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The hand puppet is a frequent and welcome guest within a school and plays a special role in numerous teaching methods. Many schools already have a puppet (or even several) and that puppet holds more potential and opportunity than you might think. Do you leave it lying around and numerous opportunities unused, or do you let it connect to the curriculum and to situations that occur in the group? The choice is yours.

I admit, the designations class mascot, teaching puppet, language puppet, therapy puppet, talking puppet. (and so on) don’t make it more fun and even more complicated. The puppet thus acquires a function, and with function often comes effort. So before you’ve even started, you’ve already got yourself into something that you don’t even know if you feel like doing, if it’s going to get you anything. Many puppets retire early or never even come out of their packaging because of thoughts there are about a puppet.

Our thoughts about a puppet are not quite in sync with those of children. We see the puppet mainly as a convenient way to hold children’s attention, we use it because children respond so easily to the puppet and because it would be so much fun if children told the puppet everything we wanted to know, but the child didn’t want to share with us. Children see a puppet as a friend, one you can do fun things with, who comes up with great plans, who is just like you, doesn’t know everything, thinks there are crocodiles under his bed, is disappointed when he can’t come to that one party, etc. So if you want children to react nicely to the puppet, not hit it, not pull its hair, ‘just’ participate in your activity with the puppet, ask yourself from whom the puppet, as you are placing it now, is more of a friend: yours or the children’s?

Children appear to lose their attention to a puppet rapidly if what you do with a puppet does not match their expectation. Don’t blame them, after all, they already have enough people around them telling them what they can and cannot do. From the puppet, they expect something different. If you know that, then making the same puppet work properly is immediately a lot easier. Let the puppet (whatever name you further give it) focus primarily on the relationship with children and always connect with children’s experiences. So the puppet is not playing an act, you are not bringing entertainment, but seeking contact. Real Contact.

First contact and only then take the next step

From that contact, the puppet engages and challenges children to join in a game or plan, to respond, and playfully stimulates development. Children show much more of themselves to the puppet who acts as a real and genuine friend and are more easily persuaded by him to do something they actually find quite scary. So together with the puppet, they can practice new skills safely, playfully and supported.

The hand puppet does not have to be an ‘extra’ activity at all and can be included in the daily and weekly program or the entire theme. You can use it during:

  • a round-table discussion
  • a learning activity
  • working independently and freely
  • an introduction to a topic
  • the deepening of a topic
  • conflicts that arise
  • teaching social skills
  • practicing with new skills
  • practicing with new situations
  • learning to play together and collaborate
  • day/week openings/closings
  • etc.

And you do so because you know the puppet helps children to:

  • play alone and with others;
  • show emotions;
  • expressing themselves;
  • doing it differently than usual;
  • push boundaries or learn something new;
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a while;
  • to practice with…..(fill in the blank);
  • work on their vocabulary and language;
  • Trying something difficult;
  • Resolve social situations and conflicts;
  • become more resilient and assertive;
  • explore the world playfully;
  • etc.

In every grade

It is often thought that working with a hand puppet is only for toddlers and kindergartners, but that’s not true. Also for the older children, there are numerous situations in which a hand puppet can play an important role (just think of the social-emotional development).

Children may be a little surprised when you walk in with a puppet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to it. If you take the possible resistance for granted, know how to rid the puppet of all childishness, and let it fit in the world of experience from an older child, the hand puppet is also a great tool for older children.

The hand puppet actually has only advantages:

  • he has a positive impact on the educational climate.
  • children’s involvement becomes greater.
  • you get information about the children through the puppet.
  • children show more of themselves in their contact with the puppet.
  • This will give you more insight into any learning problems, developmental delays and/or (learning) needs of a child
  • So you can better respond to that.
  • and as icing on the cake, learning becomes more fun and children a more eager to come to school.

All in all, the hand puppet is not only there for the children so, it also helps you to do your job.

If you have a puppet in your classroom and are now thinking ‘well, what a shame really that I do so little with it, but how do I start?’ Then subscribe to my mailing list, watch my YouTube channel or send me an email.

Through a short coaching process, with simple exercises, tips and pointers, I can help you get on the road to the puppet that works for you. Believe me, it’s easier than you think and more a matter of understanding what you are doing than it being about acting talent. I’m here to help you.

With love,

Author

Helen Meurs (helenmeurs.com) is a pioneer in the field of Puppet Power, an independent trainer and developer. She offers online courses, is the lead instructor at the vocational training for puppet coaches, and authored the book ‘The Hand Puppet as a Educational Tool’. Subscribe to her newsletter if you want to know more.