Saturday, 4 February 2017

Puppets in my play-based class....why they work so well

I have been using puppets in my classroom for years now.  It wasn't until I started using puppets with Number Agency that I actually started to stop and think about why they work so well.  When children see the puppet villain their eyes light up, they are excited, engaged and interact very authentically with this imagined character.  In fact if you hand one of the agents the puppet they can easily take on the character.  I will often see quite shy children come alive with a puppet on their hand, or when they are talking to a puppet.

Because of this high level of engagement I started to use puppets last year more widely to explore emotions and friendships.  The results were amazing, children seemed to relate beautifully to the puppet and in a way the puppet could convey the message so much better than I could.  When the puppets started to create short videos for the children to watch the learning really came alive.

The Empathy family was able to guide us so beautifully through understanding emotions last year, the children were able to relate to the feelings they were having and placing the children as 'experts' who could help the puppets really helped them to engage with and understand these feelings.    In one example of this I used the puppets to role model a problem I had actually seen some girls going through, without actually directly talking to them about the issue.  They were able to help the puppets and guide them through how to be a better friend.

So this year I have expanded on this.  Helpful Hannah and Kind Kate (Hannah featured in the video below) will guide us through emotions, friendships and growth mindset while their brother Ian Empathy (also featured below )will be cast as a child learning to write.  Also along the way all of these siblings will require our help with any problems they have at school along the way.  I am sure the children will see themselves in these puppets and it will allow them to explore how they are probably feeling, without divulging that they actually feel this way.

This is Hannah's first video, please excuse her for not looking at the camera, she is a little shy.

So why...why do puppets work so well?  

Learning through play is fundamental to our children's education, helping them to develop the necessary skills in life. Puppets can stimulate children's imagination, encourage creative play and discovery and are a wonderful interactive way to introduce narrative to even the most reluctant reader. They can be a powerful way of bringing story time to life; puppets can provide a focus for role play, encouraging the child's imagination and involvement in activities and can play a fundamental part in the recitation of stories and verse. In addition, hand puppets with workable mouths and tongues are an excellent motivational resource to inspire the teaching of phonics within literacy.
All puppets come to life as characters. They can portray different personalities and various traits and they cross all cultures. Puppets can share joy or sadness; they can be naughty or good, cheeky or shy; and when a child is engaged by a puppet they can learn lessons without even realising.
Puppets provide an essential link between learning and play which makes them wonderful teaching tools for at home, the classroom and in the wider community.
A. Greensmith

This article makes some very good points and I can totally relate, given the positive effects I have seen in our classroom.

Young Minds at Play

What Puppets Can Mean to Children 
By Jean Mendoza, September 2014

Over the years she has designed and constructed a veritable regiment of figures to go with the storytelling. She decides on a personality for each puppet, and it appears in stories that fit its particular traits. Wiggin, for example, didn’t speak aloud. He would whisper to Jan, and she would tell her listeners what he had said. The children became very fond of Wiggin. When she retired him and turned him over to me, she explained that the puppet’s “shyness” mirrored what many children feel in large social situations, so they watched closely as she told stories to see how he would respond. So Wiggin was more than just an entertaining prop.
Part of the appeal of puppets like Wiggin is that they can “behave” like people while not exactly being people. The user can make the puppet move, talk, gesture, and react to its surroundings. A puppet operated by another person can help a child understand perspectives other than her own or see a new way she might respond to a difficult situation.
When a child is the one animating a puppet, he has control over whatever it says and does. Through the puppet, he can tell stories or interact with other people. The puppet permits “psychological distance” from aspects of those stories and interactions that might cause him discomfort. Pretending with puppets can help children express feelings about their lives, practice ways to communicate with peers, or gain mastery over fears. This can be especially important for grieving or traumatized children or those who have certain mental health disorders. But typically developing children who haven’t experienced trauma also find puppets psychologically and socially useful.
Early childhood educators generally recognize that children can benefit from having access to puppets, even when therapy isn’t the goal. One of the most thorough accounts available of what can happen when teachers make puppets a key part of classroom life can be found in a 2008 Early Childhood Research & Practice article, “ ‘Fixing Puppets So They Can Talk’: Puppets and Puppet Making in a Classroom of Preschoolers with Special Needs.” The author, Kelli Servizzi, became interested in finding out what her two preschool classes might do with puppets, so she brought in a basket of inexpensive hand puppets and left it out for them to find.
A small group of boys discovered it and began to make the puppets fight. When this kind of play continued for several days, Kelli modeled some friendlier interactions, and children began to follow suit, arranging more sociable times for their favorite puppets. They also worked through problems involved in performing puppet shows together. The teachers incorporated puppets into book-sharing time and noted positive changes in children’s attention to the stories (much as my aunt did with Wiggin and her other creations). Puppet experts were invited to speak to the classes, and the children learned how to “work” a variety of puppets. The teachers encouraged them to make their own finger puppets, paper bag puppets, and stick puppets. The puppet activities culminated in a two-hour workshop led by professional puppeteers, during which the children constructed puppets from spoons, spatulas, toy garden tools, and an array of scraps and found objects.

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