23 October, 2009

Do you believe in the power of puppets?

Give a child a soft toy and they will talk to it. Give a child a puppet and they will talk through it. A puppet can help open new lines of communication and play every day, they really delight and engage children, even the most shy! Just simply watching a puppet show can be a form of art therapy.

Puppets have been used since ancient times, all over the world. Fascinatingly, the use of puppets is believed to have originated 30,000 years ago and originally, they were used to animate and communicate the ideas and needs of human societies.

Still used today, puppets can animate and communicate the ideas and needs of a child, providing excellent ways for children to work through their fears or vocalise their feelings through puppet play. The benefits and uses for puppetry is vast, here are just a few:

* Engaging pupils in a difficult or new subject
* Encourage and engage shy/diassociative children
* PSHE Skills
* Developing empathy, imagination and communication
* Speech therapy, such as stammering
* Trauma therapy
* Communication aid for children diagnosed on the autism spectrum

Puppets can be especially useful with individuals, in small groups and in Circle Time discussion. Puppets can be used to teach languages, as shown on Teachers TV:

KS1/2MFL - Absolute Beginner

Puppet Play in India

And this video from Teachers TV shows how puppets can be used with an early years class Early Years - Using Puppets

Puppeteer Tips

Using puppets can provide excellent ways for children to work through fear or vocalise feelings through play. Older children will respond well to puppets too - even adults! However, with older children the activity needs to be shorter and more focussed.

In a classroom environment a puppet can help children settle into their new class or school. Children will become quite vocal when a puppet is in sight, so this can be a great way of encouraging and engaging shy children.

Working with puppets

The key to being a good puppeteer, is to make your puppet come alive and don't ever allow the children to see the puppet become lifeless; for example, letting them see you take it off your hand. You would introduce your puppet, as you would do another child or adult, then when puppet time is over, have the children say their goodbye's to the puppet and leave the room, puppet still alive and waving. Once out of sight, you can safely remove the puppet. Alternatively, you can put the puppet to bed back in a box or a bag and subtly remove your hand whilst it is hidden inside.

Think about your puppet as a real live person, so that if you are talking with your puppet, you are looking at it and it is looking at you. Also, make sure the puppet looks at your audience/child too. If your puppet is talking to the children, make sure the puppet is looking around from one child to another, as if it is you that is talking to them. Eye contact is a great way of ensuring that your audience remains engaged with the puppet. On the flip side, you can of course use a lack of eye contact to show that your puppet is trying to ignore you by avoiding eye contact, or to avoid answering a question, this can be done by making your puppet look up to the ceiling or down to the floor.

Your puppet does not need to be constantly moving, it just needs to be nice, natural smooth moves, rather than jerky ones. Practice in front of a mirror or with friends, this will enable you to get used to bringing your puppet alive in a realistic way.

It is worth thinking of a good name for your puppet too, as this will help the children bond with it.

Puppet emotions

Making the puppet display emotions is very useful for reinforcing that the puppet is alive and will engage the children, retaining their interest.

Here are some puppetry emotions tips:


Keeping the mouth of the puppet open slightly suggests a smile, whilst rocking the head gently from side to side can suggest a carefree mood.


Moving the puppets head so that it is facing downwards can be used to suggest sadness. If the puppet has movable arms, you can use these to suggest crying.


Move the puppets head so that it looks at you slowly, and then looks away again slowly. By repeating this a few times it can appear that the puppet wants to engage in a conversation, but is embarrassed to do so.


Making the puppet glance quickly back and forth suggests that the puppet is concerned about something.


There are a couple of ways to express anger. You can make the puppets head tilt to one side (looking away from you if its you the puppet is cross at) or keep the head upright and still, so that the puppet appears to be looking fixedly away from you).


The obvious one is to make the puppet yawn, but slow movements can also be a good way to show the puppet is tired and ready to go back to bed. Or you can have the puppet nod off by drooping the head in nodding off movements.

A voice for your puppet

It is up to you if you want your puppet to speak or not, not all puppets have a voice and if you are not confident to put on a voice for your puppet, then you don't have to. You can tell your audience that your puppet is very shy and will have to whisper to you.

Giving the puppet a voice can really add to the session but if you are not sure what voice to use, or want to build up your confidence first, then this is the best way to go. You can always say that your puppet has a sore throat.

To make it seem as though your puppet is really talking, move the mouth once for every syllable, again, this might be best practised in the mirror as getting the puppet in synch makes it all the more believable.

Introducing your puppet to the class/group

Puppets, even though they are adorable, can be quite frightening if suddenly produced without a nice introduction, so to save those tears, perhaps place the puppet in a box, a bag or keep it outside the room, and start by saying, 'I've a special friend that I'm hoping you might be able to take care of for me. Hes a little shy, so you'll need to let him know that you'll all be his friends. Can you whisper to him, "It's alright, you can come out now?"' This can create an interest and a bonding with the puppet and you can encourage the children to help the puppet to settle in his new classroom or group.

A puppet can become a useful asset, it can visit regularly and tell the children what it has been up to over the weekend, you could take photographs of the puppet doing different things and then discuss them on the next visit.

To make your puppet more real, you may want to think about what it would do at weekends, reading books, watching television, listening to music etc. Does your puppet have any brothers or sisters? What is your puppet's favourite colour?


* Stage a play - you may need more than one puppet for this
* As a confidant for a child - a child may respond to questions asked by the puppet, rather than you
* Explain difficult concepts - this could be to promote literacy or numeracy, or some social and emotional concepts
* The puppet can get things wrong in class and you could see if the children can help the puppet, this is an excellent way to reinforce key concepts and the children will not even realise that they are learning!
* Use some books or play scripts, such as The Power of Puppets, for stories that you can act out with the puppet, or make up your own...or ask the children to write a story for the puppet.

Read, Learn & Flourish!

For your success!