There is magic in a story that comes to life with puppets. It may seem that a puppet show is only something you take your child to, and not something you offer yourself at home. I hope this project inspires you to think otherwise! A little story with a few puppets, that you may already own, is possible, simple and inspiring!
To make a story come to life you’ll need a few things from around your house and then you’re ready to do your own little show. To give you an example I have collected a few things of my own.
A candle (I choose beeswax for the smell that adds to the experience)
Bits of nature: shells, leaves, wooden blocks or wood sanded pieces
Felted puppets I bought online or made myself (etsy!)
Bits of cloth (silk is my favorite)
Instruments (I use a recorder, bells, and chimes)
A table or surface
A barn or dollhouse is useful too.
The part that really gets my creativity drive going is crafting a story spontaneously from a few items I choose randomly. You may find that this comes to you naturally, or you may prefer to learn a story and then find some puppets to make the story come to life. Everyone is different, but trust that you will find a way to let your inner storyteller out. The authenticity and the effort will bring enjoyment to your children, and once you establish a rhythm your child or children may help with the story creation.
To create a story and make this experience healthy, rich and therapeutic, I will share how I begin and end every single puppet play. Children not only thrive on rhythm but it helps them feel safe. Knowing how it will begin and end is therapeutic when offering puppetry to children.
To begin, the children always see their first glimpse of the puppet set covered with a cloth, silk or cotton. Something beautiful and colorful does the trick. This offers the child or children an opportunity to anticipate what story will come.
We light a candle before the story, and sing or say the words, “Little candle burn so bright, offer us story light.” You can use this or make up another little rhyme to let the children know it’s time to begin.
Then I ring a bell or bells and remove the cloth. My story begins.
I always end my story with one sound of the bell, putting the cloth slowly back on top, and blowing out the candle. You can sing or say the words the end, but I prefer the classic, “snip snap snout, this tale is all told out.”
Here is an example of a story, including the beginning and ending so you can get a sense of the rhythm.
The table is ready. My supplies are near me. I have a seat next to the table, my special chair I always sit in for the show. I also have a story seat for each child at the show. Their chairs are close enough to see but not to close to touch.
I sing: “Quiet now and let us listen to this tale,” then I say “shhh” sweetly. I humm a little as the cloth goes slowly up to reveal the puppets. Then I say “ little candle burn so bright, share with us your story light” while lighting the story candle.
Note: A candle helps the children settle and focus. Children find candles to be memorizing and magical. Use a candle lantern found at many stores to keep the candle behind metal and glass so small children do not touch.
Next I begin the tale. I ring the bells and the gnomes come out to walk around as the story is told.
Once upon a time, on a day just like today, there lived two little tiny gnomes. The gnomes were very young and they lived in the forest. Because they were young they went to bed with the sun so that they could be well-rested each day.
When it came to be sundown, the girl gnome asked the boy gnome if he had ever stayed awake when the sun went down. The boy gnome said no and asked the girl gnome if she had stayed awake after the sun went down. She had not either. Oh my. They decided that very night to wait until the sun was fast asleep and see what the world looked like at night. They decided they would just stay up a little bit longer than their usual bedtime as a special treat and then go straight to bed when they discovered the night.
Well, nighttime came and it got very dark. (I cover everything but the candle with a sheer silk.)
The stars began to twinkle and the gnomes stayed close to the fire. Just then, the moon began to rise. (Moon rises)
It was so magical and the gnomes were so happy to meet the moon for the very first time. What a glorious sight. The gnomes were happy to meet the moon and the stars and they found their way to their shell bed and soon fell asleep safe as safe as can be.
And so, my dear children, snip snap snout this tale is all told out. Goodnight little gnomes.
I blow a kiss, then the other cloth goes back on covering all but the candle. I blow the candle out.
In the story I may sing some things — speak slowly, then speed up. The puppets are alive, and they must be moved in a life-like way. Have them move slowly, and have them enter and exit the table or house as if walking from or to their puppet basket.
Style and Puppetry
The way I offer puppet plays falls into the style of Waldorf-inspired and I must give credit to Sunbridge College and the teachers at Green Meadow Waldorf School, both in Chestnut Ridge, New York.
There are many ways to offer a puppet story to children. I have found through my own storytelling and puppetry that this method reaches children in a very different way than other methods. I have experimented with and I have observed that this method is gentle and healing. The stories are simple and the rhythmic.
As the puppeteer, the delivery is often in your presentation. That’s what makes the show so special and personal. Your singing, your confidence to tell the story slowly and with ease, your careful preparation — all of this makes this style come to life. Practice a bit without children and get your method down so that your heart and authenticity is easy to feel, and your rhythm is sure, steady and established.
After the children have seen the puppet story several times, they may wish to play the story for themselves. I have found a small table set with a few puppets, natural objects, a bell, cloths, and a little barn, house or felted form is the perfect start to get the imagination going and a chance to copy what the child has learned.
You can hold space for the child or children by simply singing, watching from a rocking chair and knitting, or doing some work in the same room. Singing keeps the mood grounded and this allows the child to imagine and create wonderful tales with their puppets. Write these tales down, or take some tips from the child or children. Use them in your rhythm for your stories — they always have the best ideas!
Puppetry is a wonderful year-round activity and something worth offering to children daily or weekly. There is magic in a story that comes to life with puppets! May you be blessed with many stories and puppet plays for the wee ones you work and care for.
Heather Stewart has been a puppeteer for her own two boys since they were infants. Her sons, Phoenix and Jonah, both 8, have loved puppets and stories at home. Her son Phoenix has puppeteered with her at library programs, the park and other venues as a mother-son puppeteering team. Heather also puppeteers currently at her daycare in Saratoga Springs, New York. Found at Apple Blossom Bunch Day Care and with her magic girls in Chestnut Ridge at Fairyuna. Her love of storytelling is contagious.
Rachel Hallanan currently works as an assistant at Apple Blossom Bunch Day Care and is an excellent felt puppet creator. She has taken many of the pictures within this article. She is an artist and has a love a for photography.