Puppet Tips for Teachers

Puppet tips for TeachersI’m so excited about sharing ideas for using puppets in the classroom. I created a little video because it’s much easier to show you my puppet tips than tell you.

Here’s a summary of the puppet tips featured in the video.

Basic Tips for Teaching with Puppet Power:

1- Start simply! If you have never used puppets before, begin with a simple, silent class mascot puppet. It will give you a chance to experiment a bit and get comfortable with a puppet on your hand before you start using puppets to teach content.

2- Practice with your puppet in a mirror. How can you make the puppet seem “alive?” The trick is to rehearse small, realistic movements rather than large, frenetic movements. An overly “bouncy” puppet can actually be difficult to watch and connect with.

3- Plan a few gimmicks for your puppet. Is your puppet able to scrunch up its face? That will be funny if you can build in some reasons for a grumpy/ scrunchy face (i.e.- telling your puppet that he needs to take a bath.) Can your puppet pretend to drop things? The kids get really tickled when a puppet repeatedly drops an item and the teacher has to keep picking it up. Does your puppet have a tail it can chase or floppy ears to hide behind when it feels shy? Come up with a few gimmicks for your puppet’s personality. It helps build a connection between the children and the puppet.

4- Keep the puppet “alive!” One mistake people make is letting the puppet “go to sleep” while it’s on their hand. When you are talking to the children, make sure to keep making small, gentle movements with the puppet so it stays “alive” while out in front of the children. Also, it’s best to avoid taking the puppet off in view of the children or store it out on a shelf where it looks like a dead body! Find a bag or box to serve as your puppet’s “house” and make sure you put on/ take off your puppet inside that house (or out of sight.) *(See below for exceptions to the rule.)

5- Choose puppets carefully. Sometimes the most beautiful puppets aren’t the easiest to manipulate. Puppets come to life through movement, so you want your puppets to be easy to move and animate. Also, invest in puppets that can assume multiple personas. A “king” puppet is a fairly static figure, whereas a generic “male” puppet can easily be transformed into multiple characters.

6- A response to “Is it real?” Depending on the age of your students, you will get a variety of responses to your puppet.

Young children will repeatedly say things like, “It’s not a real dog!” or “Is that really alive?” They are in the developmental stage where the line between reality and fantasy is blurred and they are trying to figure it out. (Which is one of the things that makes teaching young ones so much fun.) My response is usually something like this, “It’s a puppet, but we use our imagination to make it move and talk. When we pretend a puppet is real we can have a lot of fun, so let’s pretend that it’s a real dog for right now.”

Older children know that puppets are not real. The problem with them can be that they find puppets babyish. With older children, I don’t introduce puppets until I have good rapport with the class. I also use a completely different tone that is better suited to their age. The fun thing about older children is that they can become quite expert at manipulating puppets themselves resulting in many more curricular opportunities for integrating puppets into the content areas. I’ll never forget being a senior in high school and creating a puppet show with my peers to take to the elementary schools. It was a rich learning experience. Nobody is “too old” for puppets! (You will find more tips for connecting with older children in the next post on class mascot puppets.)

 7- Dealing with fear of puppets. Every now and then you might encounter a child who is fearful of puppets. In that case, it’s often helpful to let the child see the puppet when it is not on your hand. You can tell the child about the puppet, explain that it’s not real- just pretend- and share how you use your hand to make it seem alive. Offer to let the child try on the puppet (away from the rest of the class) and experiment with making it move and talk. Usually that does the trick. However, if the fear persists, you can offer to let the child sit farther away from the puppet when you take it out or even let the child leave the room in serious cases. *If you have a fearful child or group of children, you might want to put the puppet on in front of them so that they see you are the one making the puppet “come to life.”

In my next post, I’ll show you how to get started with a mascot puppet.

If you have any puppet tips to share, we’d love to hear. Leave them in the comments below.

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photo credit: CAFOD Photo Library via photopin c

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