I think I first fell in love with puppets when my father helped me make some for an elementary school project. We made paper mache heads over tennis balls, then painted the faces. We glued fabric to a hole in the bottom of the heads for clothes. I’m really not sure if it was because of the puppet fun, or the special time with my Daddy – but I was hooked!
I didn’t make puppets like those with my own children, but I did a paper mache project every year in Kindergarten!
Anyway, when I began teaching Kindergarten I knew that I wanted to use puppets in my classroom. I loved every puppet I saw and soon realized that I needed to start finding a way to use them in order to justify buying so many! I read lots of books about using puppets, and attended several conferences. I saw for myself that it really doesn’t matter what kind of puppet you use, it is the connection you make between yourself and the puppet, and the puppet and the children – that makes it effective and fun.
One person who really impressed me was Joyce Davis. She owned and ran a preschool in Toledo, OH based on science and puppets. I attended many of her presentations, and always came away even more excited about using puppets as wonderful teaching tools. Check out her blog – Joyce Davis and Puppets. Joyce would put large jiggly eyes on different kinds of squash and use them as puppets – I would find myself leaning forward, laughing and falling in love with the squash!! One year we hired her to do a presentation for our kindergarten classes. She went out in the field behind our school and found plants and insects and included them in her presentation. But the best part of Joyce is how she interacts with the puppets. Thank you Joyce!!
Many years ago Joyce published a booklet and some videos with tips about working with puppets, I don’t think they are available any longer – but I have used them a lot! Joyce recommended finding a way for your puppets to “come out alive.” She used a picnic basket and would reach in, put her hand into the puppet, and bring it out ready to interact. I tried many things in my own classroom, finally my husband built me a special castle to keep my teaching puppets in.
Sorry, I couldn’t find any pictures of my classroom with the castle, now it is in my basement! The front was just a fake door with neat hardware, the back had an upper door and a lower door. I placed the castle so when I opened the back to get a puppet out the children could not see me or the puppet until I was ready!
The castle is tall but not large – I didn’t have enough floor space in my room – maybe 12-15 inches on each side. My talented daughter in law Sheri, (mother of Owen and the new twins) painted nursery rhymes on plexiglass for the pretend stained glass windows on the sides.
Please don’t feel like you can’t use puppets well without a special place to keep them, or expensive puppets. Joyce also glued jiggly eyes and yarn on wooden spoons and she made those simple puppets come alive! I really did not like teaching about recycling – just didn’t find it fun, until I glued eyes on a metal can, milk jug, rolled up newspaper, etc. It made it all so much more fun! Stock up on jiggly eyes! Joyce also showed how to take stuffing out of almost any stuffed animal and turn it into a puppet.
I learned that it is really helpful to create a unique personality for each puppet. I practiced trying to do different voices, but really was not good at that – and it didn’t matter to my kids. But I did find a way to make each puppet an individual with their own special personality. I also used each puppet to teach a different skill.
Rosco was the first puppet I used during the school year, and he came to teach alphabet recognition. As I talked to Rosco the first time I had him keep trying to lick my face. He brought a paper letter for each child, and did a very short activity for the letter – we ate apples for A, bounced a ball for B, etc. then he gave each child a paper letter and licked their cheek with his suede tongue. If their name began with that letter he licked them twice. I wrote out details in another blog entry if you are interested. When I would go to get him out of the castle I would be very dramatic and kept telling the kids – “You won’t believe what he’s doing today!” before they saw him. The children really responded to Rosco, and wrote letters to him throughout the year – he had his own mailbox at the writing center. It amazed me that they wrote to him all year, even though he usually only visited the first few weeks of the school year.
This is Erma Louise, she visited our room to teach Letter Sounds. Erma has a speech problem – she stutters and repeats the beginning sound of some words – it helps the children realize that the first letter is an important clue when you are decoding a word – and helps them begin to stretch sounds.
Sally Snail was a bit shy, she would pull her head into her shell. She also talked and moved VERY SLOWLY. She talked so slowly that she stretched out the words so you could hear every sound, she helped teaching segmenting and blending.
Alpha the alligator loved to growl – he has a squeezie noise maker inside – and he would love to try to nibble the children. He came to help teach the difference between beginning sounds and rhymes, and during the time we were learning to write using sounds. He has his own song that we sang when he came to visit. I will be including more details about many of these puppets in blogs about emergent reading and writing.
Kelby Kangaroo came to reinforce beginning sounds. Each day she would have something in her pocket that begins with the sound we were studying. The children would guess what it might be, she would respond – “That starts with B, but it’s not what is in my pocket!” Finally she would give clues if they did not guess.
