As the new school year begins, establishing relationships with the children is an essential piece of successful teaching. In my 30+ years of working with preschoolers, I’ve found that using puppets are extremely helpful in forming the teacher-student bond, often instantly.
Puppets help you find your way, on an empathetic level, into the children’s world. Children communicate more easily and often more readily with puppets. They seem to have an innate trust in the puppets and are able to articulate what they might not otherwise disclose.
Puppets help us establish a foundation of trust that we can build on throughout the year.
If you are new or would like a refresher for using puppets, a good place to start is observing children at quiet or dramatic play. Have a puppet of your choice at hand, literally.
It’s important to observe first in order to understand what the child or children are doing as we will be following their lead in this activity. When entering the play with your puppet, you can mirror what you’ve witnessed or add to the dramatic play.
Modeling collaborative play, through your becoming part of the community of puppets and children, will show them how to connect appropriately with others. Once you enter their play with your puppet, have other puppets nearby in case the children also want to use them.
When a conflict occurs, try and solve it ‘in character,’ within the context of their play. If this doesn’t work and immediate action is needed, step out of character, become yourself reminding children of the rules of safety: no one gets hurt including the puppets. How can we solve this problem?
Once you’ve introduced the idea of puppets as problem solvers, you may be delighted at how the children utilize them. A three year old was using an owl puppet to grab another child. As I began to facilitate a solution, Elliot, a new child at school, came over to listen.
When I spoke of the owls claws, Elliot readily joined in. They are talons, the claws are called talons. They are used to grab food.
With this piece of information, the boy who was using the owl chose to find some tiny puppets to grab as food …rather than another child.
Puppets can be used in a myriad of ways: with the whole class, small groups or individuals. They can be used to illuminate social and developmental issues such as making friends, inclusion/exclusion or entering play, to name a few.
You may want to first work before the whole class improvising with a puppet of your choice on a specific theme. Afterwards, have other puppets available to observe how the children use them. You will then be able to see what the children absorbed from your improvisation.
Working with your puppet and a small group of children allows for more ease of interaction with the children. Months later the children often bring up the improvisations they were part of. They use them to solve their own problems by reminding others of what the puppet did in the same situation.
I often use puppets to help solve real-life developmental issues of the children. Having a puppet re-enact a situation gives them emotional distance while watching what might have occurred with them. Observing new solutions offers them new choices in the future.
There are endless ways to work with puppets. I welcome your shares.