Leila working her puppet during the evening performance

The primary class children are rapt. Listening closely to a self-deprecating gray duckling, they shout “you’re not ugly!” Next up is a beaver with outsize teeth, followed by an orange frog that explains his philosophy of life. Tim Gosley is in the house! Switching personalities and voices in the blink of an eye, he takes the children through an adventure in the imaginary world he has created before them. The final visitor pops out of Tim’s pocket: a tiny caterpillar that inches its way along a log while describing adventures yet to come.

This winter we were fortunate to spend eight weeks working with the very talented Tim Gosley, a local puppeteer of Muppet and Fraggle Rock fame. He started by sharing his impressive collection of puppets from around the world. Following sessions moved quickly into puppet-making. The children used their characters in stories they developed with their teachers. Each tale was a reflection of themes they were studying: trickster stories, a legend of the night sky for our astronomy-focused class, a First Nations tale highlighting the wisdom of a girl who was initially seen as “different” by her peers, and finally an eclectic blend of storylines highlighting the hazards of pollution in our local ocean.

Learning outcomes for the project were varied and often personal. Children practiced perspective-taking while learning to orient their actions for the benefit of an audience. They learned to give constructive feedback in a supportive way during rehearsals. The final presentation for families was a good exercise in self-regulation, listening skills, and collaboration. One teacher remarked that some of her quieter students found their voice when expressing themselves through their puppets.

What a perfect example Universal Design for Learning. The children expressed themselves in roles that felt right for them: some out front speaking, others behind the scenes animating props or providing a musical background. Exploring themes in a multi-sensory way within the context of stories brought the concepts to life for our learners.

What a great experience working with Tim Gosley! He dedicated many hours behind the scenes planning lessons and painstakingly rendering the children’s artwork to create the transparencies for the backdrops. It was fun watching more than one parent, a little star-struck, telling Tim about their memories of watching the Muppets as a child.

A big thanks to Tim, and to ArtStarts, the charitable organization that promotes art and creativity among British Columbia’s young people. The program provides funding and support to bring together educators, artists, students and parents to experience art in its many forms. Each year, ArtStarts provides over 640,000 unique arts experiences for young people in communities all around the province. We are grateful for the experiences it has brought to Elizabeth Buckley School.

Roberta MacDonald,