This is Archibald Bertram Cornelius – actually he has 26 names, one for every letter of the alphabet. He is a vulture with a wonderful pointed nose that was terrific for pointing and tracing letters to show how to write them correctly. Archibald taught the children that you always start at the TOP, he would point his nose toward the ceiling and say it joyfully! It wasn’t long before the puppet began asking the children where to start writing a letter, they would point their little noses at the ceiling and sing out – At the top!!
This is Calvin, he helps teach sight words. He has his own little backpack. When he comes to visit he loves to talk about the subject we have been studying but he always makes mistakes – he will talk about the 4 senses, or make obvious mistakes that the children LOVE to correct.
This is Sam the Lamb, who helps to teach rhyming. He brings a xylophone he calls the rhyme chime and rings it when he hears 2 words that rhyme.
This is Leroy, he helps teach 5 senses. Each time he visited he could not use one of his body parts – eyes were covered, ear muffs, etc.
This is Roxie Heart, I actually bought her from Joyce Davis. Roxie has a large wardrobe of dresses that go with different themes, and a purse to match each. Roxie thinks she is the smartest kindergartner in the world and loves to come to tell children facts about a subject, then she shares the book that she read to learn the facts. She always has something in her purse that goes along with the facts. The little dresses were very simple to make, I will post more about them later.
I call this little critter Shape Monster. He comes to talk about shapes, and the kids love to find things around the classroom that are a certain shape. If they are the right shape he will eat them!
He has a little slit in the back of his mouth so he can really swallow! If the kids are trying to fool him and give him a different shape he yells “Patooey!”
This is Grace Mulligan. She LOVES to read, and comes to share reading strategies with the children. She brings a purse and shows little props to help the children remember the reading strategies.
Another tip from Joyce was how much impact it has when you turn the puppet to look at you, and stroke it’s fur or hair. I talk to the puppet directly, and then the puppet also turns to talk to the children. The kids will talk back to the puppet too! Sometimes I forget and try to answer a question, kids will say – “I wasn’t asking you!”
I have been asked where I get my puppets. Many of them are Folkmanis Puppets – check out their website. They are available at lots of toy stores and book stores too. They used to offer a fundraiser sale, at my school teachers bought a lot at a reduced price, not to resell but just to use in our rooms.
I also met a lady at many craft shows, her name is Lucy Moore who sells wonderful animal puppets. The best part of Lucy’s puppets is how well they fit on your arm, and how easily the mouths move, which is really important when you are talking about letters and sounds. I think Lucy’s whole family is involved in the business, check out her website, search – Lucystoys. Although the Moore’s live in Alabama they travel for craft shows – I have seen them at several different shows in Michigan. The quality is great!
Some of my friends have gotten great deals on puppets through Craig’s list and Ebay.
I had another entire set of puppets in my classroom that the children were allowed to use. These were not available until around October or November, I wanted the children to be excited about puppets because of the ones I used as teaching tools. I had a puppet theater but did not get it out unless we were specifically retelling a story- or a child had “written” a story. Most of the time the classroom puppets were friends that went with the children to different centers. The only centers that banned puppets were art, sand and play dough – so they didn’t get too messy. I found that the amount of oral language went up so much when the children took a puppet with them to the writing center, or the play house, or math center, etc. They would talk with the puppet about what they were doing, a group of children would include the puppets in their play. It was as if they each had a little friend with them, and they talked and talked!
Before I invited the children to use the classroom puppets I did some role playing about the right way to use puppets, they would never bite or yell or any behaviors that kindergartners would not do. We also talked about treating the puppets nicely and the routine for getting them out, sharing and putting them away.
For storage of these classroom puppets some years I used a puppet tree. Other times I used those hanging net type circular baskets from IKEA. Then I found a castle type hanging basket from IKEA and I loved how it reminded the kids of my puppet castle. Truthfully, a box or basket would work fine.
Working with puppets and children really is almost magical. The kids pay attention, stay engaged, and interact more than with any other teaching technique I know. They also make connections back to things we did with puppets all the time. I would really like to encourage any of you who like puppets but haven’t made the plunge to give it a try! The kids are totally non-judgmental and you will have so much fun!
I will add more details about how I used these puppets in upcoming blogs about sight words, reading strategies, etc.
Ugggh – how could I have forgotten Count Hoppy Toad? It was a toad puppet from Folkmanis, and I made a cape for him that was covered with felt numerals. He came out to talk about numeral recognition, and the children loved counting – and hopping with him! I don’t think I have a picture though!
And Zero the Hero!! I took an old Grover stuffed animal and made a cape for him with a Zero on a superman type shield shape. I will add a picture!
Try puppets – you will love it!