I have been asked many times, “Why puppets? Why not something simpler like a stuffed soft toy? Puppets are more expensive, and they are complicated to design and produce”.
I had been making my lambskin soft toys since 1996 and could have easily focused on another product for babies, so why puppets?
When my daughter was 3 years old, I purchased animal glove and basic doll hand puppets from a local market. The doll hand puppet had a stuffed round head with clothing sewn to its neck, which served as its body. You put your hand through the clothing, into the two front sleeves and a finger into the head, which was how you animated the puppet. We both loved it, and I soon built a wooden puppet theatre.
It was amazing to watch my daughter become animated and occupied with performing puppet shows for the whole family. Sometimes she performed it solo, other times with me. When friends were around she got them to perform together. Before each show, there was always a discussion about what story to tell and the roles each person and puppet would play. We all had so much fun.
The stories were different each time, sometimes she retold a story we had read, other times she created her own. Through puppets my daughter;
She brought each puppet to life attributing personalities, characteristics, attitudes and more to each of them. The puppets became anyone or anything she wanted.
This gave me insight into her world, how she was feeling, what she remembered most from the stories we had read together, what elements in the story had stood out and how she experienced the world around her. She continually improved her ability to organise friends, create stories for stage shows and develop her scripts. It triggered so many cognitive and development skills, I was mesmerised!
I have often been asked, “Is a doll a puppet? What about a stuffed animal soft toy?” The definition of puppet is: ”a movable model of a person or animal which can be controlled either by strings, rods, or by placing a hand inside the body”. There are various types including finger puppets, hand puppets, pop-up puppets, paddle puppets, marionettes, stage and shadow puppets. Masks can also be a form of puppetry.
Puppets have been around since ancient times to communicate ideas, entertain, tell stories, convey ethical and social messages and share knowledge. They have been used for rituals, religion and discussing cultural practices and political issues. It’s not certain when puppets were first used, however there is evidence of puppets in Ancient Egypt and Greece. Some forms of puppetry may have originated as long ago as 3000 BCE.
The expressiveness and dramatization of puppets have not only entertained people for thousands of years, but have been used to educate and inform.
Today with the knowledge we have about early learning, teachers are seeing the benefits of using puppets as a teaching aid. A study conducted in Israel in 2015 with 15 Kindergartens and 146 children found that by using puppets, teachers gained children’s attention easier and were able to better motivate them to learn, which resulted in improved language skills and retention of knowledge, provided them with an ability to express feelings and emotions and gave them confidence to speak in front of their peers. It triggered an improvement in creativity, and overall the results were very positive when compared to teaching without a puppet.
Many pre- and primary school teachers have been using puppets for many years because for children, puppets are a simple and effective tool for delivering information, and children will pay attention to the puppet and will retain the information that the puppet has told them. “Puppets also act as an outlet because students can use them to express things that may pain them, or share things without feeling vulnerable.”
Often in school, students who are shy or lack confidence find it difficult in class to answer questions and make short speeches or presentations. Sometimes the pressure from their peers or evaluation from their teachers can be intimidating for them. When puppets are provided however, these shy students can speak via the puppet, shifting the audience’s attention away from them and onto the puppet. With a crutch in their hand, students can gradually grow more confident with public speaking. Children use their puppets to practice dialogue and public speaking.
When used in the classroom, these puppets can help boost creativity and stimulate children’s imagination, from preschool age up to early teen years. The innate interactivity draws children in and encourages them to be actively involved in the learning process and share their thoughts and observations.
A few words about our puppets: I chose premium soft velour fabric that reflected the colours of the animal or skin colour of the culture, and remained friendly, sweet and engaging. Fabric colour effects the emotional response of a child and soft fabric is much more pleasant to hold and touch.
To make it easy for adults (teachers, parents) to use our products, our Flat Friends Puppets are designed to allow a large adult hand through the body and into the two front arms, head and mouth. When designing the face, I focused on cuteness and an expression and smile that a child would adore.
I have always loved the stories that parents, teachers, therapists, and puppeteers have shared with us over the years about our puppets.