Puppets Support Early Literacy

Workshop performance of UNDER THE CANOPY. Photo by Arts on the Horizon.

Workshop performance of UNDER THE CANOPY. Photo by Arts on the Horizon.

Whenever I see an article like this one (and they pop up pretty frequently), I start thinking about how puppets and theater fit into the push to get kids reading and talking at an early age.

Puppets are a staple of library storytimes and preschool classrooms. Librarians and teachers use them to tell simple stories, teach children songs and introduce topics such as a particular kind of animal. Many classrooms also have puppets the students can play with themselves. Making a puppet talk is one step on a journey to abstract thinking. If a child can imagine an object like a puppet talking, that’s preparing them for the idea that pictures of characters on a page might ‘talk’ with words–and eventually when the pictures disappear, it’s the words themselves that allow us as readers to imagine characters and their actions.

Puppets and theater are also valuable for very young children because they give parents something to talk about with their kids. Taking care of babies and toddlers too young for school is a huge job. Yes, we encourage parents to talk to their children as much as possible, but it’s understandable that it gets tiring after awhile. I taught school full time and often ran out of things to discuss with my students–and I only had to deal with them for part of the day! Experiencing the magic of a theater or puppet show allows parents and children to talk about something new and to discover the world together in a different way. The new vocabulary, ideas and questions prompted by these experiences is what will help our children grow and develop into bright thinkers, ready for school and whatever other challenges life throws at them.

Library Connections for Fabulas Mayas

Many of the stories in the show came from this collection.

Many of the stories in the show came from this collection.

I wrote the show Fabulas Mayas because I wanted to share some of the rich oral traditions among the Maya people of Mexico and Central America. While these stories are nowhere near as widespread and familiar as European folktales, they often follow similar patterns and are humorous and entertaining. Most of our work at Wit’s End Puppets is inspired by stories and artists that you can find easily at any library or bookstore. If you saw Fabulas Mayas and are interested in learning more, or if you just like stories and sharing them, here are some resources to look for at the DC Public Library.

Source for some of the stories of Fabulas Mayas:

The Monkey’s Haircut and other stories told by the Maya by John Bierhorst

Other Latin-American stories and story collections:

People of Corn by Mary-Joan Gerson

Tales our Abuelitas Told by F. Isabel Campoy & Alma Flor Ada

The Hungry Woman: myths and legends of the Aztecs by John Bierhorst

Señor Cat’s Romance by Lucia Gonzalez

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

Once Upon a Time/Habia una vez by Reuben Martinez