Thursday, March 12, 2009

And Yes, You Can Be a Puppeteer!

Working with puppets is a wonderful way to engage young children in reading and play whether you are a parent, a caregiver, a teacher or a librarian.  Young children find puppets mesmerizing and will often sit spellbound while the puppets work their magic.  Puppets are also a good way to interact with a child who might otherwise be too shy to talk to you - they sometimes find puppets less intimidating.   

To add puppets into your literacy and play, think about having the puppet interact with you at the beginning or end or a story/circle time by singing a song or greeting the children.  Or think about having a puppet read a story to your child or act out the story.  Or just bring puppets into a casual play time to talk to with your children.  

Sounds easy, right?  However your next question might be - but exactly how do I do this?  How do I physically move the puppet and make this experience fun for all of us?  I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know how to start.  Here to help answer some of these questions is our resident expert, Donna Mihovilovich, a professional puppeteer who is currently working at the Elk Grove Village Public Library here in Illinois.  Donna has provided advice and tips to help get you started, so grab a puppet and jump right in!  (And if you don't have any puppets, as Donna mentions below, check with your local library to see if they loan their puppets to patrons.)  Thank you, Donna!

My name is Donna Mihovilovich, but I am known as “Mrs. M.” here at the Elk Grove Village Public Library (Elk Grove Village, IL). I was a professional puppeteer for several years, but currently conduct “Ready to Read” classes and story times. I use puppets a lot in my classes. I also do puppetry workshops for librarians and teachers and am about to begin writing a book on puppetry. Its working title is “Hybrid Puppets".

When I was trained as a puppeteer, the man training me sternly said, “Puppetry is more than just putting a puppet on your hand and waving it around!” I know I have repeated that statement in workshops, but I will tell you if you are just starting out, and that is all you can do, just put the puppet on your hand and wave it around!”

After you are comfortable and want to begin to work on your puppetry technique, I will first suggest you work on your puppet’s posture. It is very easy to let the puppet’s head drift, looking up or down. The puppet should be looking at the audience. Bear in mind, your audience might be sitting on the floor, so you would have your puppet focused down. If you are using a hand puppet with your hand opening its mouth, a good rule of thumb is to check where your fingers “point.” They should be pointing at the audience.

The puppet can simply say hello or goodbye to the children, talk to them, etc. If the puppeteer is not behind a stage, but simply behind the puppet, the puppeteer can join in the conversation, or not, but the puppeteer should always be looking at the puppet when the puppet is talking. When the puppeteer is talking to the audience and the puppet is listening, the puppeteer should look at the audience, and the puppet should be looking at the puppeteer. This helps the child focus on the magic of the puppet.

This is the same technique when two puppets are going to speak. When two puppets are about to have a conversation, the puppets are first looking at each other. But when one puppet begins to speak, it then turns to face the audience. As it finishes speaking the last word or two, it resumes looking at the other puppet. The listening puppet does not look at the audience, but at the speaking puppet.

If a child says, “Hey, the puppet isn’t real! I see your hand in the puppet! “ simply have the puppet say proudly, “Yes, I am a real puppet!”

And of course, the best place to get puppets is to check them out from your local library!

photo credit:


  1. I've been trying to figure out how to incorporate a recently discovered box of puppets into my storytimes - this is great information! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love puppets and I loved this post. Thank you Donna, and Valerie!

  3. I did a puppet unit my students every year in my library. Our kids today have every kind of techno-digital-giga-byte-O-Rama at their fingertips so it is a wonderous thing to watch them put a simple cloth puppet on their hand and watch their imaginations begin to fire up in ways no digital screen can match.

    When they came in to the library and saw the puppets laid out they always cheered. Thank you for highlighting this terrific way to connect with kids and adults.
    -- Then again, I took a puppet to my daughter's rehearsal dinner. It was unintentional but came in handy.