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I’d like to start this out by formally introducing you to Unis the Unicorn puppet that resides at our house.
Red flags are going up all over and you are about to click the little x in the corner because you are thinking I’m a crazy lady over here. DON’T DO IT! I promise if you stick with me, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Yes, we do have a puppet in our house that we use frequently. No, I’m really not usually the cutesy, song and dance type. Of course, I have my silly moments with my kids and bust out a few Disney songs here and there, but most people would classify as a type “A” person. Rules, organization, and structure are my thing. With that being said, puppets do play an important role in our house.
Traditional Uses of Puppets
Summarizing or Retelling a Story:
Puppets are most often thought of in the role of storytelling. They are great tools for children to use to retell a story because they can use their imagination to put themselves in the story. They can also practice the skill of retelling or summarizing a story through their character. Oftentimes, I will pair a puppet up with a book. We will read the book together. Then I’ll give the book to the children so that they can flip through the pages to use the pictures to retell the story. They will have the puppet “huffing and puffing the little house down” or “skipping off to grandma’s house” as they turn the pages of the story. Next thing you know, your kids will have all kinds of little trinkets out as props for the puppets to reenact the story!
Create Your Own Adventure/Story:
Another great, more traditional way, of using puppets is to have children create their own stories and adventures. This works best when I start out modeling a few made up stories myself first. Then I have them give it a try. When you model to children, they often try to emulate how you are acting. They will use different elements that you may use. Before you know, it the child will know that a good story often has a problem. Or you will start to hear the child wrapping the story up in a solution like ending. You will have started teaching the building blocks of writing without even knowing it.
Stories will start out very basic and some might even be the exact same stories you model and that is completely okay!
The more they do this and the more you model different examples, the more their stories will grow with depth and richness. It also helps to point out different elements of a story as you are reading together. Point out how the author introduces us to each character and tells us about the setting. Stop at the problem and discuss the fact that the character is at a point in the book where something is challenging. Pause at the solution and reiterate all the events that led up to the problem or conflict being solved. As you continue to draw attention to the story elements, you will notice your child using them when they are creating their own stories with their puppet.
Non-traditional Uses for Puppets
Let’s Get Kids Talking about the Tough Stuff:
We all strive for our kids to have the Lorelai and Rory Gilmore-type relationship, where the mom and the kid seem to talk about everything. No secret is kept from the other, and they seem to be able to talk through all the tough stuff life throws at them. (Sorry I’ve been on a Gilmore Girl’s kick lately…)
But, we all know that life isn’t that easy. Getting your children to talk through their emotions can be very challenging sometimes. Incorporating a funny puppet character can lighten the mood and make it a little easier for a child to share their feelings. Children get captivated by the unique looking little hand puppet. They forget that they are talking to mom or dad about hard stuff and spill how they are feeling to the puppet who seems to be able to relate to them. It becomes less intimidating to them.
A puppet can also help children identify their different emotions and teach them how to express their emotions appropriately.
Children often do not know how to appropriately express their emotions and need to be taught how. They need someone to model to them how to say how they are feeling in a polite way.
In comes Unis the puppet!
Unis can talk to the kids. She can tell them that she is feeling frustrated since her sister took her favorite toy right out of her hands! She can ask them for advice or share some strategies she used to solve the problem.
Unis: “I’m so excited for the first day of preschool!!!” I pretend to make Unis run, jump, and skip through the kitchen, accidentally bumping into mom who is making dinner! “I’m sorry Mom! I just can’t stop all these excited feelings in my tummy!” Mom is getting frustrated. Unis the puppet tells us, “I need to stop and take five deep breathes to calm down. Or maybe I can go outside to play for a bit to get some of these excited feeling out.” Then I can take the puppet off and talk to my four year old about whether she has ever felt this same way. I ask her if there was ever a time she was so excited that she felt out of control. She can tell me about that time or that feeling and ways that she may have expressed her excitement in a more appropriate way.
As adults, we often forget that we have to start at the basics and explicitly teach children how to handle situations.
I want my children to tell me when I do something they don’t care for or if something I did hurt them in some way. Sometimes those things are hard to hear and it is human nature to get defensive. But if the feelings are expressed in a polite manner, then I’m more open and receptive to them. I feel it is important to give them the skills and language to express their thoughts and feelings in a polite but confident way. In order to do this, they need modeling to show them how to respond to others correctly.
Often these skills or strategies are such second nature to us as adults that we forget that children do not know these things.
I think back to my first year of teaching, and recall being surprised that I had to teach the students that they had to write the letters between the two lines! It was lined paper, didn’t they just know that you write between the lines?! But they don’t. It was their first exposure to that kind of paper. They needed to be shown how, and they needed me to model both correct and incorrect ways. It is the same way for children when it comes to expressing their emotions and learning tools to help them manage their feelings.
Feelings are tough stuff…even for adults to express sometimes!
Whatever the feeling, the puppet can have that feeling too. Use the puppet as a way for the kids to feel safe sharing how they feel. The puppet can give them the strategies and language to express how they are feeling.
Teaching Behavior Expectations:
Much like using the puppets to share feelings, puppets can also be used to model correct and incorrect behavior. And trust me, your kids will love having the puppet model the incorrect behavior! Acting out these behaviors and modeling the different ways to behavior can show the children how they should handle situations.
You may remember my voice level chart from our PBIS in our house blog. I love to pull Unis the puppet out and demonstrate the different levels of voices and when it is a good time to use those types of voices.
When you talk about the behavior using the puppet, you aren’t singling out a child and using their mistakes as an example.
Using the puppet takes the pressure and the competition away from siblings and makes it a neutral example for them to see and discuss. This can help eliminate the feeling of being the “bad kid”/”good kid”. In fact, I just paused this blog to remind Unis the puppet how to use his quiet walking feet in the house so that the baby can continue sleeping…
I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and give a puppet a try!
A Little Bit About Unis the Puppet:
Unis is made from a company called Cate and Levi. All their products are hand-made and carefully constructed in Toronto, Canada. In fact, the owner, Josh Title, started his company because he saw that children’s toys were “lacking one of a kind, responsibly made, beautifully designed products”. He wants his toys to be “today’s plaything and tomorrow’s keepsake”.
I fell in love with not only the puppet, but also the backstory of this amazing company.
The fact that he started out putting together puppets out of old sweaters so that they were not only unique but also environmentally friendly is beautiful. Everything Cate and Levi create is made from materials close to their home to reduce cost for everyone and to leave less of a carbon footprint. They have three main types of products: 1) One of a Kind Reclaimed Wool Finished Products 2) DIY Wool Crafting Kits 3) Softy Polar Fleece Finished Products.
Unis the puppet is the soft fleece product made out of a man-made fleece from a company right here in the U.S.A. It is actually made from mainly recycled plastic bottles! You would never guess this from how soft the puppet feels! Go check out the many different award-winning designs on their website!