Puppets have been used to tell stories for centuries, and their appeal is still as strong as ever. They can encourage a shy or withdrawn child to communicate, and can help a child learning English to lose some of their inhibitions. Puppets can be used to model all kinds of activities and allow children to be the experts when the puppets make 'mistakes'.
Introduce the theme of puppets through a visit to a puppet show or by sharing a story.
Key learning intentions
To interact with others, negotiating plans and activities and taking turns in conversation
To select the tools and techniques they need to shape, assemble and join materials they are using
To explore colour, texture, form and space in two or three dimensions
Adult: child ratio 1:8
* Old mittens * old socks * card * pieces of material * drapes * straws * sticky tape * wool * feathers * sequins * cardboard boxes of different sizes * felt tip pens * crayons * paint * white paper * tracing paper * glue * scissors * lamp or torch
* You might use a visit to a puppet show, or have one in your setting, but telling a story with a puppet will do just as well to inspire the children.
The puppet may be a character from the story, or it may be listening with the children and asking questions at the end.
* To engage the children in the idea of making their own puppet, ask them first to look at their hands. Talk about how we sometimes use our hands when we are talking to help communicate what we mean. Demonstrate by beckoning, waving and pointing. You may have children in your setting who communicate primarily through British Sign Language or Makaton, in which case the children will be familiar with this kind of communication.
* Encourage the children to explore the various movements they can make with their hands. Then make a creature with your hand, perhaps the head of a dog that talks to you, or a spider that walks up your arm.
* Encourage the children to create their own creatures and to listen to them and talk to them.
Puppet, finger, hand, glove, sock, theatre
Questions to ask
* How many ways can you make your hands move? Can you make your hands move like a bird, or a spider? Can anyone show us a different creature? Can you see its shadow against the screen/wall?
* Think of the story we have just read. What characters were there? Would you like to make one of the characters? Which one would you like to make? How could we make him/her/it?
* Make a selection of puppets with the children. Here are some simple ideas to choose from:
* Let the children draw some characters on their fingers. They may become the characters from the story you have just told, their favourite story, or one they have made up. Use water-based, non-toxic felt pens.
* An extension of this idea is to add small pieces of material tied round the children's fingers to dress the characters. Hats can be added, too.
* Alternatively, the children can use their whole hand for a character, using their palm for the face (front or side view), and their fingers for the hair. Use face paints to draw the faces, which can be washed off easily afterwards.
* Fingers can also act as the legs poking through a cardboard model character, or one finger as a trunk for an elephant. The children will probably need help to create the finger-sized holes.
* You can also add heads to finger puppets, using, for example, table tennis or polystyrene balls with a small hole cut into them so that they can fit on the finger. Faces can be drawn on the ball and hair can be added, and clothes.
* Fit simple paper cones over the finger and draw on faces.
* Wooden spoons can make simple hand-held puppets. Draw or paint faces directly on to the spoon. The advantage with using spoons is that a different expression can be drawn on each side. Cover the handle with clothing material, fastened at the neck, and make hair by sticking on wool.
* Make glove puppets by attaching paper faces or stitching materials on to old mittens. This kind of puppet, while having just one area of additional movement from the thumb, is a lot simpler for young children to manipulate than a glove with separate fingers.
* Brightly coloured old socks make some very effective puppets. Use an oval piece of card, folded in half, for the mouth. Turn the sock inside out and lay it flat. Spread the inside of the folded cardboard with glue and push the toe of the sock into the fold in the paper. Wait until the sock is firmly stuck inside the card, then pull it back the right way so that the puppet has a half-open mouth. Add wool hair and features made from cardboard. Sew the hair on to the sock to make it secure. Some sock puppets have buttons for eyes and noses, but this can be dangerous for young children if the buttons become loose.
* Encourage the children to make creatures with their hands in front of a projector light shone at a screen or wall.
