Puppets and the Education of Young Children

“When she puts a puppet on her hand, she lights up, she’s very happy.  When she performs, she just gives it her all.” ~ Heather Allen

Years ago I made a collection of puppets as part of an assignment for a night course on the arts in early childhood education.  Eventually I gave them to a friend who was teaching a course about emerging literacy, when I thought I’d no longer need them myself.  Recently I was visiting that friend and she had a really special surprise for me!  She had kept those puppets in storage, knowing that one day I might need them again. I was very touched by this gesture, because they are indeed something I can use now in my classroom.  I’ve explored a variety of career paths but the road always seems to lead me back to teaching young children!  And for this I am glad.

I was reminded of how much enjoyment I got from making my own teaching resources.  It was a creative challenge to make puppets out of bits and pieces from around the house, and from simple craft materials.  Being reunited with the puppets not only provided me with fond memories and something I can enjoy with children, it also gave me a great idea for this blog post!  Below are photos of the puppets that I made, with some general instructions for how to make them. At the bottom, there are some ideas for parents and educators about the value of puppet play for young children, whether at home or in a classroom!

Popsicle Stick Puppets

These are very easy and inexpensive to make.  All you need are a variety of images cut from magazines, laminating film to cover them (so they last longer), popsicle sticks or tongue depressors and tape for attaching the pictures to the sticks.  What is great about making your own popsicle stick puppets is that you can transform any picture into a puppet – animals, insects, vehicles, ANYTHING!  When selecting pictures of people, these can reflect human diversity (e.g., age, ability, ethnicity, culture) which brings a bias free element into children’s play and learning.  Making your own toys enables you to help children to see themselves  in their play materials!

Glove Puppets

To make this frog puppet I bought a pair of garden gloves and craft materials including large pompoms, felt, glitter glue, wiggly eyes and velcro from a nearby dollar store.  While these require a bit more time and ingenuity to make than popsicle stick puppets, the end result is worth it!  I sewed the velcro tabs to each finger of the glove, but used glue to attach them to the pompoms. I used a glue gun to attach the “well” to the palm of the glove.  Glue was also used to attach wiggly eyes and felt limbs to the pompoms to make the frogs more interesting.  Glove puppets are great for introducing children to counting rhymes.  The velcro tabs make it easy to remove and reattach the frogs so that children can visualize number concepts and learn through manipulating objects.  You can find the words for Five Little Froggies (and many other rhymes) at this link and enjoy reciting it with young children again and again.  http://rhymesandmore.blogspot.ca/2009/03/five-little-froggies.html

Pop-up Puppets

While browsing in the dollar store mentioned above, I spotted a small toy rabbit on a stick that I thought would make a fun puppet related to the theme of bunnies, or perhaps to the celebration of Easter.  To make a pop-up puppet, cut a plastic bottle in half, reserving the top part.  Use a scrap of fabric big enough to wrap around the bottle, and also to fill the inside of the bottle. Try to ensure enough space for the bunny to move up and down and nest easily inside the fabric lining the bottle top.  Cut a small hole into the middle of the fabric, and insert the stick.  Glue the base of the bunny to the hole, and then affix the bottom edge of the fabric to the small end of the bottle using an elastic band.  NOTE:  Do make sure the stick is strong enough, so it doesn’t break too easily.  Take time to show children how to use the puppet gently and carefully.

Paper Clip Puppets with a Stage

I came across some laminated animal pictures to use as puppets (though you could easily cut out magazine pictures and cover these with laminating film).  To create something a little different from the popsicle stick puppets described above, I used paper clips as a base, instead of attaching popsicle sticks.  I got the inspiration to make a simple stage from a small wooden box that once contained teabags.  This box has a sliding lid, which also makes it an excellent container for storing the puppets.  I decorated the box by covering it with colourful tape, and attached a small strip of cardboard to the front to make the box look like a farm house.  I can easily slide the paper clips onto this strip to display the puppets.  The animal characters make it easy and fun for children to remember and practice saying the words to favourite songs such as Old MacDonald and I Had a Rooster.

Knitted Finger Puppets

For those who enjoy knitting, finger puppets are fairly easy and quick to make. They are small and require only oddments of leftover yarn. And there are many kinds of yarn that come in all kinds of bright, attractive colours.  I used a pattern that I found in a book years ago, and gave the puppets personality by adding details using tiny pompoms, wiggly eyes, bits of pipe cleaner and  pieces of felt.  There are many patterns on-line for very cute finger puppets, though you can adapt them to make any characters you want.  Try visiting the sites below for inspiration. However, if you don’t knit, don’t be discouraged. Finger puppets can also be made by glueing pieces of felt together and then adding details using assorted craft materials like the ones described above.  They can also be made from paper!

http://halifaxcharityknitters.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/knitting-pattern-five-finger-puppets/

http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer03/PATTpuppers.html

Puppets are a vital part of children’s language development and learning.  They can be such an important part of their play and early education.  Puppets can:

  • stimulate the imagination
  • encourage creative play and discovery
  • introduce books and storytelling to emerging readers
  • bring stories to life
  • provide a focus for role play
  • motivate a child to participate in activities
  • aid in reciting stories and rhymes
  • support the development of listening and expressive language
  • allow timid children to build confidence as they learn to communicate and share ideas
  • help children to explore and express different emotions
  • enrich the learning experiences of children with different language, intellectual and cultural needs

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