Friday, April 15, 2016

The Healing Power of Nursery Rhymes

These are my notes from the second workshop with Suzanne Down which I took in March 2006. Unlike the previous one I posted, which was for those parents who were interested in Waldorf, this was a workshop FOR the Waldorf teachers of the Washington Waldorf School. As you can see in my notes, I was very new to Waldorf and anthroposophy and so some of it was quite intimidating. There is still a lot of helpful information, though, so I thought I'd share.

I went from this experience with Suzanne Down to her week long puppetry workshop July 8 - 12, 2009: "The Sense of Touch and Warmth: Puppetry as Bridge for these Foundations for Life" at the Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten; Boulder CO (which I drove to, I was so excited to work with her) and those notes have already been put in the blog:

I HIGHLY recommend all of her work. If she offers a workshop near you, do NOT hesitate.

the healing power of nursery rhymes:
when the child is coming down from heaven, she passes first through the zodiac and receives her gifts, one of them being the consonants, then passes through the planets and receives her gifts, one of them being the vowels. this is the anthroposophical belief. we focus a lot on fairy tales for the kindergarteners, which are said to strengthen the soul forces. but the nursery rhymes are equally important and strenthen the physical body. in this way, they complement each other. the nursery rhymes have a focus on rhythm, which helps the child with breathing and stimulates good circulation, and sound. hearing the consonants spoken clearly actually helps the child grow properly. nursery rhymes build and strengthen the body in a healthy way.

there's lots of talk now about the historical background of nursery rhymes, where they come from, what they are "really" about. ignore all that. look at what do they do for the child.

the deeper breathing that you encourage -- we all breathe so quickly and shallowly now, even adults -- helps bring the child back into themselves and prevents them from incarnating too quickly. it also helps soften them if they have become hardened by daily life. the child, when presented with stimulus that is too much for them or is unhealthy, has to harden in reaction to it to prevent from being damaged. nursery rhymes help reverse that process and soften them again. for this reason, Nancy Mellon (a therapeutic storyteller), says to use them extensively not just through the kindergarten years but in first and second grade, until the change of teeth.

children love nursery rhymes. they are fun and unusual, they really play with the sounds of our language. they love to hear them over and over and it is good for them. the more repetitition the better. when doing a nursery rhyme as a puppet show you repeat it over and over. she did once speaking, once singing, twice speaking.

the first rhyme she did as an example was Jack Be Nimble. with a silk draped over her body to be the stage, she had a puppet Jack (like the walking gnome in The Gnome Craft Book) and a dry felted candle. jack peeked out from behind the curtain, looked around, then lightly stepped out and danced a bit. she began the first part of the rhyme then he jumped over the candle. went around the front, did it again as she sang, then did it again and she spoke, then jumped over it backwards on the fourth time. then he retreated behind the silk again. he was dressed all in yellow, yellow shirt and pants, with an orange collar and orange boots.

then she broke down the elements of what she did. don't tell it on the beats, with your emphasis on the syllables, it's not a march. that encourages short breathing again. you want it to flow. the entire line of the nursery rhyme is your breath. "jack be nimble" is one breath. if you try it chanting every syllable you'll see that you breathe in between. try to speak with a balanced fluid pace, not a trip-trap.

next, you have to make sure the end of each line flows into the beginning of the next. you don't speak your line and then it drop off like a cliff. it's more like a lemniscate (the infinity symbol, a sideways figure 8). she had us practice the rhyme moving our hands in the air in a lemniscate to feel the rhythm.

the form of the consonants should be *really clear*. this is important for strengthening your child's physical constitution. so in addition to deep breathing and a flowing pace, you have to speak very clearly. (I was really overwhelmed by this, it was too much. but she's a master storyteller so it was easy for her. I just stopped breathing completely because I was focusing on my voice. it takes a while to learn to do it all together)

the 4th thing is a sense of wonder and joy. it's not, oh jack is so cute. it's joy. isn't this marvelous. isn't it just marvelous to be alive. your mouth should have a small smile playing around it. your eyes should be twinkling. let me tell you, having your partner watch you to make sure your eyes are twinkling is really intimidating! this workshop was hard!!!! and I'm not sure how much of it I can convey in email, since you can't see or hear what she was trying to show, but I hope this helps somewhat.

so, in summary:
tell like a lemniscate
1st breathing
2nd not dropping the end of each line
3rd consonants clear
4th sense of wonder and joy

she says, "speak on the flow of inner warmth"
you are welcoming the children to enlivened language

next example she did was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star with the starry night silkscape (which many of you should have from the Sun, Moon and Shadow unit) she had a dry felted girl doll but she said a bunny would be nice too. this is easier to convey a sense of wonder because we've all been overjoyed by the beauty of the night sky.

soft silks and ethereal dry felted puppets nourish and soften the eyes (the first thing in the child to harden, putting a veil between them and the harsh world). the scene is very welcoming.

number three was called Froggie Boggie which I didn't know and can't find anywhere on the internet. he falls and bumps his nose. I would have written it down if I had known it wouldn't be on the internet. does anyone know it? she did mention later on the Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes as a good source. rhymes with one or two characters are best, easiest to work out.

