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Creating, retelling and acting out stories is one of children’s favourite activities. Using puppets helps children build positive relationships, learn about other cultures and make connections that are essential to understanding the world around them.
Children are often fascinated by puppets and interact strongly with them, which can lead to an overcoming of shyness and fear and greater use of speech. The interaction also encourages concentration and the use of imagination.
A spokesperson for the Pre-school Learning Alliance said: “Exploring and playing with puppets supports children’s development, particularly their language and personal, social and emotional skills. Puppets encourage imaginative play and provide an opportunity for children to pretend to be someone or something else. This helps children to explore different ways of interacting and communicating with others.
“That said, practitioners need to be sensitive to individual children’s needs, interests and responses when using puppets, especially as some children will not understand their concept and may find them frightening. It’s also important that practitioners take the child’s lead and ensure they build on their responses, rather than impose their own playscript.”
Children can enter the fascinating inventive world that puppets create
Puppets are one step away from reality. By engaging with puppets and their stories, children are enabled to rehearse life strategies in the safety of their setting. They can explore emotions, different endings, different solutions, offer support and see before them the consequences of their choices.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ (DCSF) guidance suggests ‘personal, social and emotional development (PSED) are the three building blocks of 'future success in life’. They are closely linked to each other and are often bracketed as one area of learning and development.
• Personal development (being me) is how children come to understand who they are, what they can do and how they look after themselves;
• Social development (being social) is how children come to understand themselves in relation to others, how they make friends, understand the rules of society and behave towards others, and;
• Emotional development (having feelings) is how children come to understand their own and others’ feelings and develop their ability to ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ and empathise with others.
The DCSF guidance states that starting the process of successful PSED is essential for young children in all aspects of their lives. It will help them to relate well to other children and adults, make friends and get on with others, feel secure and valued, explore and learn confidently and ultimately feel good about themselves.
Developed emotional intelligence is critical for children’s education
Gemma Hughes, creator of Moodmwd - a series of interactive books, hand puppets and various emotional faces, believes developing children’s emotional intelligence is fundamental in the early years.
Moodmwd was created in November 2015 to enable early years settings and parents the opportunity to add a new and exciting element to children’s impromptu or planned performances.
She said: “It can be very frustrating when a child has uncontrollable tantrums, separation issues and lacks confidence. I encountered these issues with my youngest son when he was three-years-old and so I went in search for help and found my way to a parenting course.
“During the course I was asked to talk to my son about different emotions. Although I tried, I was unsuccessful in getting his attention long enough to have any sort of discussion. I thought about how they taught children in the early years and decided to adopt the ‘learning through play’ system.
“I created a range of stories, two puppets, numerous different emotional expressions and asked my son to play a game with me. He gradually learnt the various different emotions and started to consider how we would both feel in different situations.
“During our usual day-to-day activities my son began to tell me when he felt happy, sad and angry. His negative behaviour reduced dramatically and our communication improved.”
Puppets can be a challenge or are simply an afterthought
Although puppets can be a ‘challenge’ for some adults or they can simply be an ‘afterthought’ for others, an early years teacher quoted in the book 'A Show of Hands: Using Puppets with Young Children' believes “puppetry should be used in all nursery settings to make children’s learning experiences more meaningful.”
She said: “As children naturally invent stories, create settings, develop characters and utilise expressive dialogue as they play, the parallels that exist between pretend play and drama provide the basis for extensive learning opportunities.
“Within the early years, children see puppets as real characters even though they can be manipulated by adults. This means puppets should be used in a consistent framework, such as having puppets with distinct characters, which do not change, and only carry out certain roles.
“When a puppet speaks, children can listen, identify and understand different words and phrases emphatically performed by their teacher who stresses proper enunciation and pronunciation.
“When puppets are incorporated with play-based learning, children also retain knowledge more effectively. The puppets then become tools for sharing or retelling what they have learned and observed.”
‘Puppets are wonderful teaching tools’
According to multiple studies, puppets can also be an effective way at introducing narrative to reluctant readers. Ms Hughes said: “Puppets can bring story time to life and can encourage the quietest of children to start talking. They provide a focus for role play 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.
“Puppets can break down barriers and provide an effective means to initiate communication. The child trusts the puppet and doesn't feel threatened by it, making it a perfect neutral medium through which they can discuss sensitive issues.”
She added: “Puppets can also assist children with special educational needs. They can motivate and support children with difficulties in communication and interaction. They can help to develop their social and motor skills and can meet the visual, tactile and emotional needs of the individual child. “Large human puppets with glove hands and fingers can be used in conjunction with the different varieties of signing, adding a further dimension in helping children with both hearing difficulties and learning disabilities.
“All puppets come to life as characters. They can portray different personalities and various traits and they can 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 the home, the classroom and in the wider community.”
For more information, visit: moodmwd.com