Documentation of Transformational Object Workshop for Early Years Practitioners by Rachel Riggs

December 10, 2009

Helga’s documentation of the workshops Rachel ran in Salzburg and Villach during her trip in September 2009.

Introduction about her work with young children in the UK.

Step 1: Starting with simple objects
I always start with the objects. It is a process of a very simple play with the children. There is an empathy, together with the children, to see how they experience the world.

Step 2: Transformation
It is a transformation from normal even banal objects to something extraordinary, a flowing transformation, this means to give to an object another meaning, something else.

The aim: An adventure – travel of imagination
The aim of this work with the children is to support and develop their imagination. Some children come from difficult social backgrounds. Sometimes they need to be encouraged. But it is a great experience for all, to become participant and audience of this unique process of imagination.  To create “stories”, to open the door into one’s world of imagination is the start for an extraordinary learning travel.
It is an affirmation that the child is able to communicate with other children, other people and this increases self esteem and confidence.

A beautiful experience with a deeply taking effect:
It brings the human basic feeling of oneself, a feeling of one’s unique value, coming from deeply inner fields of their own personality, not from external incentives or awards.

Theatre is the transformation of one object/one figure into another.

Traditionally, in many educational services, people take a lot of time to manufacture these figures, but not much time in the play for early years.

Warming up:

  • Stand just straight with your bare feet on the ground, move a little forward and backwards, to the side, so that the whole soles of your feet feel the ground.
  • Imagine, that your hips are a large bowl filled with water, you move with your body backwards and forwards and around, always standing on the same place of the ground, Imagine that the water is flowing round in the bowl, but be careful, that it doesn’t spill over.
  • Breathe in deeply, with concentration, feel the breath in your chest, in your middle.
  • Breath in deeply,  stretch your arms, breath in, strain your arms upwards, until the tips of your fingers. Always breathing, don’t stop breathing. Stretch your feet stand on your toes, until the tips of your toes.
  • Then flop forward like a marionette whose strings have been cut, and release your breath in a sigh.
  • Bend a little your knees, so that your neck can relax, bend your back down, your head like a puppet, dangle your head and arms and back down, stand on the feet.
  • Then slowly just straighten up yourself, like a puppet, which is pulled up by a thread fixed to the top of the head. At last straighten up your neck and head. Breathe in.
  • A thread is fixed on the backs of your hand pulling them up and – let them falling down.
  • Shake out the tension in your hands
  • Stand on your feet, turn round to the one side, always being on your feet, but just on your heel, then to the other side, take the other heel, heel to heel, toes to toes, turn round to the left side and to the right side, just relaxed, and bending your knees.

3 simple rules: for playing puppets
1) Put the focus ahead, to the “eyes” of your figure, to its long nose, let yourself lead by the figure looking, the sight.
2) Follow the movement of your figure. The figure is moving, not you. You serve it.
The figure/puppet needs to be grounded; finding a neutral position, when it is “standing” on the ground, it must connect to the ground..
3) give the puppet a voice or sounds. Find its music and rhythm.

Step by step importation/transformation of the hand

  • Sitting on the floor, your hand wants to be something, a little creature, the being is your hand, it transforms himself into something else, it wants to fly, walk to somebody else, communicate.
  • It can be that your body has to follow this being, has to follow your hand. What does it want to do? Feeding, fighting, friendly. Want does it see? What makes it do something? We serve the creature, help and follow.
  • Create a sound for this being, something, that comes from him. Sitting and moving on the ground, following your hands. What does the “hand-being” want to do? Search, find, play, be curious, and fly, to do something together with another one. This is our primal desire, to do something with another one, communicate …

With “eyes” on the hand

Everybody sticks eyes on their hand, now it is a face, the focus is on the tips of the fingers, put the focus always ahead to the tip of the finger (we need this focus; that’s why the puppets have this long nose!).

  • Let your whole body follow this being, it can talk, say hello, fly etc. But don’t forget to put the focus on the figure (hand), not on yourself.
  • Improvisation with the whole group: One is the leader, the other follow, all the movements of the beings. Like a flock of birds, a herd of animals etc making sounds
  • Improvisation in little groups, one is sleeping, awakes, “good morning!” ….
  • Your “beings” explore the world, not by visual stimulation, but with hearing, feeling, not by looking,
  • They now move around on the ground, walking, meeting each other, with voice and sound

With objects:

We close our eyes and take an object from the box, with just our sense of touch.
We explore the object, working with its functional quality eg a brush brushes
Now try the opposite, change the dynamic, if it is smooth, try the rigid, of it is hard, try soft movement.
Then we can explore with its symbolic quality eg, this stick is a sword
Finally we can explore the fantastic quality eg, this brush is a dog.
We open our eyes and move from this introvert, world back to the more extrovert communication with others.
Following the 3 simple rules of puppetry, we can animate the inanimate and give them life to create stories from the imagination.
Remember the looking, the movement and the sound ….
Following these simple rules, we can combine 2 objects, one leads as the head, one as body, we can construct or with cloth materials connect to an object head to make a readable puppet.

If we play in a child like way, we dive into a deep world, in which we can learn.  As children do in a deep state of play. We don’t know what will happen. This is good.. It could also become a play.
Only the play is important, nothing else.

Improvisation BRIDGE

In groups of 2 or 3 persons:  improvisation with the Topic BRIDGE. The participants improvise figure stories about bridges, with telling, playing, moving, and objects.

Working with young children and families, We all know from the beginning the function from this object, this is the functional quality. One can take garden tools, kitchen utensil. The first step is always the acting with this function (cleaning, cooking etc.). This play you can combine with songs and nursery rhythms.
You take as much as possible from the children’s world.
Then you take it on another level, transform it into another story. Feel inspired by the children, how they play with the objects. The culture of the children plays a big role, their social background. eg. today we don’t have teapots, only tea-bags., but children still play tea parties.
Consider, that every object has this realistic function; it also can be transformed, used as a symbol.
When something else is revealed within the play deeply from the person, this point is where we meet with play therapy techniques.

Personal reflection:

Rachel worked slightly differently in each workshop depending on the needs of the group (in Salzburg with educators in kindergarten and some students of the kindergarten school, and in Villach with educators in kindergarten, grammar school teachers and one actress ) and managed within the shortest time to involve the group in a wonderful playing action, in a quite natural way.

The additional explanation of the concept brought a clear idea of the pedagogical aim: to invite children into the field of imagination as an important experience of oneself and one’s own identity. All the participants really liked this combination between practical experience and theoretical input in an ideal mixture.

For me as the organiser, who could join Rachel during these days, what was also impressive was something else:

The experience of transformation, of giving a symbolic meaning, following one’s own intention and the impulses from around, from the people and the images of a day, is essential for Rachel’s everyday life. It is not something she practices in her pedagogical work in order to educate the children, it is something that she is doing for herself quite self-evidently, as an artist, as a human. Pedagogical work and personal life-style are not separated from each other.

Therefore the common time with her is so inspiring.

Thank you Rachel, and we are looking forward, that you one day come again to work with us.


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