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Using Puppets to Help Children Tell Stories

Using Puppets to Help Children Tell Stories

Kids love stories and role-playing games. Puppets can help encourage both, because kids of all ages respond positively to puppets that can be made simply and inexpensively out of common materials. Puppets allow them to connect directly to favorite literary characters for active playtime.

Kids and puppets are a natural fit, as anyone involved in “Sesame Street” or “The Muppet Show” knows very well. If you ever work a puppet for a crowd of kids, it becomes apparent that the puppeteer may as well be invisible – the eyes of the kids are all on the puppet, and you don’t have to be a ventriloquist to pull it off. 

If you present a box full of puppets to this same group of kids, they will automatically begin to create stories from the interactions between the characters, the same way they do when role-playing with dolls and action figures. By combining love of puppets with love of role-playing, kids can experience their stories in a new way, acting it out, or even playing “outside” the existing plot of a given story, creating new scenes from their imaginations.

Store-bought puppets can cost quite a bit, but the good news is kids can have as much fun with simple puppets made with inexpensive materials and simple techniques as they can with the store-bought or professional ones. If your kids make the puppets themselves, they might even have more fun. 

Building puppet characters can be as simple as copying an illustration from a book and pasting it to a craft stick or folding a piece of paper and decorating it with markers or crayons. Inexpensive, common materials – paper plates, paper bowls, paper cups, paper bags, TP tubes, old socks, felt, construction paper, craft sticks or glue sticks – can be combined in any number of ways to create detailed, three-dimensional puppets. 

For how-to videos on creating puppets out of all kinds of common everyday materials, look for “The Everyman Puppet Theatre” on YouTube.

I once assisted a friend’s junior high Girl Scout troop earn their theater badges by creating and performing a puppet show for a Brownie troop from another city. They settled on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The Bremen Town Musicians” for their story. The cast was rather large, and there was no budget, but one of the leaders had a package of brown paper lunch bags and some marking pens. A trio of the girls wrote the script (which I edited for them), and they built a set out of large cardboard boxes that had held appliances. They then created the puppets by decorating the brown paper bags with markers, to create the simplest of mouth puppets. The girls rehearsed, then the Brownie troop came over from the city to see it. It was a rousing success. The Brownies had a great time, and the Scouts earned their theater badges. They did it all with nothing more than a bunch of lunch bags, markers, and free cardboard packing material.

The complexity of the puppets you create will depend upon the craft skills of both the instructor and the kids, but one should never underestimate the ability of a child’s imagination to make something fantastical out of a collection of shapes and colors and a little glue. 

With even a simple puppet in hand to plant the seed, stories can grow into a fun-filled adventure.

Laura Anne Ewald is an author and public speaker from Picayune, Mississippi.

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