Don’t Be Shy: Using Puppets in Storytime!

We recently attended a Puppetry Workshop with one of our most beloved instructors from our MLIS, Allison Taylor McBryde, and what a lovely evening it was! Both Lindsey and I have been looking to dust off our puppets and use them in new and different ways and Allison’s workshop was just what we needed.  I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of her puppet whispering ways, point out some of our favourite puppet songs, rhymes and resources, and see if anyone else has other puppety things to add.

First up if you’d like to experience the awesome that is Allison in (almost) real life check out this one hour video tutorial on Using Puppets in the Library. Some of things we took away from her workshop:

  • Puppets can be used to break down barriers between us and parents/kids, especially when working with vulnerable families. Whereas we can be viewed as a stranger, puppets are inviting and friendly.
  • Always use a story you love, a story you have heard many times and enjoy hearing again. Then find puppets to fit the story. When creating a voice for the puppet it’s not necessary to change your voice dramatically – you won’t be able to sustain and remember it in the long term. Try just going a shade softer or louder or grumpier. The puppet will draw their attention, not necessarily your voice.
  • When using an animal puppet really think about the animal – a turtle will speak slow while a wide mouthed frog will be loud and boisterous. Watch video clips of the animals on YouTube and observe the way they move.
  • Try using puppets with rhymes and poems. “Cheat” by having the puppet read the poem right from the book. You are modeling reading and making it easier on yourself.  Have a “poet puppet” that reads a poem at the beginning of every storytime or seek out poems with dialogue so the poem becomes a conversation between you and the puppet.
  • A couple unusual ways to use puppets in storytime: as cues or guides, like Sleeping Bunnies by showing them with the puppet what you’d like them to do. Or use puppets for readers’ advisory by interviewing a puppet from a story or having them share their favourite book!

Here are a couple of our favourite ways to incorporate puppets into storytime:

When Cows Wake Up in the Morning

This is such an easy song to build puppet confidence with and then once your group knows it well you can throw in a T Rex or a porcupine to keep them guessing. Similar to this is Who’s in the Barnyard which you can make into more of a guessing game.

Little Arabella Miller

While we borrowed this delightful caterpillar you could make your own very easily to do this silly rhyme. Some other very simple rhymes to use with puppets include Little Mousie Brown and There Was a Little Turtle.

Little Bunny in a Hat

This has become my go-to puppet rhyme to use with almost any age because you can do it with any puppet out of any bag, basket or box. Then once it has become familiar you can use the puppet as a cue, put it away and encourage the children to become the bunny and crouch down, then pop up and shout, “Yes, we will!” after you ask them if they’ll come out!

A few more awesome resources we simply could not leave out: Steven Engelfried is a Youth Services Librarian with the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon and the awesome Storyteller/Puppeteer behind Storytelling with Puppets Youtube channel. He’s got even more ideas over at his blog Beyond the Book StorytimesLisa over at Thrive After Three put together this fabulous post complete with videos and songs to use with finger and hand puppets. And finally Miss Mary Liberry wrote this fantastic blog post about not only making your own puppets, but why it’s so gosh darned important to use them in the first place. Sigh!

Now it’s your turn: what have we missed? What wild and wonderful ways do you use puppets? What stories do you tell? Thanks for all those who have shared already and all the awesome folks who inspired this post.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Shy: Using Puppets in Storytime!

  1. I’ve been shy of using puppets as Story Time Mascots or regular additions to Story Time, but I have used them successfully in two different songs:
    1 – For Old MacDonald, I have puppets for each animal that he owns and I have the animals open their mouths to make their noises at the appropriate moments.
    2 – I combine 5 ducklings on a flannel board with a Mama Duck puppet and sing “5 Little Ducks.” This is especially fun because Mama Duck says “Quack quack quack” quite effectively (and the children can see when she is speaking and speak along with her) and when she’s sad mother duck, I can indicate that with her posture (ie, my hand position).
    Thank you for all the brilliant ideas on this blog, ladies! You keep me from suffering from Story Time fatigue!

    1. Hi Laura, Old MacDonald is such a great one to always have on hand and I love your idea of bringing a flannel board to life with a Mama Duck. Genius! Thanks for your kind words and stopping by to share your ideas- keeps us fresh as well 🙂

    1. As always Lisa- we’re happy to share your awesome work. Thanks for all you do!

  2. The webinar “But I’m not a ventriloquist!” Using puppets in Story Time Programming” doesn’t seem to be available any longer–at least not on this link. Do you know if it’s available anywhere else?

    1. Hi Awnali, I emailed the folks at the iSchool at UW-Madison and they say said the webinar is no longer available. Darn! I will remove the link in the blog post as not to confuse people.

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