‘As I like to say, when puppets come to school, teaching and learning come to life!’
Mary Beth Spann Mank, Riverhead
“I first discovered puppets when I was a child growing up in Buffalo, New York. Saturday mornings found me glued to our tiny TV screen, enchanted by all the puppet friends who lived there.
“Many of those pioneer television shows for kids featured popular puppeteering teams, including Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Moose. Ever since those early years, I’ve held a fondness in my heart for the magical act of using voice and imagination to bring a puppet to life.
“After college, I was hired to teach third grade in Roslyn. I was a bit concerned to discover the school’s social studies curriculum included a unit on Australia, a place I knew almost nothing about. I needn’t have worried.
Many of those pioneer television shows for kids featured popular puppeteering teams.
“As the first day of school approached, I was shopping when I spotted a koala bear puppet for sale. I thought, ‘Hey! I bet that puppet could help me teach about Australia!’ So, I paid $12.95 to make her mine and dubbed her Kerry Koala.
“I couldn’t wait to introduce Kerry to my class. As expected, she was a smash hit. My kids never even complained that my mouth moved when Kerry spoke. I was thrilled. It took a bit of trial and error for me to use Kerry effectively. With patience and persistence, I developed positive puppeteering strategies that worked to grab and hold kids’ attention every time.
“During this time, my puppets and I made volunteer visits to classrooms and taught puppetry workshops to teachers. In 2017, I began teaching for VIPKid, a China-based company that employed teachers from the U.S. and Canada to teach English to Chinese children online. I was eager to see if my puppets would work well in this venue.
“As it turned out, my remote students loved puppets, too! They even began bringing their stuffed animals and dolls to class so they could interact with me and my puppets. I think puppets belong in the classroom. As I like to say, when puppets come to school, teaching and learning come to life!”
Interviewed by Saul Schachter