Puppet Play!

Have you noticed the AMAZING collection of puppets we use at Song of the Heart? We find that puppets always add a splash of excitement and an extra layer of enjoyment during our classes. We often look for new and different puppets that we can add to our collection to add variety and value to our classes for you.

Not only have our puppets been a beloved part of our in-person classes, they have been invaluable props during our virtual classes the last several months. Nothing quite beats the excitement in a child’s eyes when they see a giant whale appear on the screen, or maybe a parrot, or a princess, or a donkey, or a monkey!

Puppets are a whole lot of fun, but they are actually an important developmental and pedagogical tool as well. Puppets can have incredible benefits in a child’s early development. Here are a few:

Language Development

A shy child who is uncomfortable using their voice may be more confident in letting the puppet be their voice. They can practice using their voice and making different sounds when it’s the puppet speaking, and not them. Even if a child isn’t shy, they will automatically be inspired to try out new phonemes and blended sounds as their imagination sparks and they make their puppet speak.

Social Development

That shy child may be uncomfortable interacting with their teacher or classmates. Sometimes children are even unsure when interacting with their own immediate family members. But pull out a puppet, and they instantly have a safe and nonthreatening companion to interact with.

Emotional Development

It can be difficult to find words for our feelings. It’s a challenge even for grown ups to express, find validation, and process difficult emotions. A person may not feel comfortable talking about their feelings to another person, parent, friend, or teacher. But that nonthreatening puppet can be a friend that’s much easier to talk to. This is why Mr. Rogers, virtual childhood educator extraordinaire, used puppets so extensively. Through puppet play he was able to show children how to process challenging experiences and make sense of the world.

Listening Skills

A child may not listen to their mother or teacher, but pull out a puppet and just watch their attention change. This magic Mr. Rogers understood, which is why he built an entire Neighborhood of Make Believe. Acting lessons out through puppet play prompted the children to pay attention, truly listen, and learn.

Fine Motor Skills

We love our classroom finger puppets! It’s such a delightful way for a child to practice moving their fingers individually, pulling a puppet on and off, switching fingers, and more. It’s great for coordination, control, and dexterity. This will have long-term benefits as they learn to play instruments, type, and write.

Creativity & Imagination

A child with a puppet naturally creates new scenarios, acts out behaviors, makes new sounds, and has new conversations. They automatically flex their storymaking skills, which is fundamental to learning sequencing, an essential pre-reading skill. Not to mention just learning through exploration as they create new ways of playing with their puppets and scaffold new skills upon that puppet.

We wish we could all be sharing our puppet library together right now, but you can still benefit from puppet play at home. Grab an old sock or a paper bag, some glue, yarn, crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, felt, etc. Let your imagination run wild as you and your little one create and make your own puppet pals.

We’d love to see what you create! If you make a puppet with your child, please snap a photo and tag us on social media! Have fun with those puppets!

Unstructured Play Boosts Learning

Pediatricians believe in free play as a fundamental healthy-child strategy. How important is it? Enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics dedicated an entire article discussing the “why’s” of play, the reasons it has become more rare in the lives of many young children, and how doctors should encourage parents to incorporate it into their daily lives.

Why Is Unstructured Play Important?

Creative play is something that the average adult is…well…not very good at implementing. But it’s not solely the result of increased responsibilities. Actually, the reduced potential for creativity begins much younger. Research shows that by age 10, many children have lost up to 70% of their creative capacity (yikes!). This is because we do not actively encourage play enough.

5 Ways Child-Led Playtime Boosts Learning

So, if most grownups are bad at playing, how can we learn to nurture play in our children? By watching them! What you will see—children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development propelled forward—is astonishing. That’s enough proof to ensure hours and hours of unstructured, undirected play each week.

Here are 5 key reasons to let your little ones loose and watch their skills take off without a plan of action:

  • Play leads children to sort information in new ways and to seek symbolic representations. For example, just watch toddlers begin grouping items by color or shape or other categories they clearly understand (even if you don’t!).
  • Play allows children to imagine whole new ways of being, pushing their minds and bodies in new directions. You know how preschoolers love to move like their favorite animals? That’s free play plus imagination at work.
  • Play leads children to solve problems with perseverance and creativity! Have you seen your child try over and over and over again to construct something tall or to fit objects into specific spots? Even if they don’t succeed the first time, they already have the goal in mind.
  • Play stretches the imagination through fantasy. Just wait…you’ll see a superhero “flying” through the room or a wizard using the power of his magical wand before you know it.
  • Play invokes laughter, which is one of the best “nutritional supplements” we have! That’s because play is FUN. Laughter relaxes the body, boosts immunity, triggers the release of endorphins (our “feel good” chemicals), and improves the functions of the cardiovascular system. Additionally, your child’s laughter draws you closer together, causing you to join in and laugh yourself, which creates a bond that lasts well beyond that moment.

What Does Unstructured Play Look Like by Age?

  • Babies: Arms flail, legs kick, hands fist and unfist…baby giggles. This active play is all about discovering how their bodies move. It’s fun to learn how to be in charge of those body parts, and you get to witness this truly joyful play.
  • 1-2 years: Young toddlers love to play alone, so they need things like blocks and other sturdy toys that can be manipulated in many different ways. They busily occupy themselves bringing their imaginations to fruition through the ways they move objects, propel themselves through space, and interpret what their senses tell them. In fact, you might notice your little one starting to watch how others play, but she probably isn’t too interested in joining them, and that’s OK. Focus on watching her personality emerge!
  • 2 years+: Older toddlers start to participate in parallel play alongside or near others, but not with them. You’ll find that you begin to have fun playing in the same area your child plays in, encouraging her to explore by example versus directing or interfering.
  • 3-4 years: Early preschoolers begin to associate play with others—for example, playing on a piece of climbing equipment at the same time—but still pursue their own interests. You can best participate in play by following, not leading or interjecting your own ideas.
  • 4 years +: By age 4, children really begin to play with others and are truly interested in what they’re playmates are doing (and how they’re participating together). At this point, you can plan to layer in some daily structured play. For example, you might spend 30 minutes a day with your child doing things such as putting together puzzles or engaging in games that include rules, while saving that remaining time for independent exploration.

The most important thing to remember about unstructured play is that you really don’t need to sweat it. You just need to implement it! As long as your child is in a safe environment, you’ll be surprised at how she moves through these milestones on her own given a little bit of this priceless freedom. You may feel like you’re not being “hands-on” but you are!

In fact, if you need a reminder, stream that motivating chant “Ev’rything Is Just Fine!” Download our free app on the App Store or Google Play, and tap play…you might even encourage some interpretive dancing without having to lift a finger.

At Kindermusik, one of our most important principles is to follow the child, which is something we encourage families to do at home. We treasure each little one’s creativity, imagination, and unique style. And we know that by providing the music and carefully observing independent responses to activities like dancing, playing instruments, and storytime, we foster the critical elements of free play. Come join us!

– Reposted from Kindermusik International