Peaceful Puppets Program: Expressive Arts in Preschool


The Expressive Arts program, then called The Peaceful Puppets Program, was first described in the fall 1987 issue of The Pacific Primary Sun as “an engaging learning experiment focused on developing children’s negotiation, storytelling and problem solving skills.” When I read this again, twenty-five years after its conception, I am reminded of the many changes the program has experienced, while remaining true to its core values: peace education for young children. That it is and I am still standing a quarter of a century later is testimony to the success of this learning experiment.

In the Spring 1988 issue, Charlotte Burchard, Pacific Primary’s second director, wrote: “It’s magical and practical, personal and playful. It’s the puppet show at Pacific Primary. She described what is now the Expressive Arts program’s view from her collaboration with Cathy Clark, literary director at Eureka Theater and alumni; Judy Giblin, former preschool teacher doing master’s in drama therapy, and Elyse Jacobs, puppeteer and parent of a Pacific Primary student. “Together we decided to change our personal commitment to collaboration, negotiation, and a peaceful world for something concrete. Dolls and children. “

Beginning in 1986, the program has shaped itself around children’s needs. First, I traveled around the Yellow Sun School with a little puppet show. SuperSeaweed, Sea Monster and Bird would point out the scenarios stemming from the children’s own behavior. Challenging themes of friendship, entry into play, inclusion, exclusion, expression of emotion and acceptance of differences were easier and more fun to learn about in the classroom doll circles. The children came up with alternative solutions to the problems the dolls shared with them. Puppets were reflections of the children, but the preschoolers remained shielded as witnesses to the play.

While children’s solutions quickly became more creative and more concerned with puppets’ daily problems, behavioral changes were slower. The question was how the children could otherwise learn from the program.

The most beloved moments of my own childhood were those spent making art with my mother. In the process of art making, an environment of openness and trusting communication was created. ‘Puppetry’, to which the Peaceful Puppet program was shortened, switched from classroom circles to small groups of children and process-oriented art making. Within these groups, the same problems emerged. It was in this way that the element of creating things came together. The intention is that in the process of creating art, subjects would be dealt with creatively within a small group.

Doll circles continued with my personal dolls. Wanted to have dolls that the kids could play with themselves, Turtle joined the program in 1990. With the addition of Turtle, a child-sized doll, the program grew again. It was not only the children who had the opportunity to play with the dolls, but the teachers themselves. The staff had always been part of the program. They were responsible for bringing to my attention the classroom issues that were of most concern. Soon, several teachers began to take over more than the crowd control over the enthusiastic children eager to make suggestions. With puppets in hand, they became part of the turtle circles. And then the fun expanded. Collaboration has always been a value at Pacific Primary. Working with teachers before, after and during the puppet show enriched the experience for everyone.

As it is called, the program changed and changed over the years. I continued to be intrigued and pleased by what the children offered. Their own unique thoughts and solutions that emerged during the process of expressing themselves through art materials amaze me daily, 25 years later.

In 2007, while Orange Sun School was closing, we discussed my move across the street. The issue to be addressed was whether Expressive Arts was a model program to be duplicated for the children of Yellow Sun School. With an understanding of its core values: process, empowerment and some in job training. The answer was found with alumni parents, Rebecca Magill and the expressive art therapist Nicki Koethner. Each has added their own flavor and kept the Expressive Arts program alive and thriving at YSS.

The resounding success of the program’s ability to be duplicated has created a new challenge for me. This year’s question is how to translate the program into a form that parents can use at home with their children. Relationship building with your kindergarten through Expressive Arts can help enhance a peaceful family dynamic. With this intention, I have launched a website for parents. I welcome your feedback