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Verhalen van de zee: shadow puppets, storytelling and learning around

Shadow puppet theater, April 2016Our shadow puppets workshop in Wowlab in April 2016 was very much focused on a puppet itself, its character and different ways to make it. This time we wanted to have a different focus, so the emphasis moved from making puppets to using them to tell a story. We tried to give opportunities to everyone to play with inventing and making own puppet, but also asked the participants to work in groups to think of a story and to show it at the end of the workshop. We also gave a theme, Verhalen van de zee (Stories of the sea) to narrow down the choice and made a poster to talk about elements of a story.

Verhalen van de zeeNext to the learning about shadow theater and storytelling there were other learning opportunities.


We noticed with the previous workshop that the creative nature of what we do and flexibility that we want to have given the attention span of different ages results in blurring the lines between socialising and working together. While the workshops provide space to meet and play with each other, we also want to make sure that it’s clear where the workshop itself begins and ends. So this time we structured the process a bit more than usual, decoupling free play and play work from each other by establishing a legitimate play moments before, during and after the workshop and adjusting the timing of those given the energy in the group.

Performance at the end of the workshop also helped to establish a moment to finish preparations, to clean and reorganise the space and to have a festive closure with the performances. All those little changes helped a lot to keep everyone on track, while still leaving a lot of space for the flexibility, personal freedom and creativity content-wise.

Own project

During the workshops kids often have their own play theme or project that goes parallel to the workshop flow, providing ample opportunities for self-organisation and doing something without adults. Several 5 years old have a running theme with treasure maps and pirates that come into play as soon as their attention wanders away from the workshop topic. Older kids also invent something to do when they are done, often involving everyone in the game.

This time playing outside before the workshop they found a traffic pawn (I had to google the word 🙂 in a pond across and tried to get it out. This project continued during the break, when I saw two boys coming inside to saw and hummer a tool to get it out, and at the end, when they finally managed to get it. All pretty much by themselves, so I don’t have any photo of it. What I do have is the pawn, broken and dirty, standing in our garden, where it was transported on the back of Alexander’s bike.

Helping without overpowering

While the parents participate in the workshop by design, this time I wasn’t allowed to help in a group where my kids were: I was too assertive in trying to show them a good way to make waves, while they wanted to discover it by themselves. It was a good (and a bit painful 🙂 feedback for me and an opportunity to see them taking care of drawing boundaries.

It also provided a good learning point yesterday, when Emily was unhappy of not having enough decision space and independence while our three kids were building superhero ships from Duplo. I asked the children about their feelings during the workshop, when I was taking their freedom to explore while trying to help. We talked about the parallels in their game and solutions to make sure that everyone could participate in a way that fits their abilities and still leaves enough space for autonomy and growth.


I am glad that we have those workshops and other formats of doing things together in our homeschooling network. They provide a complex social space, with many opportunities to find out where structuring adds value (and where not), to mix different types of projects together, and to practice autonomy and cooperation in a group with different abilities and mixed levels of authority.

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