We often make props for our puppet plays using salt dough which is non-toxic, easy to prepare – no cooking required (recipe in my ‘beads’ post here), immensely tactile and can be dried very hard to create items for dolls houses, pretend play and, of course, puppet plays.
The most detailed objects can be made with salt dough :
In play therapy, clay is often used because:
[it] is malleable and three dimensional and it can become anything a child wants it to become. It can embody a representational form or an abstract one… once form has emerged … it may become fixed and permanent, or be crushed and rolled back up into a ball. Creating different forms can help a child find a way of expressing their inner emotions and thoughts.
(See her full article here.)
As with clay, playing with soft mouldable matter such as salt dough can benefit children in many ways:
The simple malleability of the dough allows self-expression through mark-making and by adding new materials such as soil, sticks, petals, food colour.
In our StoryHug workshops, we are usually creating props for our puppet play and there is great focus throughout the session, with each child able to give form to their ideas. Often children talk through their plans, enjoying the freedom within the brief to make whatever they envision.
Play is a vital part of being yourself, of making space for ideas and the need to make, to imagine freely, and connect. This little poem says it well:
Play Therapy Poem
I tried to teach my child from books
He gave me only puzzled looks
I tried to teach my child from words
They passed him by, often unheard
Despairingly, I turned aside
“How shall I teach this child?” I cried
Into my hand he placed a key,
“Come,” he said, “And play with me.” Anonymous
In these StoryHug workshops we made favourite foods to feed a hungry tiger – the villain in my re-telling of The Three Little Pigs and their encounter with Ena and Tib, two little children who live in the woods!
There was much discussion and many ideas tried, re-tried, abandoned, new ones begun and expanded as items were prepared for the play. There was improvisation using materials to hand: in beautiful Grow Mayow Community Garden there was ‘salad’:
…and, through the magic of a little boy’s imagination: ‘dumplings and noodles’:
At the Mother House artist project , there were bananas and lemons and “chocolate cookies” made with woodchip gathered from around Paradise Yard:
Making props for storytelling ensures a sense of ownership of the story and I can luxuriate in the rapt engagement of my audience as our play unfolds – especially when the tiger is discovered to prefer eating the delicacies offered by the children to gobbling up the Three Little Pigs!
(He rather likes my post-workshop coffee too!)
My studio is my nest, my hut, my secret woodland clearing; it’s my place for dreaming, playing, rearranging objects, for making stories, pictures, things: nests, huts, secrets…
What happens in a room of your own? What do you do there, what do you make inside it?
Imagination in miniature is natural imagination… one could say, in the manner of Schopenhauer: ‘The world is my imagination’. The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.
Gaston Bachelard, ‘The Poetics of Space’
From empty boxes, card, pens, tissue paper whole worlds emerged, with drapes and pull-out panels to screen an occupant:
A shrine, a place for reflection:
… by lovingly crafted characters:
One must go beyond logic in order to experience what is large in what is small
Gaston Bachelard, ‘The Poetics of Space’
Stacked, these fantastical rooms created a house of many lives, of reverie and work and creativity…
…where a monster girl (made by my fabulous assistant, my daughter aged 8!) lurked,
disrupting the peace.
But the story ended happily: the lonely wooden girl found a friend; the monster was found by her mother…
…and order was restored to the house of fantastical rooms where people could dream and play and make stories again!
Ena and Tib, the two little children who live in the woods in their little wooden house, have been updated for our puppet plays this summer, made up as proper table top puppets with weighted bases so they do not fall over (as much)!
Here are some photos of how I put them together if you fancy making characters for your own productions:
The bodies were filled at the base with dried lentils and topped up with natural wool stuffing. The head is a ball of wool stuffing with stretch fabric held tightly together with a rubber band then sewn into place. The hair and eyes and mouth were stitched in wool.
Making up stories becomes so much easier when you make your own characters, choosing colours, shapes of hat, decorations, clothes, all lead you further into the possibilities of the doll you are shaping – every scrap, every toy left lying around the house can lead to a new idea forming…
The newly stable Ena and Tib will be appearing at the lovely Grow Mayow Community Garden Project in two new stories I have been thinking of for some time! We will make props together for the puppet show, which you can then carry on playing with at home! Hope to see you there!
