Teaching Peace with Elyse: Improvisation with Puppets

As written in my last blog, improvisation is very similar to children’s dramatic play. Last week I worked with small groups; this week we gathered the entire class of three-year-olds and again offered the theme of welcoming our friends.

For our spontaneous puppet theater, we began with Little Turtle. We had him think out loud about taking so long to get to school that his friends were already playing when he arrived. He speaks of feeling a little shy to join them.

We then invited the children themselves into the improvisation, freezing* the puppet’s monologue in order to ask which children came to school early and who arrived later.

We continued the scenario with two friends who had arrived at school early and were playing. They were having lots of fun and enjoying each other. This is often why children do not want others to enter their play. They are concerned about having the newcomers change the play and the good feelings that accompany it.

Using simple props and your imagination, have the two puppets explore the materials much as the children do. Imagine their verbal and non-verbal response to the exploration. What might they be saying? We use much of the children’s own dialogue that we have overheard.


When Little Turtle was almost at school, we again froze the puppets and asked the children for their help. How can the puppets welcome Little Turtle when he arrives at school? They came up with wonderful answers. While affirming all suggestions, we chose two to have the puppets act out.

Using, "come join us," we had Little Turtle approach his two friends and observe what they were doing. He was happy to be included.

We combined this with another child’s suggestion: "Do you want to come and play with us? We need your help!"

The two puppets wanted to make turtle shells from the cardboard bowls. They needed help holding and cutting the sticky tape.

While one puppet held the "turtle shell" on the other puppet, Little Turtle stretched the tape. We asked a child from the audience to come forward to help cut the tape and secure it around the shell.

We ended the show here with all the puppets playing together. We then asked the audience, "Did your ideas work?"

We added: "Can three friends have a good time playing together?" Having more than one friend at a time can be difficult for three-year-olds. Having just witnessed the fun the three puppets were having, the children answered with a resounding, "YESSSS!!"

Teacher Suggestions:

Feel free to utilize and expand on this improvisation. Customize it to accommodate the times of day and the circumstances when welcoming is needed.

You can use any of the developmental tasks your children are attempting to master to create improvisations with puppets. Including the children’s own ideas and suggestions to solve the problem will add enjoyment and also help anchor the solutions in the children’s memories.

Making friends, building and maintaining friendships, having more than one friend, entering play, welcoming our friends, using our words and taking turns are just a few themes you can incorporate.

Teaching moments: If there is something important that you discovered together with the children, Repeat it, rephrase it or ask a question such as, "Did your idea work?" in order to emphasize and anchor it for the children. Also, see Pause and rewind in Helpful Tools.

Helpful Tools:

  • *Freeze: Whenever you wish to emphasize a point, change the scene or have children interact, simply say, "freeze." Then stop all movement or dialogue by the puppets and use your own voice to address the children. Be sure to hold the puppets in a position you can maintain.
  • Non-verbal building of character: Take your time; discovering how the puppets move and even repeating the non- verbal action brings life to the puppet and enjoyment to the children.
  • No need to rush to find action, the puppets are capturing real life moments; an imitation of the children themselves. If you stay committed to what you are doing, the children will stay engaged.
  • Pause and rewind: At any time, simply say "pause." Freeze the puppets, and then call out "rewind." You can then bring the children’s attention back to where you’d like a change to occur. You can find a new solution, or ask the children questions about what is happening. You can speak in your own voice and ask for the children’s interaction or suggestions. You can also use pause and rewind to emphasize something important that you want the children to learn by having an opportunity to repeat what happened.

Improvisational Segments:

  • Introduction/beginning: The problem or focus is spoken by one of the puppets to set the scene.
  • Substance of improvisation/middle: Use the puppets to act out the scenario, the problem to be solved or teaching moments.
  • Interaction with the children: Freeze or pause the puppets to find solutions or have them enter the improvisation.
  •  Ending: With improvisation, it is often challenging to know when to end. Keep it as simple as possible; evaluate the children’s capacity to sit still. We often want to include all the points we believe are important. I’ve found it best to create an improvisation around one main point. Later, you can have a discussion with the children or create a new puppet improvisation based on what else you’d like to include.

After our improvisation, synchronicity offered the children an opportunity to practice what they learned. Two children from another class had been late to school and missed their field trip. They were feeling a little shy about joining the others for lunch. (Is it art that follows life or life that follows art?)

Their teacher brought up the puppet improvisation they had just participated in. She asked the children for suggestions in welcoming the newcomers. "Come join us," rang out throughout the classroom.

This is where you see the benefit: in practice. Whenever a situation occurs that we’ve previously presented, we are then able to ask the children what the puppets did. Afterwards, we often find them trying it out for themselves.

Product suggestions from Discount School Supply:

Excellerations® Standing Puppet Theater


Duck Tape® - Set of 10 Solid Colors