Puppets are a great way to add excitement and great for helping students learn so much. But many teachers don’t have them in their classroom. Why not?
Let’s begin by looking at some of the biggest reasons teachers don’t use puppets in their classroom.
What do you do with a puppet? Are they just for fun? Are they to help with instruction? Should they be used by the teacher or the students?
Puppets can seem overwhelming. You may feel like you’re not a professional so you can’t do it. Or maybe you think they’re just toys for the students to play with. But there’s so much you can do…
- Your puppet can be an “expert” and teach about letters/numbers/songs, anything!
- Your puppet can add humor by being “silly” and always drop things, get the answers wrong while students help correct it.
- Your puppet can demonstrate correct behavior and role play problem solving.
Use the puppet as a classroom management tool. Tell the children that he/she will only come out if they are quiet and in control. If they start to get too loud, put the puppet away quickly and make it clear that the puppet will only be brought out when they are meeting behavior expectations. You can also motivate the children by telling them that the puppet will be able to come out for a visit if they finish their work/ show appropriate behavior/ tidy their desks, etc. It’s up to you!
Let the puppet assist the teacher in reading a story in class. The puppet can simply turn the pages of the book or help give out props or masks to the children to aid their understanding of the story. For the more adventurous teachers, the puppet can be dressed in a costume and interpret the main character of the story.
Later, once students learn how to interact appropriately, they can even use puppets, too! It really helps shy students gain more confidence and gives everyone a chance to speak! It’s a great way to perform a show for parents too.
What about “losing control” of the students when you bring out a puppet? Won’t they get too excited?
Teaching good habits is the first thing you should work on. Make sure you can already maintain some classroom control and make the children sit nicely before the puppet comes out.
When they are ready, ask the puppet to “wake up” as you pull it from a bag/box in your lap. Scroll to the end of this article to get the video links with many examples.
When you introduce the puppet for the first time, make sure they know you consider it a “friend” or “helper” not just a toy. Don’t let them see you put it on and take it off. Make a home for it. Let the children call for the puppet to “Wake Up!” and “Let’s play together.” Let them know it has feelings. If you hit it, the puppet will feel sad and run away. If you sit nicely, it will play and be happy.
Puppets are also great for songs!
Baby Shark… doo doo dooo … Best.Song.EVER.
Remember to approach young children gently with character puppets as some children can become scared especially if the puppet reacts abruptly or is over excited. If that happens try moving the puppet slowly away from the student or make the puppet shy. Some students might feel scared and cry. In that case you can make an exception and let them see it off your hand. You can explain it’s just pretend. Let them try it on (away from the rest of the class) If they are still scared, let the child sit farther away during class. Never force a child to interact with a puppet if they don’t want to.
How do you answer “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 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!
They are too expensive! They will get damaged easily.
If you take care of your puppet and teach your students to respect it as well, it can last for a long time. About the price, there are many different options for all budgets! There are some amazing puppets out there and you don’t need to spend a fortune!
You can use materials you already have at home (socks, paper bags, etc.) and some markers if you want. Just draw some eyes on your hand. Kids will still get excited if you are excited too!