Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Choosing Quality Toys: Puppets

Puppets are not the first toys that parents think of buying for their babies during the first few months, but they should be high on the list from about age six months on, and many people vastly underestimate their importance. Puppets are closely tied with the development of a number of important language skills and thinking skills, and every little one should have a collection of them. In fact, if puppets are not provided, many babies will create their own!

When my daughter was about eighteen months old, she busied herself at the table during dinner one day. A few minutes later, she proudly waved all of her fingers in the air-capped with black olives! She proudly announced "Finger puppet show!" Of course we clapped and made a big fuss and secretly laughed quite hysterically, but the point is that children adore puppets, and will go to great lengths to create them.

When choosing puppets for your baby, you don't have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some children's favorites are simple, old-fashioned sock puppets. Be careful how you decorate them, though-you don't want your young puppeteer pulling off button eyes and choking. A safer alternative might be fabric paint instead of sewn on geegaws.

Soft puppets are ideal for young children. They move easily and are simple to manipulate. You may want to wait a bit before giving puppets that require a lot of manual dexterity (like several fingers to be placed into different holes or straps). Your baby is quite likely to find these too overwhelming and frustrating to be much fun until a few years down the road when he or she has mastered the necessary fine motor skills. Again, though, make sure that there are no small decorations or strings that can harm your baby. The puppet's texture will also be important for little ones. Often, it is the parents or care givers who use the puppet first and a common game is to use the puppet to stroke or kiss the baby's cheek or arm. Make sure the puppet's texture will make that game pleasant and nice.

As children grow, you'll want to provide puppets that are more complicated to use and more intricate. Puppets made from gloves can be a lot of fun. Sometimes each finger is decorated as a separate character and sometimes the glove is the base for one character with a lot of moveable parts, like a bug or a spider. In any case, more complex puppets will challenge and stretch your son's or daughter's manual dexterity and thinking skills.

Now, why are puppets so important developmentally? There are several reasons, including language development, nurturing of creativity and imagination, and encouraging communication skills. It's fun to watch! Your baby will say and do things that he or she doesn't normally when using the persona of the puppet. The puppet will want to talk, and your little one will be the voice, encouraging verbal skills. The puppets will spark many shows and the kids will need to think up lines, retell stories, and more. Children who have something deep on their minds that perhaps they'd rather not talk about are surprisingly open when the puppet is doing the talking.

It doesn't really matter what form the puppets take, as long as they are developmentally appropriate for your youngster. They can be fancy or plain, store-bought or home-made. You can use a stage or a table turned on its side. The kids can make props or use their imaginations. No matter what the details, your young puppeteers will be building a host of important skills while they have a lot of fun!

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