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Words at Play: Puppets


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This is the second post in a new blog series about encouraging a love of language in young children written by professional storyteller Peter Burns.

I visit many home daycares through the VSA Vermont Start with the Arts program, a free, arts-based literacy program for child care providers and the children in their care. We read a book and then do a literacy-based art activity. Lucy, a small stuffed white rabbit, makes an appearance during each visit. I voice Lucy as she interacts with each child. Lucy asks everyone how they have been and if they have done anything exciting during the week. Because she is so small, and sits on the floor, she often talks to the children about their socks and shoes. Everyone loves petting Lucy's soft ears.

The original Lucy was a little black cat. She arrived in my backpack and when the children called, “Lucy, are you in there?” she emerged. Once, a little boy looked at Lucy and asked if she was a real cat. I had to say no. A few years ago I lost Lucy in a house fire. Before going to a new home daycare, I replaced her with a little white rabbit, which I also called Lucy. When I arrived at the new daycare, I explained that I had a little friend in my backpack and that she was shy. The children called out, “Lucy are you in there?” and out of habit I said, “Meow.” Unfortunately for me, Lucy was clearly not a cat. I had to think quickly so I said, “Lucy, you're not a cat.” I took Lucy out of the backpack and explained that rabbits don't have a sound of their own, so Lucy pretends that she is different kinds of animals. Now, when the children call out, “Lucy, are you in there?", sometimes I say, “Moo” and then they say, “Lucy, you're not a cow.” If I say, “Oink”, they say, “Lucy, you're not a pig.” Finally Lucy emerges from my backpack and I have her say, “You're right, I'm just a little white rabbit.”

You can make a puppet from almost any object. Thimbles and bottle caps make great finger puppets and small paper bags make wonderful hand puppets. You can draw a face on the bag and add yarn or string for hair. A puppet does not have to be a fancy to work well. I like to tell stories about food using a shiny silver spoon as a puppet. A child can look into the concave part of the spoon and their reflection will be upside down. The back of the spoon makes them right side up again. There's no need to put on a full-fledged puppet show. If you use your puppet to start a conversation with your child, interesting interactions are sure to follow.

Peter Burns has been a professional storyteller for more than 25 years. His work has been featured on National Public Radio. Peter works with VSA Vermont and the Vermont Humanities Council. He also teaches bike classes for Local Motion. He can be reached at heatofhistory@gmail.com.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.