Utilizing hand puppets in the classroom

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The strategy I chose to write about utilizes hand puppets in the classroom to reinforce development of early language skills. Storytelling and education have taken on a profound new dimension with the addition of puppetry. Puppets contribute a degree of expression and flexibility. Because of the puppet's special ability to animate, the individual has a complete control over its actions as the puppet becomes an extension of its operator. Puppets' representation of worldwide folktales teaches children about foreign cultures and traditions. Stories presented by puppets promote an appreciation for language arts. This early childhood literacy strategy supports child's creativity and imagination, which are wonderful traits for children to possess (Champlin, 1998).

Children of all age levels are fascinated with puppets and take delight in their inclusion, preschoolers are a unique audience since they are in an impressionable, believing stage of development. According to Beaty and Pratt young children perceive puppets as an extension of themselves. Therefore, when working with young children teachers have to be attuned to this sensitive aspect of young children, when using puppets. The puppet characters should be true to their nature, especially in the general course of conversation and interaction. Teachers also have to keep in mind the short attention span of young children when selecting material. It is better to chose short stories. Repetition is also very important when teaching young children. Children enjoy hearing the same story over and over, each time they discover something new.

Young children have a difficult time holding back when it comes to expressing their emotions. Therefore, furry and huggable puppets would be a good choice. Puppets to be used by the preschool children have to be simple to operate, lightweight and highly durable. There are two kinds of hand puppets; those with flexible bodies and those that have a talking mouth. Flexible-body hand puppet has the ability to interpret a wide range of emotions and actions. Talking-mouth hand puppets are useful for stories with farm animals (Champlin, 1998).

First of all it is important to select an appropriate literature and to introduce the story to children. Appropriate stories for preschool children contain people and animal characters from everyday life, most of these stories deal with one concept or feelings that children face daily (Gordh, 2006). I will also introduce puppet or a couple of puppets to children and show how they take on a role. I prefer to have a speaking host puppet, which can be used in many ways; before, during and/or after the story. Before the story host puppet greets the children and prepares them for story time. The host puppet will announce the title of the story, before the children go to a specific place to sit and listen to the story. The reason I prefer to use a host puppet because of its function which is to introduce a story and to set the scene through topic discussion. Children will be anticipating after hearing the puppet mention a character from the story. Two Good Friends by Judy Delton is about Bear and Duck who are close friends. Each does a good turn for the other by sharing talents. The host puppet introduces this story by talking about special friends - those who help each other. Then the host puppet can continue by saying, "In this story Bear is a terrific cook but a poor housekeeper, while Duck is a wonderful housekeeper but a very poor cook. Let's see how Duck and Bear use their special talents to help each other." And then I would tell the story. My host puppet is a good listener and therefore a model for the children. This puppets' strength of direct communication is used to help children empathize with the story characters and share similar situations from their own lives. The interaction between a host puppet and a child increases interest and attention of a child. This technique helps children to increase their attention spans and to improve active listening skills. As I read the story, the puppet may also comment on a particular sentence or concept to reinforce an idea; ask for an explanation to determine comprehension; or draw out a child's response to a plot twist or character action. This technique is suitable as a beginning step for developing listening and early language skills.

Popular story themes for preschoolers often fall at two extremes: those that display a warm cozy feeling and those that reflect a wicked or mischievous theme. Warmth seems to prevail in a lot of books about animal creatures; it is often conveys a strong moral issue while, giving young children a sense of security in expressing messages about caring and sharing. At the other extreme, stories about wicked character offer an acceptable means by which children can vent any aggressive emotions they might feel (Silberg, 2004).

With more complex literature, I would use another technique, which calls for each child to hold a puppet and to move around the story telling area in a free manner with puppets. My approach would be; I narrate the story and use a puppet, children will supply dialogue and manipulate a puppet. When children are to be involved in the story, they should first get familiar with the plot and the characters as well. First, I read the story Tukama Tootles the Flute by Phillis Gershator, in the traditional manner, briefly summarize the plot and introduce the characters. This tale from the Caribbean is about a boy Tukama, who is captured by a two-headed giant when he disobeys his grandmother. Children wearing large body puppets act out the parts of the giants. A hand puppet can be used for Takuma. I will play the role of grandmother, perhaps wearing a scarf around my head. One group of children is a singing group that will chant the rhyme whenever Tukama plays his flute. As follow-up activities, I would encourage children to retell the story or create a new story using the same puppet characters involved in the original story. I can ask children to describe how the main character felt or what it thought during the story. Children could invent a new ending, dramatize definitions of words or concepts for a confused puppet, and recreate the confrontation between characters. It would also be interesting for children to experience a new point of view by retelling a story from a different culture.

This approach of teaching reading stresses that children are to know literature, they need opportunities to respond to it in a variety of ways: discussion, art, music, writing and drama. Puppetry provides a wonderful chance for children to return to a story to analyze characters, themes, plots, and examine language, while expressing personal feelings.