In May, my kids and I turned our closets into Zoom sets and our dining room table into a puppet studio to film what would be the seed for “Blueberry’s Clubhouse.” You see, my company, Arts Integration Services, was working with the Arkansas Arts Center to implement a residency at Forest Heights STEM Academy in Little Rock that would take students through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) processes to make various kinds of puppets.
Then, COVID-19 hit, and the K-5 curriculum that I had spent two years working on no longer had a venue for implementation ... until, that is, Arkansas Art Center’s Katie Campbell called me with an idea: “Arkansas AMI” — created in a partnership between Arkansas PBS and the Arkansas Department of Education — could use our curriculum as a lesson.
This lesson was the birth of what became “Blueberry’s Clubhouse”.
The Power of Creating
Back in May, amidst the mess and mayhem of what was quarantine for our family, my kids and I had the privilege to work with an amazing group of creative professionals to birth the seed for a TV series. Every time we watch “Blueberry’s Clubhouse,” we each feel a sense of pride in being just a small part of something so beautiful. In this time when I sometimes feel like my sense of power hitched a ride out of town with no plans for a return visit, it’s nice to be reminded that I — that we — do have power!
We have the power to create. Whether our creations are big and public or small and intimate, the act of creating reminds us that our power doesn’t come from the external situations we find ourselves in. They originate from within. Our power is in the beauty of our imagination, where all creations are born.
We just need to allow ourselves the time, the space, and sometimes ... a little prompting ... for the power of our creativity to flourish.
Supplementing Virtual School
Like so many of you, I recently started virtual school with my kids. I have three children — a sixth-grader, a third-grader and a kindergartener. Three different students in three different grades at three different work stations across the house means that I am definitely getting my steps in for the day, and there’s just not enough of me to go around. Virtual school is challenging.
Not to mention, I’ve been particularly intrigued to see how we’re doing virtual school with the younger students who can’t yet read text on a computer screen — students like my kindergartener. She needs hands-on manipulatives, interaction and movement to make learning come alive.
We’ve used new content that I've created with Arts Integration Services' Blueberry’s Art Club to supplement that gap, and, through it, my kindergartner created a hand puppet named Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth sports a lacy collar and a golden pipe cleaner crown and can be seen performing on a puppet stage. Thanks to her, I have had moments to focus on the learning needs of my older children.
As an educator and an artist, I’m thrilled to know that I am a part of something that’s really meaningful to kids and their parents. As a parent, I am beyond thrilled to have something truly engaging for my kindergartener’s growth and development that also gives me some time and space to focus on her siblings.
Blueberry’s Art Club
My kids had an amazing time creating the puppets for the original “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” lesson. So, from the moment I first heard that Arkansas PBS planned to turn “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” into a series, I knew we could provide other kids with the rich and meaningful experience my own had making puppets and performing their own puppet show.
That’s why Arts Integration Services created Blueberry’s Art Club, a four-session arts experience that's ideal for pre-k through 2nd grade students, which is available for purchase. All sessions are virtual so that families can enjoy them from the safety of their own space and in the convenience of their own time, and each session connects with themes explored in “Blueberry’s Clubhouse.” A special bonus is that Blueberry makes an appearance in each one, along with Arts Integration Service teaching artist Elly Bates.
In the sessions, children make their own hand puppets, stick puppets, puppet stage and puppet show. Ms. Elly ensures that directions are well-paced and easy to follow, and all of the supplies needed for two children to complete the art projects are provided in an art kit with purchase of the sessions. Through Blueberry’s Art Club, children across the state can experience the joy of building puppets, just as my own children did with the original “Blueberry’s Clubhouse.” We can't wait to share this experience with you! Learn more about what's available at artsintegrationservices.com.
About the author:
April Gentry-Sutterfield has worked in arts education for 20 years, is the founder and director of Arts Integration Services and is the mother of three creative, passionate and energetic children. Her company, Arts Integration Services, partners with arts centers, non-profits and businesses to create engaging and meaningful arts-based programming for school and home settings. Current partners include Arkansas Arts Center, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Nature Conservancy: Arkansas.