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Albert Einstein
Making things in StoryHug workshops is all about story – an art with intent, purpose. We make props for our puppet shows:
… and create characters from the wonders of our imagination…
…to present themselves in the stories we make and tell.
“Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse
Art is a way into other worlds, into the minds of other people, and when making our characters speak we find our own voice, our own story and show ourselves. It is terrifying and freeing. But children are not afraid; in acts of the imagination children are trusting and fearless.
Whenever I show my story prompt dolls and animals and ask: “whom shall we have as the main character?” there is always the shout, sometimes several: ME! How gladly they declare it!
We are all at the heart of our stories. Art offers us a way in to that place of playfulness and safety where true good stories begin.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” Ben Okri
Last week we made fairy babies!
The babies were made from salt dough (see this post for recipe) and dried fully – in the oven for an hour then left for a couple of days on a radiator.
The children (with a little help from the adults!) drew in faces and coloured in clothes with felt-tips.
The cradles were made from egg-boxes covered in tissue paper and lots of glue-stick which dries very hard.
A coloured cotton wool ball was added for each baby to snuggle into!
It was very sweet to see the great care and tenderness with which the babies were handled and carried around the woods.
Later all the babies made an appearance on the puppet stage for a grand fairy party!
“…imagination in miniature is natural imagination which appears at all ages in the daydreams of born dreamers… the cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”
Gaston Bachelard in ‘The Poetics of Space’
In our StoryHug Woodland Workshop we made salt-dough beads.
Later, in our interactive puppet play, very similar beads were found by an old elf in the woods. With the help of Hedgehog, Squirrel, Little Owl, the Two Tiny Children who live in the woods and all the lovely Story Hug children, the beads were strung into a necklace for a princess!
If you would like to make your own here is the recipe:
2 cups plain flour
1 cup salt
upto 1 cup water
1. Mix flour and salt.
2. Add water gradually.
3. Add food colouring or poster paint to the dough, if you would like it coloured.
4. Bake the beads at 75-100C for 30mins-1hour and leave to finish drying on a radiator. Or simply leave to dry without baking.
…then we had a story: ‘In Dacres Wood there lived two tiny children: Ena and Tibs…
…They lived in a little wooden house under the trees. At first, the house had nothing inside:
“Waaa! Where will we sit to eat?” cried Ena.
“Where will we sleep? Waaaa!” cried Tib.
But Old Man Elf had left them a bag full of furniture.’
The bag went around our little circle and one by one, a chair, a table, a bunk bed were brought out and carefully put in place by the children: a bedroom upstairs, a kitchen-diner downstairs – such sureness in these little homemakers, such care as they made a cosy little home for Ena and Tibbs to eat a supper of sausages, eggs and baked beans
I had wondered if involving the audience in arranging props might not be a distraction, instead it seemed to pull them in closer into the reality of the tale. The magic of a dolls house, however simple! The real and the imagined blur so seamlessly.
Soon there was a party attended by the Woodland Creatures:
And the story went on, until a little Gnome baby had been reunited with his lost cradle and finally went to sleep while his Gnome Mama had a nice cup of hot chocolate and sat gazing at the milky white moon as the night grew quiet over Dacres Wood.
“Straw? But a straw house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.
“Strong takes too long!” cried Big Pig. “And I want to play!”
So she gathered up the straw and built herself a fine house of straw and ran out to play.
Little Pig looked around and saw sticks fallen everywhere under the trees.
“I’ll build my house from sticks,” she said.
“Sticks? But a stick house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.
“Strong takes too long,” laughed Little Pig. “And I want to play!”
Tiny Pig walked into town and came back with a pile of bricks. He started to build. Slowly, steadily, the house came up and one sunny day it was finished.
(We didn’t have a wolf but we did have a tiger who came to visit…)
“Ow!” yelled Tiger. “That pot is too hot, I’ve hurt my bottom!”
He ran back as fast as he could to his home in the deep dark woods, far, far, away and he never came back!