I recently conducted a workshop for a group of Preschool teachers on Storytelling. It was an interactive session were several strategies were shared and discussed. Some teachers shared their apprehension with regard to using puppets as props in storytelling sessions. They expressed a concern that sometimes the puppets proved to be a source of distraction for the children.
Even though, I am not a trained puppeteer, however, I have used puppets a number of times in my storytelling sessions with my group of children. Using a puppet to tell a story is a wonderful technique that can lead children to discover the joy of literature and learning. Puppets can be used “anyway, anywhere, and anytime” to bring stories to life and to spark young imaginations.
It doesn’t take a professional puppeteer or an expensive puppet to make storytelling with puppets “work.” Puppets can be made out of anything from catalogs to paper cups, and from envelopes to plastic straws. If you use your imagination, the possibilities are almost endless. Even the simplest, hand-made puppet can be thrilling for a young child. Telling stories with puppets can also be a terrific technique for new storytellers. Knowing that the audience is focusing on the puppet can help a beginning storyteller to relax and have more fun with their stories. The art of storytelling is about bringing stories to life, and puppets provide us with a great way to do just that.
Tips for using Puppets in Storytelling
A large part of making puppets believable comes down to focus: where your puppet is focusing, where the puppeteer is focusing, and where the audience is focusing. Whether you are using a stage or a lap, be sure that your puppet’s eyes look at the audience, not at the ceiling or elsewhere. Have a friend check to see if you are facing the eyes at the audience.
Even if the puppet is speaking to you, have it look at the audience. It will speak, then look at you. If you’re doing a stage show, one puppet speaking to another will still face the audience, then turn to the other puppet. Have the other puppet stay almost still, so it doesn’t distract from the speaking puppet.
If you are in full view of the audience, not behind a stage, when your puppet is speaking, do not make eye contact with the audience. Look at the puppet, draw attention to the character—the audience will not even see the puppeteer, believing totally in the puppet.
If you’re using a “mouth” puppet, open the mouth on the important words or syllables. Otherwise it looks like your puppet is eating the words.
Puppet mouths are similar to human mouths: the lower jaw moves down—the head doesn’t move up while speaking. Move your thumb downwards inside the lower jaw of the puppet. This looks more natural. Use your whole hand, wrist and arm to make the movements. Speaking of movement, have your puppet move slightly when it’s on your hand to keep it looking alive. When you remove the puppet, put it down gently. You have created a character: treat it with respect.
Be consistent when creating characters. Keep the same voice, the same kind of actions for each character. Personality traits and habits are magnified in puppets. For example, if you have a crying puppet, don’t be afraid to have it weep and wail. A sneaky puppet can be extra sneaky, a goofy one can be extra goofy.
Puppets are powerful. Children may feel more comfortable talking with puppets than with people and may even confide secrets to a puppet. Respect the child’s privacy in this case. Approach children gently with puppets. If a child is scared or shy, move the puppet’s focus away. Never insist that the child engage with a puppet. To make the puppet more approachable, have it mirror a child’s shyness.