Prof brings child size puppets to South Africa as teaching aid

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Prof brings child size puppets to South Africa as teaching aid

Published on September 13 2013

As a professor from Ontario travelling to South Africa to deliver workshops for practicing teachers, there are many items on the “do not forget” list, but for Dr. Mary-Louise Vanderlee, there was one item on her list that that was unforgettable; child size puppets.

Vanderlee, an Associate Professor in the Department of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies in Brock University’s Faculty of Education, said that the puppets played a vital role in her trip this past summer to the Ikageng Township of the Northwest province of South Africa.

“Although the puppet took up the majority of space in a suitcase, it was worth bringing them to the workshops and introducing them to the teachers. Their faces glowed in anticipation as they were eager to try them out. The teachers were able to complement the ways in which we modelled how the beautifully crafted puppets could be used in their classrooms. Following a brainstorming session, we had to use a lottery method to select a winner as they all were eager to use them in their class the following week. “

Along with her colleague, Dr. Klopper from North West University, and Elsa, a community member and director of the Dinaledi Trust for Grade R curriculum development, Vanderlee was involved in delivering workshops for practicing teachers from 40 preschools.

The intentions of the workshops were to provide support to the Grade R teachers, so that together, they can enhance the quality of programs they deliver.

“In addition to using the child sized puppets, we challenged the teachers to think of other props that could be used as puppets. We know from research that engaging children in stories and conversation helps develop the much needed literacy skills that form the foundation of school success. Adding new ways to engage children in conversation adds to program quality. ”

The puppets now reside in South Africa and continue to be shared by the teachers in their respective schools to deliver their programs.

But where did these puppets come from?

Kathy Felice, a local Master-Bean-Maker, heard about the project Vanderlee is involved with and reached out for more information on the community. After receiving the information Felice made two beautiful, full-sized puppets specifically for the teachers in Ikageng.

The puppets, named Neo; a little boy who has the gift of friendship and love, and Itumeleng; a little girl who is full of beauty and love in her heart, were made with the support of Felice’s 92-year-old mother, and, due to the care and craft that went into their creation, had some difficulty parting with the puppets upon their completion.

“In addition to developing the vision for these beautiful puppets, Kathy spent many hours creating them. I would say that the puppets are a gift of love and truly from the heart. Such a generous action for a community she has only heard of recently. ”

The teachers in Ikageng are hopeful that more of these beautiful puppets will find their way to into their classroom.

If you are interested in sponsoring the creation of more puppets that Dr. Vanderlee may bring with her to the Grade R teachers, you may contact Dr. Vanderlee at or Kathy Felice, or visit


felice, vanderlee dingwall
Puppet Show

From left to right: Kathy Felice, Mary-Louise Vanderlee and Kerri Dingwall pose with the puppets that made their way from Ontario to South Africa