Puppets! They can be a fraught topic – I’ve heard a lot of librarians say that they’re just not puppet people and don’t feel comfortable using puppets. And to be honest, I kind of fall into that camp too. But early in my library career, I worked under a librarian who LOVES puppets. We did a big monthly puppet show, had a small kids’ puppet theater and big puppet theater for staff use always set up in the department, and had a truly impressive collection of puppets of all sizes.
I’m so glad that I got more comfortable working with puppets, because kids LOVE them. I’ve found them a great way to engage shy or reluctant kids and to capture the attention of toddlers. Adding them to a song or rhyme makes for a really exciting experience for young children, and they add a lot to my storytimes.
That said, how do I use them? For starters, I’ve chosen not to put on actual puppet shows. There are a few reasons for this – I’m not great at doing different voices, don’t have a good stage setup, am the only youth staff at my library, and would rather occasionally bring in a professional show.
Most people I’ve talked to who are uncomfortable using puppets feel awkward about giving the puppets a voice and using them to talk to kids a lot. This is me, too, so I usually use them when I’m presenting songs and rhymes. Here are some examples of puppet activities I’ve done that I think are really accessible to other non-puppet-people:
- When Cows Wake Up in the Morning – See the Jbrary link for the tune and lyrics! This summer, I’ll be using this song in all of my toddler storytimes. I love using it to start things off. I keep the puppets in a mesh laundry hamper behind me, and pull out one every verse. I like to end with something funny like a dragon or a shark. I just hold the puppet while I sing and then move its mouth when I say the sound.
- I Had a Rooster – I play the Pete Seeger recording of the song while I pull out a puppet for each verse. Like the previous song, I just have the puppets make the sounds but mostly just hold them during each verse.
- There’s Something in My Garden – I put different puppets (choose animals that make identifiable sounds!) in a hamper behind me and then say each verse of the rhyme. I make the noise, wait a moment, and then pull out the puppet.
- Mary Had a Little Lamb – This is an idea you could adapt to work with lots of different puppets! As I explain in the post, kids were really drawn to my puppet when I used this as an outreach event. I just introduced the puppet as Mary, and every verse, I asked the puppet if we had found her lamb. I would have her shake her head and say “NOOOO!” which the kids thought was hilarious and involved minimal puppet skills.
- The puppet doesn’t have to talk! I love using animal puppets as props whenever animals are mentioned in songs or rhymes. Many flannel board ideas can be adapted to use puppets, especially animal ones.
- If you have a small group, try letting kids take turns petting the puppet.
- If you don’t want them to touch the puppets, be sure to announce BEFORE you pull any out that you need everyone to stay in their spots and ask adults to help you with this.
- It can be hard to put the puppets away, especially if everyone wants to pet it or you have a large group! When I need to move on to the next puppet, I ask everyone to wave and say goodbye: “BYE, CAT!” etc. and this provides a nice transition.
- More resources: Jbrary has a great post on using puppets in toddler storytime.