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November 14, 2018

Journey as an Artist on Tour - Kellie Haines

Kellie Haines shared with us an inspiring story of her journey bringing a project to fruition in the classroom through professional development opportunities she accessed through ArtStarts programs as well as the support of an Artists in the Classroom grant. How can bringing a professional artist into the classroom benefit you and your students? Kellie’s experience demonstrates the value that ArtStarts provides to artists, teachers, and students, and provides a great example of why arts education is essential.

Kellie began as a Showcase Artist and an Artist on Tour. Upon a visit to the ArtStarts office, she learned of the opportunity to take part in a Learning Lab to further develop her artistic practice. During the Lab, she shared and cultivated an idea about a project which would encourage students to create their own puppet rock musical after making their own puppets. The idea evolved, and Kellie pitched the project in a Artists in the Classroom grant application, resulting in the development of a workshop she presented at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School which she can also tour to other schools.


Kellie, will you describe your AIC project in a few sentences?

As an artist in the classroom, I collaborated with the music teacher Rafe Haines at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School in creating The Puppet Musical Project. Kenneth Gordon Maplewood empowers children with learning disabilities in a progressive and inspiring learning environment. Two grade 5/6 divisions designed and created their own puppets, learned puppetry and ventriloquism techniques including voice and movement and later performed a segment of their own rock musical with their puppet characters for the entire school’s talent show.


With Kellie’s final grant report she shared a video to demonstrate the way ArtStarts empowers performers and workshop presenters like herself to help children experience the arts in innovative ways. Check out the video below.  


What were the personal/educational goals of the project?

The focus of this workshop is to encourage students to practice collaboration, teamwork and appropriate risk taking to express themselves creatively through puppetry and music. Each student was able to create their own puppet with characteristics unique to each learner. I wanted to personally bring this medium of puppetry into a classroom for students with diverse needs and talents because I’ve seen in my career how puppets can be an amazing tool in the classroom setting. My goal was to offer a fun and engaging experience and impart certain creative skills, such as fabrication of puppets, manipulation, and voice, as well as to encourage communication and critical thinking (both personal and social).

Other arts education big ideas were:

  • Dance, drama, music and visual arts are each unique languages for creating and communicating.
  • Art is as a means to develop empathy for others’ perspectives and experiences.
  • Make connections to students’ cultural identity through their puppet creations.


The students performed for the younger grades and Rafe Haines created space for a meet and greet with puppeteers, puppets and the younger children. Later, the young puppeteers performed in the school talent show in front of the entire school and parents! Rehearsing and later performing in front of an audience with puppets of their own making gave students a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities. When I performed ventriloquism for the first time at the age of 8 at my school talent show, it marked a major turning point in my life and development as an artist and I wanted to share my experiences through my art.




“This puppet musical project was over a year in the initial planning stages, and delivered well beyond expectations as the final product.


Kellie worked tirelessly among many students with diverse learning needs and with a fully supportive teaching staff to help make it the best possible experience.  When interviewed about the whole process, the students had many heartwarming comments, and I witnessed first hand how the puppet making and working with the puppets channelled into their creativity and innate talents they never before realized they had.  So many different personalities through the puppets were created, and this gave them the opportunity through play and discovery how they could bring this to life.


Looking at the big picture, this project not only taught ventriloquism skills, but also broke many students “out of their shell” and developed confidence in their abilities, giving them a new lease on discovering what is possible for them!”

—  Rafe Haines, Music Teacher at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood


How has this project and experience impacted you as an artist?

This experience has affirmed for me many of the ideas and principles on which I have based my own creative work, such as the importance of practising a craft, seeing a project through from conception to finished work and the synergy of collaborative enterprise.


How has this project impacted the teachers and the students?

The students produced an impressive body of work. They created wonderful puppets and characters and worked very hard in rehearsing and performing a puppet musical number. There was a shared “buzz” of excitement, pride, laughter and playfulness among both the students and the teachers.


What did the process look like?

I was in two grade 5/6 classes for 10 hours across two weeks, along with puppet builder Jeny Cassady. The first stage was puppet design and fabrication. Next came puppet manipulation through musical beats and hand movement. Students developed puppetry skills including voice, characterisation and other dramatic skills. improvisation exercises in storytelling helped the student’s to find their puppet’s personality. Each student learned to lip synch with their puppets for the final musical number performed for grade 3 students, and later the students performed in the school’s talent show. I worked with the music teacher Rafe Haines who assisted me in tailoring my approach to each student’s unique learning style. It was fantastic to be able to connect with each teacher and get their own feedback throughout the workshop experience. Often, I would look around at the class who were interacting so comfortably, puppet to puppet, student to student, and the light in the eyes of the students--some who did not have direct eye contact with me in the beginning--was very meaningful.


What are your observations of the before and after experiences of teachers involved?

The teachers and Jim Christopher, head of KGMS, were welcoming from the beginning to the end. I felt completely supported by the teacher, administrators and classroom assistants as well as other members of the teaching staff. I worked with five teachers during this workshop experience and they were more than eager to jump in and assist whenever needed as well as contribute generously to various aspects of the physical projection. The teachers enthusiastically embraced the essential concepts and objectives, and I learned a lot from them. Part of my goal is to give a shout-out to the caring and professional education team at KGMS.


Teacher Testimonials:

“Having Kellie come to KGMS was such a treat for our students and teachers in the school. Her program encouraged confidence, respect and brought a lot of shy, introverted students out of their shell. Throughout the time she was in our classroom, the students were excited to practice and hone their puppeteering skills. It was an incredible experience to say the least.”

—  Adam Lewis, Grade 5/6 Teacher at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood


It was a great experience having Kellie in our school. The students were excited to build individual puppets and learn to work with them. They practiced teamwork, confidence and patience. They were proud to perform with their puppets in front of their parents, teachers and friends. Kellie developed a very enriching program and we are thankful that we were able to participate.

— Megan Forster Grade 5/6 teacher


Artists in the Classroom grants at ArtStarts bring professional artists into schools for rich learning experiences. The program supports projects in schools across BC that demonstrate artistic excellence, strong curricular connections, high levels of student engagement and an active partnership between educators and professional artists. All professional artists, teachers, principals and PAC representatives are encouraged to apply. Grants of up to $3,500 for small-scale projects and grants of up to $10,000 for large-scale projects are available. Learn more and plan to apply for the May 2019 intake!

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