I was meant to be a teacher because I have always loved puppets. I remember as a kid being fascinated by Lamb Chops, used by the spectacular storyteller and ventriloquist, Shari Lewis. My kids grew up on the fun video “Don’t Wake Your Mom”, which you can still see on YouTube.

I remember my grandma making our little brother a sock puppet named Bombie and finding fun finger puppet making booklets from which I made finger puppets so I could use one for each of my early childhood students in my parent/toddler classes after I finished my master’s degree with a emphasis in early childhood music education.

I have continued my love of puppets throughout all of my teaching and have found many ways to use them in the music classroom. I have always had a shelf full of puppets for my students to choose from, as well as bins of puppets for changing them out occasionally. There are SO many ways to use puppets. I will give you a few ideas for using puppets for vocal play and exploration in the music classroom.

Vocal play to begin class

In every class I teach, we begin with vocal play using puppets of many kinds. If I am with a group that has never done this, I would first show them how to do it by going up with my puppet and voice and asking them to listen and to copy with their hand and voice. I might go down or around or sideway (the voice would stay the same for sideways). Very quickly, some students will beg to use the puppets, so I will let those students lead and within a few class periods will ask every student to take a turn on the day he or she is the student of the day. I have a student of the day every class period, named after our theme of the year, such as traveler of the day for our World music theme, camper of the day for our camping theme, superhero of the day for our superhero theme, etc. The student of the day gets special privileges. Leading vocal play helps the class to warm up their voices but most importantly to learn to use move their voices from low to high in the effort to match pitch and to lean to sing in tune. It also lets every student be a leader in class.

Vocal Play Copying in Pairs

Use a variety of puppets and have groups of two take turns doing vocal play where one child models with a puppet by using it to go up, down, or around (voice will mirror what the puppet is doing) and the other student copies with a puppet or hand. As the students are doing this, rotate around the room to be sure students are on task. You probably already know the ones that will need guidance, but many will be eager to show you how well they can do it.

Conversations in vocal play

At the recent national AOSA national convention, I went to a super fun class by Kathryn Sumner where she used Ghost puppets for vocal play. She sang the song, “Ghost of Tom” and did the traditional leading vocal exploration using her puppet. She then had the students pair up and do vocal play (one leading and one copying). The pair would then have “conversations” with each other using their ghost sounds. So fun! I came home and had to make my own ghost finger puppets. You’ll find them here

Vocal Play in Centers Around the Room

Kathryn showed how her students could travel around to various vocal play sheets to sing the patterns she had composed. She actually used invisible ink and black light flashlights with the ghost puppets, but you wouldn’t need to be that fancy. You could just have the students travel around in small groups to each station (in an orderly manner) after a minute, having each student take turns using their ghosts or other puppets to “trace” the pattern up, down and around.

Composing Vocal Explorations in Pairs

Once students are comfortable doing pre-made vocal explorations, have them pair up to make some new ones on small white boards or on paper. Have them use their puppets to follow the vocal exploration path. Give them a limited amount of time and then have some share theirs.

Vocal Play Stories

In my Kodály training, they taught us about using our thumbs (the cheapest puppets of all) to have “Mr Wiggle” (high pitched) and “Mr Waggle” (low pitched) tell the students of their adventures by train, plane, car, roller coaster, in the sea by boat, by airplane, etc. You can come up with numerous fun stories and the students love hearing about and participating in this fun vocal play. Be sure Mr waggle not only has a low voice, but you hold him down low to show it visually.

Where to Get Puppets

Some of my favorite puppets are Folkmanis puppets, but they are very expensive. You can buy them online in many places, such as Amazon. I have some favorites I use. My owl puppet is often only used by my student of the day. No one else is allowed to use him. You can also find puppets at places like Costco and IKEA.

I love the puppets on a stick from Educational insights. They have a small lever to open their mouths and they are easy to clean off. They have so many different varieties of them! 

I have numerous finger puppets I use that I have made that are available here. My students always delight in using these puppets.

Make your own puppets

Make your own puppets using various tutorials online. You could even pair up with your art teacher to make some fun ones. Here is one blog post that gives you ideas for making a variety of puppets. 

Also check out Silly-O’s blog post on how to make Clothespin puppets for shy singers! So fun! 

I hope you find some fun ways to use puppets in your vocal play!

Linda Seamons

Linda has over 30 years’ experience teaching early childhood and elementary music, as well as Jr high and high school band. She is also a teacher-author and blogger for Floating Down the River. She is fully certified in Kodály concept and also has enjoyed Orff and World Drumming certification.