Keep a Puppet on Hand

During breakfast one morning, I picked up one of three gourds that sat unassumingly on the table. I showed the bright yellow gourd to my then four-year-old daughter Grace and sked, “What kind of a person would this be?” She decided it would be a happy, sunny person. Before long, we had all three gourds were talking to each other deciding their next party. With very little effort, we had characters on our hands.

Anything can be a puppet. Over the years, I’ve made sock puppets, rod puppets and traditional foam-faced puppets. I’ve found that if you put anything in your hand, move it, and give it a silly voice, kids will immediately connect to it. I’ve even done a talking goose with just my hand – extended forefinger and thumb making the beak. You’d be surprised at what children will accept as a living thing.

Young children are especially willing to believe in the character you create. I spent an entire year in a Sunday School class performing two hand puppets with four-year-olds sitting at my feet. After many months, one boy looked at me with a sudden realization. “Hey!” he called out. “Why are your lips moving when they talk?”

Want to try out puppets with your kids? Let me give you a hand (so to speak). I have two tips.
First, if you’re using a puppet with a moving mouth, the most important thing is to not “bite” your words. That means to close the mouth at the end of each syllable. Instead, start with the mouth closed and open it on each syllable. The Muppets do this so well.

Second, if you’re using something without a moving mouth, say, a stuffed animal, try moving the head around when it talks. Tilt it when it’s listening. Shake it when it’s laughing. Turn it from time to time, like it’s looking around. I like to hold the animal around its neck in the back; that way I get the most mobility. And don’t forget to add a silly voice. The sillier, the better.

Those are two simple suggestions that will help to make your puppets come alive.

All you amateur puppeteers: Hands up! Let’s look alive!

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter