There is nothing more exciting to my students than being able to engage in pretend play. They create these characters that have different voices, temperaments, and names. They also create stories and scenarios, which are great language-enriching opportunities. Specifically, students are exploring how to utilize different vocabulary and combined words for different and in different settings, which is great for generalization. However, I remember watching my students participate in pretend-play with dolls, and one day decided to incorporate puppets. The puppets certainly enhanced the pretend play. Students suddenly gained control of the toy’s mouth. Compared to the doll, whose mouth cannot move. The puppets instantly allowed the students to synchronize mouth movement with speech, which increased engagement.
The first advantage is that puppets stimulate conversation. Children can practice the back-and-forth exchange of conversation as well as the appropriate times to pause and listen. Furthermore, puppets help children to visualize the turn-taking process of conversations. This activity is beneficial for children who have difficulties with proper turn-taking during conversation such as children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The puppet activity allows the child to observe proper conversation through the puppet, and then be able to generalize the skill to his or her own conversations. Also, after engaging in a puppet activity, parents can also reference the puppet at later times and in other instances to prompt the child to utilize proper conversation.
For example, a parent could say, “Remember how Matt the puppet waited his turn. Let’s wait our turn when others are talking.” Furthermore, puppets can be used to target greetings and goodbyes.
Parent/Teacher: Hello, Matt the Puppet.
Parent/teacher: How are you?
Child: I am happy.
Goals Targeted: Greetings/Salutations, emotions, phrases, requests, turn-taking, pragmatic (social) skills
The second advantage is targeting wh-questions such as who, what, and where (Siciliano, 2016). For example, to target verbs during play, the following questions could be asked “what are you doing? What is Matt the puppet doing? These questions will elicit action verbs such as running, talking and laughing. Incorporate more verbs by adding play food, which could elicit more verbs such as eating, drinking, and cooking.
Parent/teacher: What is Matt the puppet doing?
Child: (Making the puppet dance). The puppet is dancing.
Parent/Teacher: (makes his/her own puppet cry). What is MY puppet doing?
Child: She is crying.
Parent/Teacher: Show me crying.
Child: (imitates crying)
Goals Targeted: -Ing verbs (e.g., running, walking), what questions
Pronouns and proper names could be elicited through puppets with questions such as “Who is eating? Who is running?” Possible responses include: “He is running. They are running. Matt, the puppet is running.”
Parent/teacher: Who is running?
Child: (Making the puppet run). Matt
Parent/Teacher: (makes his/her own puppet cry). Who is crying?
Child: She is crying.
Goals Targeted: -Pronouns (e.g., he, she, they, we, I, me), who questions
Spatial vocabulary or prepositions can be targeted through Where questions such as “Where is Matt the puppet? Where are you?” Possible responses include: Matt is in the house. Matt is under the bed. Matt is next to mommy.” When using the puppets to target wh-questions, the puppet can be used as manipulative and moved to different locations to target different vocabulary.
Parent/teacher: (puts puppet under the chair) Where is my puppet?
Child: (child points at the puppet).
Parent/Teacher: Tell me. Is she outside or under the chair?
Child: She is outside.
Parent/Teacher: Let’s say it together. She is under the chair. Your turn. You say.
Child: She is under the chair.
Parent/Teacher: Put your puppet under your chair.
Child: (Child puts puppet under the chair).
Goals Targeted: Spatial terms, following directions, and where questions.
The third advantage is puppets are a great opportunity to have children practice giving directions and expanding utterances. Children love being in charge. Therefore, prompting children to tell the puppet to complete an array of tasks allows children to combine more words, practice different syntax or sentence structures, and improve oral language. For example, children can say to the puppet, “Go to sleep Matt the puppet. Eat a carrot, Matt. Daddy, give Matt a carrot.” Numerous opportunities for children to create sentences. Also, parents and teachers can provide support, by modeling certain sentences, and then fading support as the child becomes more confident.
The fourth advantage of puppets is demonstrating the cause-and-effect nature of language. Specifically, I have used this in my own practice with students who produce minimal verbal output. Sometimes, children need to see the cause-and-effect nature of language and communication. For example, if the child says, “Jump Matt.” The parent or teacher can make the puppet jump. This exchange can be repeated with different commands. This activity is helping and promotes communication in students, while also enabling them to witness the power in their voice or favored form of communication (e.g, AAC device, sign language).
The fifth advantage of puppets is the ability to use them as physical representations of characters in stories. Puppets help bring books to life and promote engagement. Puppets allow children to engage with the emotions and actions of the characters. For example, children can be prompted to act out different emotions such as “happy, sad, angry” using the puppet. In addition, children can imitate different character phrases and actions using the puppet.
Book Title: The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar
Material: Caterpillar puppet and pretend food
Activity: Every time the caterpillar eats a particular food, have the child identify the food, name the food, and feed the food to the caterpillar. At the end of the story, sequencing can be targeted by asking “What did the caterpillar eat…?” first, second, third, and continue until last.
Goals targeted: Object naming and identification, action verbs, following one-step directions, and sequencing.
Lastly, puppets can be used as positive reinforcements. Sometimes when children become disengaged, a puppet can be introduced as a new character to the activity. For example, while conducting teletherapy, I use a sheep puppet to encourage engagement when my students when become distracted. For example, I state,
“Tell sheepy the name of the animal.”
“Whisper to sheepy the animal sound.”
“Yell the color name to Sheepy.”
These are different ways to help my students participate. Many times, children respond positively to the puppet as a reinforcement.
In sum, puppets are a great way to facilitate communication. Puppets present an array of advantages that are easy to implement. I have personally enjoyed puppets in my practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist. Here is one of my favorite lamb puppets on Amazon.
Now it’s your turn! We would love to hear how you have incorporated puppets into your classroom or home. Please share your favorite strategy.
Kiana Hines is a licensed and certified Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist. Kiana has worked with individuals across the lifespan. She completed her clinical fellowship in the schools, where she worked at a Title I school that contained a large English Learning population. It was while working with these students she became more passionate about the field and desired to support both the students and families. Kiana enjoys creating multilingual activities that bilingual families can complete at home with their children as well as promoting language development through literacy. In addition, she has also worked in a private practice and as a teletherapist. Kiana completed both her Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders and Master’s in Speech Language Pathology at the University of Georgia. Nothing brings Kiana more joy than encouraging and collaborating with families to ensure that each child receives the support he or she needs.