The 4- and 5-year-olds laughed with delight when the Chipmunk and Chipette puppets popped up to sing Shake Your Groove Thing at First Friends Preschool. The children were being entertained by visiting puppeteers from Chocachatti Elementary School.
The third- through fifth-graders are part of a puppet MicroSociety program at Chocachatti, one of many options for students aside from their core academics.
Science lab teacher Ruth Markham teaches puppetry, where students learn to animate the puppets as well as make them.
Then, on May 17, she took them on a road trip.
At the off-campus locations, the puppeteers were enclosed in a three-sided, PVC pipe structure draped with black cloth. Several students sat on the floor inside. A backdrop hid students working puppets at a higher level. Seventeen Chocachatti students participated.
During the three shows, the children had a chance to put their skills into action. Their first show was for residents at the Evergreen Woods assisted living facility in Spring Hill. The students did their show and interacted with the residents, showing them how they work their puppets and allowing them to try them out.
The second show was at the First Friends location on Landover Boulevard in Spring Hill.
As the puppeteers made their characters dance and sing, the children laughed and danced and clapped along with them. They watched lions, flowers, butterflies, trees, a monkey, a mandrill, a snake, an orangutan and a sun wearing sunglasses move to music.
During one number, the Chocachatti students used puppets they had made themselves — monsters constructed from boxes, black cloth, felt, pom-poms, googly eyes and paint.
Caitlin Michael, 5, said she liked "when they did the Monster Mash" and was particularly impressed with the scary monster with the orange tongue.
Another character she really liked was the orangutan, "because he said oo-ooh and aa-aah," Caitlin said.
That puppet, handled by fifth-grader Hailey Skoglund, 11, came around to the front of the enclosure so it was right in front of the audience.
One part of the program was an interactive piece where Markham talked with the puppet Ashley about toothbrushing. Markham admitted to not having brushed her teeth that morning and asked the puppet to find her a toothbrush.
The children howled when Ashley came up with all kinds of brushes, a whisk broom, a grill brush and a toilet bowl brush, before presenting the correct one.
That was 5-year-old Lily Isaksen's favorite segment of the show.
It was a "funny story," she said.
Her favorite character was the orangutan.
Aubrey Soldo, 5, was another orangutan fan. She liked "the one that was trying to get me. It was the monkey one that tried to get me," she said. "It was funny."
Fourth-grader Heather Wilt, 10, worked one of the Chipettes, a lion and the red-eyed monster. She explained why she chose puppetry for one of her MicroSociety options.
"I've seen the shows at school that they do, and I think it was interesting, and I tried it and I really liked it," she said.
Hailey Skoglund, popular for her orangutan, said, "I wanted to do this for a long time. I will definitely always do puppeteering as a hobby."
Watching the entire event from the sidelines, Chocachatti Elementary third-grade teacher Cari O'Rourke, whose son, fourth-grader Max O'Rourke, 10, was a puppeteer, quietly said, "Who needs Disney?"