* Children can go on to make their own shadow puppets. For example, they can cut out a simple bird shape, attach a straw (for holding it) and add pieces of string or wool for the tail and a feather for a comb. Cutting small areas out of the bird's body provides added interest.
* During the festival of Diwali, the story of Prince Rama and his wife Sita is often told using shadow puppets. The children might like to create their own characters from this story.
* Basic theatres can be bought cheaply, but they are also easy to build.
For glove and stick puppets, an upturned table can provide an area for the players to conceal themselves while the puppets are viewed above the top of the table, or even peeping round the side at times. The table can be decorated as little or as lavishly as required.
* For the finger puppets, small tabletop theatres can be created from old cereal boxes with the back removed, or shoe boxes. A rectangle, about 12cm wide by 9cm high, will need to be drawn a few centimetres from the top. Cut out the sides and the bottom, leaving the top edge so that the flap can be painted and used as a backdrop for the play.
* For a shadow puppet theatre, use a box with no back. Cut an aperture of about A4 in size in the front. Cover the hole with thin white paper, or even better, tracing paper. Place a lamp behind the box so that it shines on to the paper. The puppets can then be moved across the screen from behind and their shadow is reflected on the screen with the light showing through any cut-out areas.
Provide opportunities for the children to design and create their own puppets and to use them in role play and to tell each other stories. They can also be used for individual play, with the child doing all the parts and creating the dialogue. This will enable any children who are learning English as an additional language to spend some time either using their first language, or to practise the English they have heard modelled that day. Other children might also benefit from this quiet time to develop their own storylines, or to play out their fears and hopes.
* Restock the original resources for puppet making, and provide for individual children's design needs
Possible learning experiences
* Using their imagination in art and design, and in planning and acting out stories.
The practitioner role
* Encourage the children to talk about their ideas and to decide on the characters they need for their story.
* Help with any difficult cutting out, or supervise where the children are using sharp implements to make holes in polystyrene, for example, and show them how to use the tools safely.
* Restock the original resources for theatre making, and provide for children's individual needs * Assemble paper and pens for tickets, posters and programmes
Possible learning experiences
* Developing a repertoire of actions by putting together a sequence of movements.
* Playing co-operatively as part of a group to act out a scenario.
The practitioner role
* Discuss how to build the theatre and how big it should be. Also talk about whether the children need to be behind a screen or below the action.
* If the children want to put on a show for others to watch, then talk to them about who is going to be invited, and whether they need to make tickets, posters and programmes.
This project recognises that:
* settings should be constantly resourced and organised in such a way as to offer learning opportunities across all areas of the Foundation Stage curriculum
* topics can enhance basic provision and respond to children's interests
* children need plenty of first-hand experiences and time to develop ideas, skills and concepts through play
* the practitioner has a vital role in supporting children's learning.
This project, therefore, suggests:
* adult-led activities for introducing the theme
* resources that enhance basic provision and facilitate learning through child-initiated play
* how the practitioner can support children's learning.
When using the project, practitioners should recognise that:
* activities should be offered and never imposed on children
* children's experiences, and learning, may differ from those anticipated
* the learning, planned or unplanned, that takes place is valid
* the process is very valuable and should not be undermined by an inappropriate emphasis on outcomes or concrete end results.
* Longman Book Project: Making puppets by James Dunbar (Longman, Pounds 3.75)
* LFC (tel: 08458 506507) stocks a big range of themed finger puppets, including a monkey, wildlife and countryside set.
* The Festival Shop (tel: 0121 444 0444) has a set of puppets representing six of the world's faith communities, including a Sikh boy, a Buddhist girl, a Jewish boy, a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy. Each puppet is designed to fit comfortably on an adult or child's hand. They are machine washable and measure 25cm high, priced 39.95 per set.
* Early Learning Centre Puppet Theatre (52cm x 66cm, 20) comes with blackboard and slots to store story cards or puppets. Folds away for storage.
* Information on puppets is available from the Puppet Centre, Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London.