Teaching Peace with Elyse: Puppets Help Children Learn Social and Emotional Skills

In a recent blog, I wrote of connecting emotionally to children through puppets. I mentioned several ways to go about this through our observation of children and then joining in with a puppet. I also wrote of working with small groups of children in order to teach that which is important for them to learn. Children listen and remember better when puppets are used to relay the message. In this blog I'd like to say more about how to use puppets for developing social and emotional intelligence.



Let's begin with your getting comfortable with using puppets in improvisations. While many of us are at ease using puppets in a myriad of ways, here are some tips particular to improvising on a specific agenda.

When improvising, the teachers I've mentored found it useful to know:

  • What the agenda is (I've found it best to stick with one theme at a time such as making friends, inclusion or safety issues.)
  • What simple props will be needed
  • How they will begin the improvisation
  • How they want it to end

Chose one theme, such as making friends. This makes it easier for the children to follow the modeling by the puppets.

It's important to know what simple props are needed and to have them within reach during the improvisation.

Knowing where they will start and how they want it to end allows teachers to feel free to improvise. They have told me of the fun involved in exploring 'the middle' of the improvisation.

They had remembered many real life scenarios from their work in the classroom observing children. They often used specific scenarios they'd observed as well as using the actual dialogue in order to bring life to the improvisation.

One skill that is always useful to teach children is how to make friends. Last year the four year olds mind-mapped in their classroom circle ways to make friends. One of the ways the children offered was "to play together." Learning how to enter play is a prerequisite for doing this successfully.

Other than for power, the reason most children stop others from playing with them is their concern that the game will be changed by the entry of new child.

Here are steps to express through your puppet during your improvisation.

  • Observe the play in progress.
  • What can you be or do to sustain the play?
  • How can you help?
  • Speak aloud of who you will be.( ex: "I'll be the dog.")
  • Let the other children know (for example) you are getting the tape to help make their structure stable.

You may have the puppet who wants to play with others speak aloud to the audience or use a stage whisper. In this way the children will understand what is being modeled.

If you would like to become more comfortable using puppets before improvising, you may want to explore the following tips.

  • Practice with a nonjudgmental family member. You can use a sock or oven mitt if you don't have a puppet available.
  • Explore the puppet's movement. Small movements of the head or limbs can bring the puppet to life.
  • Use a voice you can maintain without strain.

Increasing your comfort level can lead to increased practice and confidence with the accompanying desire to feel ready to improvise.

There is no 'right' way to improvise. Discoveries made during the middle section may lead to an unplanned ending. Improvising is very much like real life. You have a plan and then life happens. If we can be flexible, and teach children to be so, some very interesting endings may come about.

PLEASE REMEMBER. The children will not judge us. But, we may judge ourselves. Practicing with children and receiving their enthusiastic feedback and interaction may be all the encouragement you need to use puppets and improvisation to teach social and emotional skills.