Puppets and childhood development
Did you grow up watching Mister Rogers? I did. His show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, was one of my favorite shows to watch! I loved how he used puppets to help children feel comfortable to talk about their feelings and difficult subjects. Taking a page out of his book, I have always had puppets on hand (no pun intended) for play, language development and to allow my children a safe space to talk about their feelings.
Working out Conflict
It’s amazing what happens when you pull out a puppet! Even if my children ultimately know I am the one operating the puppet, they suddenly feel like they can tell the puppet anything! Oftentimes they begin by telling the puppet their names, some of their favorite things and what they did that day.
If the puppet asks about some of their feelings they are more apt to respond honestly by feeling like they can address things that maybe they are a little worried about bringing up to me. For example the other day I was using our puppet Ratatouille and my 3 year old told the puppet, “Mom hurt my feelings today.” I didn’t know what she was referring to. So Ratatouille objectively responded, “What did your mom do?” She said, “Mom didn’t give me a hug when I was crying.” She felt comfortable talking to the puppet I was operating about something that I did. It allowed us to be able to have an open conversation that she wasn’t sure she could tell me alone.
Another example of how we have used puppets in conflict resolution is by pulling out the puppet when an argument has been ensuing between siblings. A couple of months ago my 5 year old and my 3 year old were fighting about something. They both insisted they were right without being willing to listen to the other person. As soon as our friend “Tina Ballerina” came out they both got excited! Tina helped them to take turns talking about their feelings and why they were upset.
Tina also helped them to have the appropriate tools on how to respond next time a similar conflict arises. (You can view videos of us working out conflicts with our puppets on my “Puppet” highlight bubble on instagram). The children were more willing to work out the conflict with Tina because it was a new and exciting way of conflict resolution, rather than opposed to the norm of just mom working conflicts out with them.
When we pull the puppets out the children are eager to get a chance to speak to the puppet. This furthers their language development as they role play meeting someone “new” for the first time. They have to start out a conversation such as, “Hi I’m Ruby, what’s your name?” Not only is their language development increased as they speak to the puppet, but they love to then take turns using the puppets themselves.
As the children operate the puppet on their own they often change voices mimicking what I do when I use the puppets. For us, our puppets all have names, personalities and characteristics. Some of them even have accents like Ratatouille (French) and Chef Luigi (Spanish). In addition to regular language development, our children are then experimenting with different accents, tones and fluctuations.
Just as much as we love to have more formal puppet shows with a plot and treats for the audience, we also love simply pulling out our puppets to help us learn and read books. Mr. King loves to speak with eloquence and formality, while Tina Ballerina is a friend who loves pink and dancing just like them. Leo the Lion is always adding in “Rawrs" when he reads books, and Ratatouille is constantly talking about cooking.
Larry the clown is silly, and can’t read so he often makes stories up by looking at the pictures, and Sally the butterfly loves to read books about bugs and play outside with us. Having a variety of puppets with different personalities and interests creates more dynamic and excitement with our puppets. Sometimes they prefer one puppet to read a particular book, while wanting a different puppet to read another.
Learning Through Play
Because our puppets have different personalities they like to help us do different things. Chef Ratatouille and Luigi pull out cook books and pretend food to show the children how to follow instructions on recipe cards. The children then enhance reading skills by trying to read the recipe themselves in order to tell the puppets what ingredients to add to our pot next!
The other day my 5 year old decided to create her own recipe card for chef Ratatouille to follow. This simple activity that she created allowed her to work on her writing skills as well. Tina Ballerina teaches the children about music and different dance styles, and she loves showing them video clips so the children can view the different styles of dance visually.
Sally Butterfly’s favorite book is clearly the Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and she likes to transform to create a visual of metamorphosis by transforming from a caterpillar to a chrysalis, and into a butterfly. Leo the Lion shares all sorts of animal facts and Mr. King is a little more pompous and self-centered, but loves to teach the children how to be fancy like him. Larry the clown is one of our newer puppets and he is constantly trying to make the kids laugh by telling funny jokes and experimenting with tricks such as juggling. The children love to join in and tell jokes back or practice juggling along with him.