How Hand Puppets Help Children Learn Valuable Skills
Putting puppets into the hands of children—or rather on the hands of children—can set the stage for valuable learning opportunities in many developmental areas. Puppets are engaging toys that can help support oral language skills and communication, social/emotional development, and help children learn and understand the world around them through safe, imaginative play.
Puppets Can Help Develop Language and Communication
Hand puppets, finger puppets, and marionettes all spark the interest of children. Puppet theatres are important because they provide a safe place behind the curtain—and most children find them less intimidating for performing plays. Puppets offer children an engaging way to interact and explore their knowledge and understanding of the world. For instance, when a child is able to talk through a puppet, suddenly sharing isn’t so scary.
For many children, it opens up a new world of communication that supports the acquisition of language skills. In fact, puppets are used for the therapeutic purpose to support the communication and development of children with disabilities. Children learn to converse and formulate their thoughts and words to best convey their message. One very effective way to develop children’s language skills with puppets is to role-play to model oral language. This might mean modeling correct sentence structure or introducing new vocabulary into the conversation.
They Support Positive Social/Emotional Development
Puppets provide a sense of security that makes it easier for children to express thoughts and feelings that they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing. Talking through a puppet allows children to explore feelings freely and reenact situations in a way that they are familiar with. For example, when children are asked to role-play a disagreement between friends, they are going to present the feelings and responses that they would feel if they were in the situation. This provides excellent opportunities for teaching positive social skills.
The process also allows children to develop empathy for others. When children are encouraged to take the role of others, they learn to empathize. This is very important in helping them experience compassion and respect for the feelings of other people.
It is also an important characteristic in the development of interpersonal intelligence, which is important in the learning process. Those who have strong interpersonal intelligence are good at understanding and interacting with other people and are able to assess the emotions, motivations, desires, and intentions of those around them. Fortunately, social intelligence can be developed, and puppets provide an excellent opportunity for exploring situations that help children learn empathy and interpersonal communication. It also supports the opportunity to teach positive social interactions, problem-solving, and other social/emotional skills.
Strategies to Support Learning with Puppets
Using Different Perspectives to Encourage Social/Emotional Development
Encourage children to role-play situations from different perspectives. For instance, children might role-play a disagreement that needs to be resolved. Have them repeat the role-play situation so that they have an opportunity to experience the situation from both perspectives. This is an excellent activity for teaching empathy. Parents can also use this strategy to help children understand a parent's point of view. They can be asked to take the role of mommy or daddy in different situations.
How to Help Them Develop Oral Language Skills
To support the development of oral language in children, it is very effective for the parent/educator to role-play with children and model effective language in conversation. Speaking in complete sentences and using interesting and sophisticated vocabulary will provide children with a reference for their own speaking. It is also helpful to ask them open-ended questions to elicit their expression of thoughts and ideas. Avoid using closed questions that lead to a one-word yes or no answer.
Listening Strategies to Develop Communication Skills
Help children come out of their shell and develop their communication skills by offering reflective listening strategies when role-playing with them. Reflective listening seeks to understand and confirm the child’s point of view. It teaches them that what they say is valuable and, in turn, will help them develop their confidence to express their ideas and opinions. Also, encouraging children to put on puppet plays for others is an excellent way to get them motivated to communicate. Even just one audience member will make a world of difference in sparking a child's interest in puppets.
How to Help Them Use Their Imagination
When children are able to play with puppets, a new world opens up where they can be anyone they want. One day, their puppet might be a superhero that has a mission to save the world. The next day it might be a bird that has to fly south for the winter or a doctor that works in the emergency department of the hospital. The roles are endless, so it is helpful to brainstorm with children ideas they might use when playing with puppets to help expand imagination and motivate new learning. It is also helpful to use storybooks as a springboard for puppet play ideas.
Activities You Can Do With Puppets
- Act out a storybook and create a new ending.
- Practice scripts to perform in the way of a puppet play.
- Make your own puppets with paperbags or socks.
- Make popsicle stick puppets.
- Watch YouTube videos of puppet plays for example.
- Go to see a live puppet show.
- Explore joke books to learn new jokes to use in your puppet skits.
- Create your own unique puppet.
- Construct your own puppet theatre. Appliance boxes work really well.
- Start a collection of puppets and define the personality traits they will portray in different plays.