Puppets may mean a number of things to children: a companion, a mouthpiece, an outlet for behaviour which would normally be disapproved. Children whose conversation is limited and those who are very reluctant to speak to other adults or children often respond well in puppet play.

Hand puppets are best for under-sevens and they are often better made at home than bought. They can be finger puppets but on the whole these are more useful for adults in story-telling and music sessions. Children can do more with a puppet which fits over their whole hand.

Finger Puppets

These require a head about the size of a marble but not so heavy. A wooden bead, a small expanded polystyrene ball or a small piece of shaped plastic foam covered with stretch material are the easiest type of head to make. A shaped tunic wide enough to fit over finger or thumb with arms fashioned from a pipe cleaner passed through one sleeve, across the back of the tunic then down the other sleeve, is the basis of the body. The neck of the tunic is then firmly stitched to the fabric covering the head. The hand ends of the pipe cleaner can be suitably covered or bound after the end is looped to make a rough hand shape. It is the trimmings which make these interesting: tiny buttons, lace, braid. The features can be made by embroidering. Hair can be of string, wool, raffia, a tiny piece of fur. For anyone who knits it is a simple enough matter to work out a pattern to include a head which can be lightly padded or, if double wool is used just for the head area, this should be enough without extra padding.

Hand Puppets

Hand puppets need a fabric body which have a neck wide enough to take forefinger and middle finger and arms to take the thumb on one side and third and little fingers on the other. To make a pattern one can draw round a child’s hand with the fingers suitably arranged. Add a little extra to this shape to allow for ease and turnings. The body length can be as far as the wrist or even longer. Heads can be made from a suitable-size lightweight ball (tennis-ball size or slightly less), from plastic foam block, tightly rolled plastic sheet, expanded polystyrene balls or even a piece cut from a replacement sponge for a paint roller. A hole should be made large enough to take fore- and middle ringer and deep enough to allow these fingers to control the head movement easily. The head needs to be covered in a stretch fabric so that features can be embroidered on and hair attached. The neck part of the glove can be cut to a suitable size to leave a short neck and is then attached firmly to the head. A very beautiful fabric used for the glove will not need a great deal of decoration. For a specific puppet a plain fabric suitably decorated with the most obvious features of the character is best.

Puppets for adults to use obviously need a larger glove body and also a larger head than those for children. A head which, when complete (that is allowing for hair), is the same size as the palm of the adult’s hand is about right. Apart from this they can be made in exactly the same way as those for children. Often if the adults have a collection of puppets for story-telling – an old man, an old woman, a girl, a boy, a dog and a cat would be a good start -the children may like small duplicates for their own use.

Animal Puppets

Puppets can also be made by using the head pattern of stuffed animal toys. Sometimes the outgrown vinyl baby toys can be cut to provide a head. It is also possible to cover shapes reminiscent of the main features of an animal to make an animal head. On the whole the younger the child the simpler the puppets he needs. A sock pulled over the hand and given a red felt tongue and a pair of bead eyes can be fun for the two-year-old. A three-year-old would appreciate floppy felt ears and whiskers sewn to the same sock.

Stick Puppets

Stick puppets are simply a head fastened to dowelling rod – or a neck frill can be added. For older children a cone of fabric can serve as a cloak for the stick puppet. For five-year-olds the cone of fabric could have two finger holes cut in so that thumb and forefinger become arms and the stick and head are moved by the middle, ring and little finger. A large wooden ball with a hole drilled in to take the stick can have painted or stuck-on features. A cotton reel will serve the same purpose. In fact a wooden spoon with painted features and a thick skein of wool stuck on, the handle thrust through a hole in a circle of fabric, can be made in ten minutes flat. Other quick improvisations are paperbag puppets or a round felt head quickly attached to the fore- and middle finger of a glove.

Pop-up puppets are stick puppets which can be drawn down into a conical cup made of cardboard. These are often popular gifts for children to receive but they rarely play with them for long and they add little to imaginative play.

More ambitious puppets made with shaped features – from papier mache, Polyfilla-impregnated cloth, or carved from balsa wood – only become necessary when children wish to enact a play. This is not usually until at least six or seven years and the puppets become a specific character playing a defined role rather than being an extension of the child himself. In the same way theatres are not needed until this stage is reached. When one finds children dragging a coffee table across an open doorway to make a stage the time has come to provide them with a large carton to cut and make into a theatre screen. A more permanent piece of equipment can be made if the interest looks like being more than just a passing one. A three-sided screen with a high large window made along the same lines as a play-house screen or a proscenium arch to fasten temporarily to a low chest of drawers are suitable ideas. For children, parents and nursery staff who become really enthusiastic about puppets there are some useful books available from most libraries.