whip stitch. They then follow their paper pattern to sew along the edges of their fabric.

PART FIVE: Puppet Assembly

Once they have completed sewing, they turn their fabric inside out and hot glue the head inside. At this time they may also use use yarn, felt, or fabric to create and hot glue hair onto their puppet's head.

PART SIX: Hands and Hair

The next step is styling the hair and attaching the hands/arms. For the arms I created two pattern templates that they could use- one longer arm for a short sleeve puppet and one smaller hand for a long sleeve puppet. After cutting out the pattern they carefully traced it onto a piece of foam before cutting and attaching them. We used "multicultural" foam but unfortunately it is only limited to these three colors. If they can not find a match they can use acrylic paint to match and paint the felt. Once they have cut out the hands/arms they hot glue them onto their puppet.

PART SEVEN: Final Details

In the video I briefly explain how I set up my art room in preparation- as you can see I have a foldable table set up in the middle of the room where I have lots of different materials for my young artists to choose from (I call it the art store). When it is not in use I just slide it to the back of the room and place sheets of cardboard on top so it makes for a really quick set-up and clean-up.

After going over hot glue gun safety, we also talk about the importance of conservation and how we should only be taking what we need for our puppets. I have 7 hot glue gun stations in total, each with a low temperature hot glue gun, placed on a piece of cardboard, along with a wooden stick and a plastic finger cap. Both the stick and the finger cap are really useful in making sure no one accidentally burns themselves. You can find them online by searching for "Silicone Finger Protectors." I like the Mr. Pen ones because they come in a variety of sizes for small hands.

Student Art