First graders at the Grace Episcopal Day School in Alexandria are soon going to plunge their busy hands into making modern plastic versions of an old art form - puppets.

The first grader's teacher, Sue Bouchey, was one of nearly 60 area educators attending last week's free workshop on making puppets from disposables by Alexandria's Bob Brown Marionettes and sponsored by the Alliance for Arts Education and the National Aesthetic Education Learning Center.

During the two-hour session, Bouchey created a puppets, dubbed "Harried Housewife," out of an inverted plastic bottles. She clipped a round piece of felt, added sequins for eyes, glued on am empty thread spool for a nose and hollowed out large circles of a foam sponge for wide-frame glasses. The young teacher then added several bits of felt for hat and flowers, painted on a mouth and scissored a small, handkerchief-size piece of material for a hand-length puppet robe with two holes through which her fingers were used as arms.

The end result was a modern puppet product - creative, colourful, fast and fun, she said.

"The best thing is they don't spend a lot of time lecturing to you. You're given a few pointers, then they get you involved immediately in working on a project," Bruchey said. "As an art project, I think these puppets are great . . . they can be used as a teaching focus for creative writing, reading or even phonics."

Bouchey has attended at least one other workshop in the series of 15 offered this year.Nearly two dozen of the participants in last Friday's puppet session were from schools in Northern Virginia.

Workshop leader Bob Brown explained that youngsters need an introduction to puppet-making that is quick and easy.

"Most puppetry is too complicated for children. When I was a kid, you learned about making puppets from papier-mache, wood, clay, difficult things like that. If I hadn't really been a fanatic about puppets, it would have been too hard to learn," Brown said.

"Most of these plastic bottle puppets are simple and fast to make with things you find around the house. Kids will go on to learn the more difficult things if they become interested."

Brown said he and his company like working with teachers because they can spread their puppetry knowledge further than if they taught the children themselves.

"The success of the Muppets has generated a lot of interest puppetry," Brown said. "When I was playing with puppets as a kid, it was considered 'sissy,' like playing with dolls. Now it's no longer that way, thank God."

Participants last week were also able to attend one of several puppet performances by Bob Brown Marionettes scheduled in conjunction with the workshop, which was held in a rehearsal room at the Kennedy Centre.

Sally Breeden, an instructional side at Lynbrook Elementary School in Springfield, said, "I'd love to go into all the class (kindergarten through sixth grade) with bottles and teach this 'plastic puppetry.'

"I enjoyed seeing a new approach to making puppets. It's unique because you can teach it to smaller kids, it's easy and inexpensive. Both are important to teachers who work with large groups of students."

Other educators taking part in the workshop included Cecile Lewis and Sally Rosco of Grace Episcopal; Nancy White and Sue Buchanan of Lynbvook; Ealise Dodd, Pat Whittenbury, Joy Waller, Elly Horton and Mary Wright of Wakefield Forest; Sue Jurey of Prince William County; Joyce Taormina of Fairfax County, and Lucy Grant of Arlington County.

For more information about future arts education workshops, contact Virginia Rodges of the Alliance of Art Education, 254-9774.