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Puppets Become Her Path to Schoolchildren’s Minds

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Kids relate to Judy Sofer, 32, because she speaks their language.

“Actually, the children don’t even notice me,” said Sofer, of Fullerton, who manipulates a big red bird, two dogs, a duck, a rabbit, two clowns and 15 other hand puppets in her performance. “They don’t even see me doing all the talking, and I’m right in front of them.”

She thinks children relate to puppets as a friend, “so they’re not afraid to talk, and that’s why educators are starting to realize their educational value. A lot of psychiatrists and therapists use puppets to reach children.”

She said puppetry is a new concept in education for children in the age range from toddler to the fifth and sixth grade. “You can pick a subject, any subject, and keep their attention,” she said. “After that they’re teen-agers and don’t want to show they can be carried away by a puppet.”

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Despite successful educational performances with puppets in schools and at Childrens Hospital of Orange County, Sofer feels the word hasn’t spread enough to attract investors, although some school districts are funding individual performances.

“People believe in it but not with money . . . yet,” said Sofer, who learned puppetry in Israel, earning her teaching credentials at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She attended Sunny Hills High in Fullerton.

While others work with hand puppets as a hobby, “I’m really a performer,” she said, “and I use different puppets for different kinds of functions and age groups.” She learned theater arts skills at UC Irvine, noting that “to be a good puppeteer, you first have to be a good actor.” She also plays piano and sings.

Using glove hand puppets that she makes, Sofer sometimes works as many as six shows a week, although she has reduced that number in recent months. She is awaiting her second child.

“Judy is devoted to her work,” said Kathy L. Dail, president of the Orange County Puppetry Guild, who notes that although puppetry has been an educational tool for years, “we are seeing signs of it becoming more important.”

Sofer, who practices new programs at home with her son Oren, 7, as the audience, is seeking an educational grant to teach older elementary students theater arts skills, including music and scriptwriting through puppetry.

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“You can teach anything to children using puppets because they (the puppets) can talk to them as a peer, as an equal,” Sofer said. “And they accept the fact puppets can make mistakes, not teachers.”

You just have to love the private party being thrown March 8 in Newport Beach to honor the president of the Clan MacLeod Society. His name is Norman MacLeod, and all the Scottish invited are named MacLeod.

No doubt everyone will be on a first-name basis.

The Orange County Red Cross chapter’s fund-raising spaghetti cook-off March 22 will be called “Get-A-Little-Saucy.” It will be held in conjunction with the Miss Pasta Beauty Contest.

“One day I thought life had become so damn mundane,” said Lillian Andre, 82, of Orange. “So I said, ‘Oh, Lillian, you can teach ballet to senior citizens.’ ”

Well, it has been four years, and the ballet class she teaches at Orange Senior Citizen Center is still going strong.

“There are a lot of men and women who are fulfilling that secret desire to dance ballet,” she said, noting that “this might be the only senior citizen ballet class in the world.” Although a taskmaster, she has made some adjustments. “Older people can’t get on their toes, so they use a half-toe ballet slipper.”

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A former ballerina, Andre still works out with her students, whose next production will be “Swan Lake.” But they need a prince, and even though the age limit is 60 to 80, “we’ll bend the rules a little to get a younger man,” Andre said. “He can be as young as 50.”

Senior citizens can call her at 538-2073.

Who ever thought of visiting a shopping mall to exercise.

Such an exercise program, in fact, will start Friday, said Mary F. Urashima of Westminster Humana Hospital, when the hospital’s “Mall Walkers” physical fitness project begins at Westminster Mall.

She said the independent walking program on half-mile and one-mile courses “in the safe and clean mall environment” will be from 9 to 10 a.m. weekdays before the stores open.

Urashima advised participants to bring walking shoes, cotton socks and comfortable clothing.

And, of course, credit cards for later.

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