Puppets and their Value for Children with Special Needs

Puppets really engage and delight children. They are an effective way of using the arts as therapy. In some parts of the world performances have a moral message and are watched with reverence. A wonderful example is Indonesia where scenes from sacred scriptures continue to be re-enacted. Prayers proceed performance. The Wayang Musuem in Jakarta, Indonesia has a complete set of British Punch and Judy figures. They were donated by a British Ambassador who used to personally give performances in the embassy.

The Cadiz area in Andalucia, Spain still has a lively marionette tradition. In Munich, Germany they are used to perform classical opera.

These movable figures come in many shapes and sizes. There are marionettes, glove, rod, finger and shadow puppets to mention a few. They are all operated differently.

The web pages on this site are intended to give the parents of children with special needs some ideas of activities they can do at home with their kids. The aim of any of my suggestions on the site is not first and foremost educational but theraputic. The aim is achieve greater harmony between Mind-Body-and-Spirit. Of course, all the acvtivities such as Dance Therapy have an educational aspect.Children are often fascinated by puppets and interact strongly with them which can lead to an overcoming of shyness and fear and greater use of speech. Parents, I hope, will try to use these activities to reach deeper, unspoken levels in their relationships with their offspring. Sessions can become a form of deeply loving and healing communication. Parents need to let their child play a dominant role if they want to. Both have to deepen their understanding of leading and following.


You can buy beautiful examples in every form imagineable. If your child really enjoys this activity it might be worth buying a few. But a lot of fun can be had just using things that are to hand. Paper bags, paper cups and plates, plastic bottles, a sock, a pillow case with a ball tied into one end as a head, ice lolly sticks with small pictures portraying whatever you like attached at one end, a block of foam, a scrubbing brush, a scarf with threads tied to the corners to produce an ethereal, ghost-like figure. Even attaching a piece of cloth to a can makes an effective puppet. A computer mouse can become a snake. The figures do not necessarily need hands, feet or a body.If you attach weights (e.g. buttons, beads) to a piece of cloth it creates the impression of a body. Take the stuffing out of a toy, add a rod and hey presto it has a different use!

Do have plenty of decorative materials such as ribbons, cloth, sequins and other glittery bits and pieces.
You can create shadow puppets just by using your two hands. They can also easily be made by cutting shapes out of plastic, acetate or cellophane and decorated with such things as sweet wrappers, sequins etc. Drawings can be photo-copied onto acetate. These cut out shapes can be attached to rods.Keeping it bold and simple is probably best.


When animating a puppet concentrated focus is essential. In operating a glove puppet the first finger goes into the puppet’s head, the second and third fingers are held down as arms. You need to work with your arms stretched out. Make the figure come alive by moving your shoulders and elbows not by turning the wrist.

Operating marionettes requires long practise and great skill and may be beyond most of us.If you would like some ideas on creating puppets there are a number of helpful websites. Puppets can be a form of serious, carefully thought-out or joyfully spontaneous activity. Spontaneity can be very important as it avoids the planned lesson-like feeling that is associated with school.


You can create your own stories, perhaps incorporating the child’s own ideas or using favourite stories or happenings in their own life. Fairy stories are always a great idea. The mood of the story can be dramatic, comic or sad and needs to be very visual and tactile. It could even be based around a song. You don’t always need a story. Your child may happily ad-lib and you can create the text as you go along.


Using puppets with music and sound will add atmosphere to the presentation. You can make sound with all kinds of objects. Saucepans, spoons, cups, dried seeds can all be used and are easy to find. Effective shakers can be made by filling plastic bottles with seeds (ridged surfaces on plastic bottles can also produce scraped sounds. Large tins can be used as drums. The human voice can play a part humming, whistling, chanting as well as singing actual words. A very effective rain storm can be created by using random clapping. First using one finger, then two, then three, then finally the whole hand. Remember that sound can become louder, quieter, slower, faster all adding a different atmosphere.


There are many ways of creating a theatre. For glove puppets working above a sheet suspended between two chairs is probably the simplest.The BBC has instructions for making a shadow puppet theatre out of a large cereal box.

Using an overhead projector allows the shadow figures to appear larger than they actually are. Writing on an overhead projector presents writing in readable form thus eliminating the need to write backwards. A white sheet lit from behind forms a screen for shadow puppets.

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