With so much of the current focus on electronic media for children, the wonders of puppet play are often overlooked. What a shame! Both at home and at school, puppet play offers tremendous benefits for a child’s development. Not surprising considering puppets have been around for about 3,000 years. Yes, they’re old but to last for that long, they must provide something very special to people. “Puppets are both entertaining and captivating.” (www.creativityinstitute.com/puppetsineducation.aspx) In fact, they’re not only extremely useful as an educational toy that connects play with learning but also in supporting children’s development in several important areas.
Puppet Play Supports Language and Literacy Development When a parent or a teacher uses puppets, stories come to life so that the telling of the story becomes an enriched, fun-filled learning experience that is even more meaningful for children. The puppets can sing, dance, speak in rhyme, touch, laugh, or cry. By capturing children’s attention, they strengthen listening skills and vocabulary development. Puppets are also “a valuable means for promoting oral language skills and confidence in public speaking” (www.earlychildhoodnews.com). They encourage creative play by stimulating the imagination. Turn the puppets over to the children and let them recite and retell the story or use their imaginations to create a story of their own.
Puppet Play for Social/Behavioral Development In the social/behavioral sphere, the benefits of puppet play are noteworthy. Emotions such as pain, fear, joy, aggression, frustration, shame, anxiety, and problems such as illness or death in the family etc., many of which a child may be reluctant to share, can be expressed through puppet play. “Through puppets, children feel empowered to speak and behave on behalf of the character [puppet] they are portraying” (www.earlychildhoodnews.com). A child’s sensitive feelings and concerns can be acted out with puppets and this can help attentive parents or teachers better understand what is bothering a child. Sometimes timid, shy or non-assertive children will use puppets to express and work through emotions or problems that are difficult for them to talk about or deal with directly. With puppets, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to communicate. This builds confidence.
Puppet Play for Conflict Resolution In addition, the use of puppets invites role play where a teacher or parent can explore with children issues such as conflict resolution, empathy, how to deal with aggression and bullying from others, how to be kind and helpful, etc. There is a variety of social/behavioral issues that are important for children to learn and that are of concern today where the use of puppets is very useful.
Puppet Play for Thinking Skills When children use puppets to tell stories, a number of cognitive skills come into play. They can retell stories using their memories and sequencing the events. They can also alter the stories, thinking of different endings, additional events, and projecting the characters’ lives and events into the future. And then, there’s the creation of their own stories, further stimulating their creativity and imagination, developing their problem solving skills and their ability to narrate.
Puppet Play for Motor Skills Whether it’s a marionette, a hand puppet or a finger puppet, learning to manipulate the various parts of the puppet requires fine and in some cases gross motor skills. Without a doubt, puppets offer a multitude of learning opportunities and fun for children from the earliest age up through adolescence. And although it hasn’t been discussed here, having children make their own puppets provides additional un and opportunities for creativity. Puppets “help children to be inventive and artistic, and they allow for children’s visions and inspirations to come to life” (www.teachmag/archives/5618).
Do you use puppets with children? If so, how? I’d love to hear from you.
Photo credit: lindsayshaver / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)