CHILDREN EXPERIENCE A DEEP PART OF THEMSELVES in relation to others through interaction and reflection. Dolls and puppets can help children give voice to inner thoughts and feelings while experiencing the security and support a cuddle object provides.

Meeting Special Friends

Most children have a special cuddle toy, and maybe you do, too. Ask everyone to bring theirs to group-time meetings. At the first meeting, introduce your own special friend. Tell its name, a few things about its personality, and what you like to do together. Invite children to ask it questions! Over the next few days, invite children to introduce their special friends. Encourage everyone to ask questions.

There's So Much to Say

Create a "personal profile" experience chart for each friend. Illustrate it with a photograph of the child and his friend. Encourage children to delve a little deeper by asking investigative questions: "What do you notice about our special friends?" "How are they the same or different?" "What do you wonder about them?" "What would you like to know more about?" Write children's ideas and questions on an experience chart to refer to during the project.

Try These!

Here are two activities to help you get a sense of whether children would like to make this a project experience.

A New Class Friend: Bring in a new puppet or doll and share its name and personality, and let it tell its own story. Invite children to ask questions and record these on an experience chart. Encourage children to show the doll or puppet around all day. On closing meeting time, ask children to share their experiences and what they found out.

A Puppet Show: Invite professional puppeteers or make up a show yourself with classroom puppets. Afterward, encourage children to examine how the puppets work, ask questions, and experiment. You might ask, "What do you notice about the puppets that is similar to the dolls? How are they different? What do you wonder about puppets?"

Developing Ideas Together

Group Time is a great place to begin a project, but investigations can happen all around your room, and beyond. Based on their interest and questions, ask children to help devise a plan for how they want to use and learn about dolls and puppets. Here are some guidelines:

"Fieldwork": Some children may decide to create a place to play with their special friends in the dramatic-play area or a home for them in the block area. Others may want to weigh and measure their special friends in the math/science area, draw and write about their friends, or even create additional dolls and puppets in the art area. Delving Deeper: Use new questions as the springboard for expanded investigations. For instance, children might become curious about puppets from around the world. A research trip to the library may lead to creating replicas in the art area. Periodically during group time, ask children to share what they are finding out and/or share a special book.

Ask the Experts: Invite families, friends, and school personnel to share. Maybe someone collects shadow puppets. Or perhaps someone makes stuffed toys or dolls and could bring some in to share.

Field-Trip Fun: It may be too early to take a long field trip. Instead, designate a classroom special friend who will visit a different family each weekend. Equipped with a backpack that's loaded with a disposable camera and a journal to record family adventures, your visiting friend becomes an important link between school and home.

Ending Your Project

Sharing: When you notice children's interest starting to ebb, go back to the experience charts and talk about the questions children had and what they learned about dolls, puppets, and special friends. This is also an excellent time to talk about what children learned about one another. A unique aspect of this project is its social-emotional context, which encourages children to explore the practical world of dolls and puppets and also interpersonal relationships and feelings.

Celebrating! A culminating event can be big or small, but let it come from children's suggestions. Perhaps they would like to share personal doll profiles in a display or at a party with special friends and family members.

Remember: This is not a theme project with its own set of activities. This is children taking the lead in exploring and expanding on their interests. You probably won't be able to predict where it is going and what everyone will do or learn. But that is a sign of a good project-a series of opportunities for children to explore that are filled with the joy and mystery of the unknown as it is becoming known!