Years ago, when I began doing puppetry workshops, a teacher approached me holding a compact, geometric base of folded construction paper; its mouth opening and closing fit neatly over the hand. In my mind’s eye, here was a simple idea for keeping things simple; a foundational base upon which any paper puppet could be constructed; a single seed from which to grow an infinite array of playful art forms. At first The Hinge looked too simple. However, over several decades of classroom use, it has proven itself predictable, practical, durable, and limitless.
Manipulating the Paper Talker™ Hinge activates, exercises and enhances early hand, mind, and speech, in children; much like Origami does for children in Japan, but going far beyond early childhood.
Questions About Change
The Hinge caught my attention because I had been mulling over solutions to a question: If the medium of puppetry had such a profound effect on children of all ages, why didn’t more teachers pick it up?
There were more questions: If kids’ minds held the power of imagination, why did their classrooms continue to starve and drain them of every bit of that power? If educators were so smart, why did so many continue along the same old broken path? If Play was so important, why was it all but banned? If Technology was viewed as the panacea for our outdated system of learning, why was its impact mostly addiction and distraction? If Play was like water or air--a crucial element of life--why were we denying young minds this life-giving element?
The Challenge of Change
The challenge to change education is deeply systemic and cultural. As a deep-rooted institutional byproduct of state and federal laws, how could new laws possibly transform the culture? The fact is, no law enacted from the top-down will ever penetrate the factory walls. If education has become owned and operated by powerful interests (and it has!), then we must create ways to effectively neutralize that consolidated power so we can reclaim and reconstitute our own learning culture.
How could we set into motion a process for growing a new culture free of control, authority, and exploitation, so that kids could learn to see, think, and produce for themselves while they were still young? The process would have to start with a germ encased by a seed. But let’s be real: a tiny seed in the palm of the hand barely captures our attention. Yet to a farmer or scientist focused on growing sustainable life, a seed is a planet-changing act of nature.
A Vision of Change
In The Hinge I saw a limitless array of paper designs and movement, and a wellspring of Play Energy embodied in puppet life-forms and concepts, each a handheld idea and a part of speech in a universal Play Language of symbols and ideas. The Hinge called upon the articulation of hand, art and play. It became, as I explored its possibilities, a portal into the biology and science of Play. In time, Play itself would take on a larger than life presence in my work with teachers as a principle of learning on which to build a learning culture. It became a pathway on which advocates and champions of play could share and journey, a birthright of the young to honor, and a vehicle for playfully journeying the world of ideas and transforming the learning culture. It is a sustainable energy source that generations of creative minds can grow, the world-enriching benefit of which they can actively protect.
This vision of The Hinge began as a basic building block in the construction of puppets. They were simple designs--innocuous, flimsy. In the casual opening and closing of the hand, at first The Hinge could have looked impractical for building and using puppets--and suitable ‘only for very young children’. But The Hinge surprised all those professional risk-takers who worked and played with it in their classrooms and proved itself as a Play Language housed in an economical paper device; one suitable for all ages, (even in college foreign language classrooms) with endless design potential. It is self-promoting, alive and eye-catching. In reality, The Hinge took on a life of its own.
Belief as Great as Kids’
I have come to believe that Paptertalkers™, paper puppets that move and talk on the paper Hinge, have the power to break technology’s stubborn grip on the learning culture. They wield this ability by infusing communication with powers far more human, creative, and productive in mind, language, and spirit than the looming addictive glitter reflected in the digital mirror. They spark energized, self-propelled communication. No script, theater, or expensive hand puppets are required. It’s simple: if you want dynamic and engaged minds animating and warming your classrooms, tap into our birthright of Play. It’s there for the taking.
I believe that a simple yet powerful art form based in play has the power to assume a world-changing role in education. The art form has the power to become a central organizing principle, media and methodology of learning and communication found in nature. I call it ‘communication currency’ because we don’t value teachers or children enough to do right by them--yet. But Play could change the way people view teachers and kids. And that’s an idea worth pursuing in anyone’s book!
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