Puppets have been a classic, long-adored toy for generations, and there’s a good reason that many daycares, schools, and libraries still include them in their play areas (many good reasons, in fact!). And, if you haven’t already, we’re here to encourage you to bring puppets into the mix when you play with your little one.
Puppet play is a fantastic activity for toddlers because they build important skills, such as:
Puppet play opens a world of exploration and creativity for toddlers, literally at their fingertips! They can create characters and simple storylines, and may even use their imaginations to act out real-life situations, such as what they do at daycare, or something they observed at the park. Although we love to use puppets in our BabySparks activities, we also encourage child-led puppet play, which harnesses little ones’ creativity.
When toddlers participate in puppetry, they use a lot of brainpower! Executive functioning skills shine as they plan and execute stories. Working memory gets a workout as they hold information about different characters or storylines in mind. They also practice recalling past events when they act out something they’ve experienced in their own lives.
Puppet play may also contribute to laying the foundation for theory of mind, or the understanding that others’ thoughts and feelings are different from our own. Theory of mind is a hefty cognitive concept that won’t fully sink in for several years, but pretending to be other characters during puppet play may support it.
Social and Emotional
Like other types of pretend play, using puppets is a fun way for little ones to explore social and emotional themes. Parents and caregivers can role-play social skills (see our activity Would You Like to Play?) and managing conflict (see Resolving Conflicts), and even help little ones overcome fears (see Playing with Shadows). When your child takes the lead with puppets, you may even see them working out personal experiences, like a mom puppet putting a child puppet in time-out for hitting.
Whether a toddler uses puppets that cover their whole hand, or finger puppets on each finger, they’re building motor skills. Full-hand puppets work the arm and trunk muscles as toddlers make puppets interact with each other. Finger puppets are perfect for targeting the fine motor muscles in the fingers, hands, and wrists. Puppet play also supports visual motor skills, like tracking and hand-eye coordination.
This is an area of development that shines during puppet play. Puppets need voices, which toddlers can provide! Because playing with puppets tends to involve a lot of talking and back-and-forth, there are plenty of opportunities to practice articulation, learn vocabulary, play with tone, and develop narrative skills.
No puppets in your child’s playthings? No problem! Puppets are easy to make with simple materials like small paper bags or socks. Grab some markers, give them a face, and voila! Time for a puppet show.