next was Mary Mary Quite Contrary for this she had a rainbow silk, very neutral background, a rod puppet as Mary and dry felted little flower children. rod puppets are capable of a lot more gestures and movement than the felted ones and so she had this one doing some eurythmy gestures for some of the sounds of the rhyme. with curative eurythmy, she says you just do the beginning of the gesture and the child completes it from within themselves. so she did M, C, O, S and one more which I don't remember. maybe P. it was beautiful. the rod puppet was of green silk with a dry felted face and green flowers in her hair.

when you tell a story you can see that the children are receptive and open. truly open. their eyes will be open, their mouths will be open, and their hearts will be open.

then she talked about how to introduce a very simple puppet show, the first one for young children. to prevent them from jumping up and wanting to touch you always start and end with the characters hidden. she draped a blue silk (she recommends 36 or 42 inch squares) and then had her arm held out straight in front of her and then bent to the left, about chest height, so her elbow is out to the right and her forearm facing the audience and sheer blue silk gauze draped over it to form a kind of cave/aquarium. so the other hand had a fish finger puppet on it. the pattern from Feltcraft, all blue with little blue scales and clear glass beads to make it a little sparkly. and the fish swam all around in the sea and came up to look out at the audience every once in a while but it was very clear for small children that puppetry is its own little world and we don't grab. the rhyme she did was called Ickle Ockle Blue Bockle which is in the Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes.

next example was Rock a Bye Baby. she had a mother archetype rod puppet (purple dress, grey hair, lace collar) holding a small pink swaddled dry felted baby and singing to it. she says to the children, help me sing the baby to sleep. and she had this puppet at the beginning of the school day for children who came in and needed to feel that nurturing presence, maybe mom was rushed and busy at home and they needed another dose of a mother figure at school.

the rod puppets were incredible and I missed the workshop on how to make them, I wasn't invited to that one, but another woman and I took notes and plan to get together. if we come up with a design I will post it.

then she did Old Mother Hubbard. no dog, just the woman (dry felted doll like the way we made Lady Spring) as if she was looking in her bare cupboard. again with the rainbow silk. Old Mother Hubbard wore a green gown with an orange/yellow apron and a orange/green cloth on her hair.

then we chose a nursery rhyme character to make and one of the women at the workshop had a Nursery Rhymes for All Keyboards book which we passed around for ideas. of the group, we made Old Mother Hubbard, Old King Cole, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Jack and Jill, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and Little Miss Muffett. mine started as an Old Mother Hubbard but became Mary Mary Quite Contrary. you tend to make puppets which resemble you unconsciously I think, and my Old Mother Hubbard ended up very youthful with light brown hair and a big red gardening hat with a flower on it! it was funny. I'll take a picture later one. I also have a picture of my Lady Spring and Little Brown Bulb and Snowdrop Flower Child to post.

when choosing the colors of wool for your characters, consider their age, station in life (maid, king, etc), temperament (she said Jack Be Nimble was dressed in yellow as a sanguine), season, element (gnomes are in earthy colors), or to coordinate with the silk you plan to use as background.

also, this is important for some of you...
she said if you don't feel comfortable with a rhyme (like there was an old woman who lived in a shoe) feel free to change it! so this may make some of you feel better. for Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, one of the women says she has peter put his wife in the pumpkin then at the end peter gets in and stands in it with her so they are together again and they just look at each other but she (the teacher) doesn't say anything.

finally, a note on the importance of puppetry
Steiner said that when young children are involved in puppetry, they do not fall in adolescence. meaning, they resist peer pressure and come out on the other side of adolescence OK. it helps children learn that they can be in charge of their world. also, when you do a puppet show for them you tap into your higher self, this lifted quality goes out to them and they absorb it which helps develop the moral capacity in their brain. they hold it in themselves and want to reinact it. definitely give your children puppets to play with during free play BUT do not expect them to be able to tell a "real" story (ie. to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk) and act it out simultaneously. this requires far too much of them. don't put on a performance for family and friends where the child is doing the show. too much ego presence. you can tell the story and they can act it out (for a show with this age, or acting out a story in circle time, use table puppets, not marionettes). *** if you are doing something with a group of children they must all be the same character *** she says don't assign each child a different role. they are not individualized yet. they must work as one body. she gave the example of the little troll story published by Floris books. through a series of good deeds the little troll becomes enobled and is welcomed into the human world. this is a very good story for children and they can all be enobled by the end, which is also wonderful for them to experience. do not individualize children until the second stage of unfolding, that is, 3rd grade.

when introducing a puppet show, it works well to read the story (or tell the story) first and have the children be aware of it then to do it as a puppet show.

lastly, she said it's best to have all the elements of the scene the same as much as possible. for example, don't dry felt an Old Mother Hubbard and then use a little dog from Feltcraft. the child is too busy looking at the difference between them and it's distracting from the rhyme.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

which Suzanne Down recommended as an essential resource

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