Parents consistently try to find ways to get their children to do things, oftentimes mixing unpleasant objects with ones more to a kid’s liking. Several toy companies, recognizing this basic fact, have begun to use puppets to engage kids in an activity that has begun to fall out of favor: reading. Television watching is up, reading is down, and studies show that millions of children in the United States lose ground in reading skills during the summer when school is not in session.
- Puppets sold with books makes reading less passive.
- Puppets are more interactive and "real" than TV or video.
- They give children an imaginative outlet.
The key is to make learning fun, educational experts suggest, a difficult task considering the plenitude of options — video games, television, videos and Internet — that children have on their entertainment buffet these days. In many ways, reading has become the mystery meat, a last resort that kids won’t choose if they don’t have to.
“The goal is to get children to reach for a book instead of a remote,” says Amy Epstein, owner of The Straight Edge Inc., a company trying to reverse the trend.
Puppets give children an outlet they could never find in static mediums such as television, video games or even storybooks: they allow them to act and imagine using something tangible.
Using puppets, “the child is the director of the action and the audience. It is nice to have something to handle, to manipulate the characters, because a book can be a very passive thing,” Epstein notes.
Moreover, puppets are valuable beyond the imaginative outlet they give children, says Carolyn Frank, founder of Puppet Partners (ToyDirectory), a puppet manufacturer.
“Puppets are a good way to present ideas,” she says. “They are a phenomenon — they are real, and real life puppets capture kids’ attention even more than video because they are really there, they are in front of you, they have come to life. ... Maybe if [children] had puppets every day it would become old hat but today videos are old hat.”
The following products combine puppets and storybooks in novel ways.
Packaged in a transparent handle bag, this set includes a book, finger puppets, stand-up story props and a two-sided theater backdrop. The company has two titles, "The Frog Prince," which comes with a two-sided puppet (on one side the frog, on the other the prince), and "Cinderbear." The books are wonderfully illustrated, with an emphasis on the visual as opposed to the textual. Children are encouraged to use the puppets to act out the story contained in the books, using imagination, voices and movement to bring these classic tales to life.
Combining storybooks with finger puppets and an audio book on compact disc, Joy Stories encourages imagination and positive psychology. Believe In Yourself is a story of a sea turtle that struggles to overcome obstacles to reach the ocean from its sandy nest. This story models the skills children can use to overcome obstacles in their own lives.
Puppet Partners merges pre-recorded puppet plays on compact disc with puppets, presenting delicate subjects to children from preschool age up to middle school.