Fuzzy Fairytales

Community CorrespondentJanuary 28, 2014 

Ann Hoover is a puppeteer who brings her love of children and the puppets she has created to the Oakhurst Library every two-to-three weeks during story time.

There are no strings attached — nor do these puppets rest on the fingers or hands of Hoover. These puppets are soft, fuzzy, and stuffed, and made from natural materials such as silk and raw wool. The puppets have starring roles in Hoover's stories.

The puppets and stories she tells not only entertain the children and toddlers who come to the Sue Rhu Children's Room of the library, but they are also designed to capture their imaginations.

On this particular day, the story Hoover is telling the children is that recorded by the Brothers Grimm, a fairytale known as "Sweet Porridge" or "The Magic Porridge Pot." The children intensely watch the puppets as Hoover moves them about. She has made puppets of the hungry little girl who has felted pigtails, and the girl's mother. She also created the old woman in the forest who gives the little girl a magic pot that cooks porridge whenever it is told to "cook, little pot, cook."

The children watch as a silk cloth is pulled from a small pot near the puppets and her storyteller explains that the girl's mother has told the pot to cook but the mother does not know what to say to get the pot to stop cooking. The silk cloth, representing the porridge, spreads out farther and farther until just about the whole village is taken over by porridge.

Learning should "involve the whole child including head, heart, and hands," Hoover said, explaining the educational philosophy on which she bases her puppetry. To her this means integrating the arts into the curriculum.

"We need to look at the child's development and gear learning to that, not trying to force children to do something they are not ready for yet," Hoover said.

Coming from a background in public education and counseling, Hoover felt she wanted to do more to reach children at whatever developmental level they are. So she went back to school earning an Early Childhood Education certificate in 2007. She earned this certification through the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, a Waldorf teacher education college. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner had many ideas for practical activities for general and special education and the first Waldorf school using these activities opened in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. Today, there are Waldorf schools in 60 countries.

Because of Hoover's husband, Jim Cypher's, work as a professor, researcher, and economist, the family lived in Mexico at two different times. It was during the family's return to Mexico that Hoover was introduced to the Waldorf educational philosophy.

While she was reading some parenting magazines, Hoover came across an article about Waldorf education. She learned that there was a school nearby that was converting from a Montessori to a Waldorf school. She decided to enroll her son, Quinn Cypher, then five, in the school. That's how she got to experience, first hand, what education using Waldorf philosophy and methods was all about.

"Children need to play with physical things out in nature, perhaps playing with mud, or just playing outside with the natural world and using natural objects in their play when they are in kindergarten," Hoover said. "Children in Waldorf schools learn to finger knit with wool and do other crafts such as sewing and working with wood when they are older."

She believes children are over-stimulated many times in today's world with a bombardment of technology. That is one of the reasons she offers her puppetry skills to the story time.

"Stories give a place for silence. Children wait, and listen, and use their senses," she said.

The fabrics used by Hoover for the puppets are dyed with natural dyes-indigo for the blues, and tumeric for yellows. She has also used blackberries and osage orange which she mixes with the indigo to get greens. The wool she used for a bear puppet came from Chile, where the family spent a year in 2002.

Hoover feels that the language of the Grimm fairytales is "not everyday. It's lifted and that helps children imagine and it adds a moral quality."

Many of the animal puppets Hoover has made are created by a process called felting. A barbed felting needle is used to work unspun wool so that it mats or adheres together. Hoover also uses a wet-felting technique to create sheets of wool felt which she also uses for her puppets. Many of the puppets appear from a story apron Hoover wears while giving the puppet presentations. The winter version of this apron was created from wool felt.

Hoover began doing her puppet shows at Rivergold Elementary School when her daughter, Micaela Cypher, was in Cindy Barnes-Simons kindergarten class. She and Simons would work together to put on the shows. Since then her family of puppets has grown and she enjoys using them to help children learn through movement, singing, and using patterns and rhythms. She encourages parents and grandparents to bring their children to the library program.

Children's story time

The children's story time is offered from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Thursday, through June 5, at the Oakhurst Branch of the Madera County Library, 49044 Civic Circle Drive. For five years, Carolyn Campbell has organized the story time, read books and offered a craft opportunity to children and toddlers. She chooses four to five books each week to read to the children and chooses a craft that is connected to the theme of the books for that day.

Details: (559) 683-4838.

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