Toddlers and puppets and books, oh my!

I have yet to meet a toddler that loves books.  And I have yet to meet a mother who doesn’t proudly proclaim that her toddler loves books.  And why not?  Books are awesome, wonderful, cool things that teach toddlers all kinds of things they want to know.  And even all kinds of things you want them to know (and some that you don’t).  As kids grow up, that ratio will likely shift to a lot of things you don’t want them to know and some that you do, but hey, they are reading, they are exploring their world, and if you can give them that at a young age, then I think that’s the equivalent of giving them an infinite number of lives to live, one for each time they open the pages of someone else’s story.

So that’s why I think it’s cool to get kids involved in books at a young age.  And that’s why I think it’s a good idea for parents to show their kids that they read, too, and that they interact with the books in the same way they want their kids to do so.  So here’s an idea for interacting with books that will allow you to have an infinite number of conversations about an infinite number of books.  And a lot of fun, too.

Paper Bag character puppets

We all know paper bag puppets–you get a small sandwich-size paper bag, turn it upside down, draw a face on the bottom of the bag, usually with half the mouth on the lower edge of the bottom and the other half of the mouth on the bag where they meet (so the mouth opens when you move the puppet), and decorate the rest of the bag below the mouth, and even on the other side if you desire with the puppet’s outfit.  Anything can be used for this–stick to just crayons if you have a young one or like to keep it simple.  Or buy stickers and googly eyes from a craft store, buy yarn for the hair and felt to make hats and shirts.  Get construction paper and scissors and glue.  Finger paints.  Whatever your level of comfort with the crafting scene, go with that.

Then choose your favorite book (or even better, let you toddler/preschooler pick).  If you’re unsure about their picking powers, you might want to limit them to a few choices.  Not only does practice choosing between a few things help them with confident decision-making later, but it will allow you to limit their choices to books with characters that will work well for this project.  A win-win!  Sorry, I actually cannot stand that phrase…

At any rate, make puppets that showcase the characters of the book.

If you are REALLY into crafts, you can make a really easy puppet theatre with a tri-fold poster board (the kind you see at science fairs and are in most grocery stores now).  Just cut a hole in the center of one of the folds, decorate as you wish, and stand it up, putting the puppeteer and puppets behind it.  Feel free to improvise curtains with a tired napkin or dish cloth.

Okay, now you’ve got the stage.  Here are some ideas:

1. Act out the whole book for your child.  Reading each of the character’s lines with the puppets on your hands, show your child the whole story.

2. Have your child act out the story in their own words.  Learning to summarize is such an important skill!  This will be hard for many kids and feel free to help.  Start by asking them questions–what happens first in the story?  What is one character saying to the other?  Encourage them to paraphrase rather than look up the actual quote if you can.  They are really learning about reading now!

3. Engage your child in a new story, with each of you acting as one or two puppets.  For toddlers, just let them play and imagine any scenes they like.  They will probably be simple, but they will really show you what a kid is thinking!  Reluctant children might like for you to hold the puppet at first while they ask it questions, and you can answer as the puppet.  Later, they might be ready to act out their own puppet.  Older children can put on whole plays and stories with the characters as themselves.  In other words, if the dog puppet is mean in the book, the dog puppet will be mean in their story, even though it’s a new one.  Think of it as writing their own sequel.  That would really teach them to think about who the characters are in the book, apart from the one story they see them in.

4. Let your imaginations run wild!  That, after all, is the whole point of reading!

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