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Hand Puppets for Kids: How They Enhance Early Literacy Development

Educators, parents, caregivers and anyone else involved in the early childhood education of a child, are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to help young learners develop their early literacy skills. 

While practices such as reading aloud and practicing phonics are certainly effective, they are best supported with high-quality classroom resources. 

Sprig Learning supports both, with evidence-based teaching tools such as Sprig Reading, and resourceful learning materials such as storybooks and language cards in the Sprig Store

What about hand puppets as a tool to enhance early literacy development? 

Puppets have always featured in early literacy playshops, and for good reason, because of their ability to attract and retain attention at an early age. 

In this post, Sprig explores the many benefits of using hand puppets with young students to promote early literacy, and offers some tips and tricks for incorporating them into teaching routines.


How Hand Puppets Enhance Early Literacy Development


How Hand Puppets Enhance Early Literacy Development

Research has shown that evidence-based reading practices, such as phonics instruction and repeated reading, can significantly improve literacy scores for young students who are learning how to read. 

However, there are many other innovative approaches to promoting literacy that can engage children and make learning fun, such as the use of hand puppets in the classroom.

How exactly do puppets help enhance early literacy development? Let’s find out…


Hand Puppets Encourage Active Participation

When children are engaged in a story or activity with a hand puppet, they are actively participating in the learning process. 

This sort of active participation helps to improve their attention span, listening skills, and overall comprehension of the learning material in the classroom.

Foundational reading skill instruction should be explicit. They should also be understood by the students. When early learners show more willingness to participate in the lessons, they better absorb explicit instruction.


Hand Puppets Promote Imaginative Play

Hand puppets can be used to act out stories, characters, and scenes from books, which encourages imaginative play and creative thinking. 

This type of play is essential for young children, as it helps them to develop their language skills and build a strong foundation for future learning.

Also, through imaginative play and storytelling, hand puppets can help children to expand their vocabulary and develop a deeper understanding of language. As children interact with their hand puppets, they can learn new words and concepts in a fun and engaging way.

Developing vocabulary and oral language skills is a foundational aspect of early reading skills.


Hand Puppets Foster Social and Emotional Development

Hand puppets help children to develop social and emotional skills, such as empathy, communication, and cooperation. 

By interacting with their puppets and other children, they learn how to express their feelings and work together to achieve a common goal.

Social and emotional learning is growing to be a massive aspect of early childhood education. When properly nurtured, it leads to improved academic outcomes which include better literacy scores. 

Tips for Using Hand Puppets to Enhance Early Literacy Development

Moose, Beaver, Fox and Bear. Four hand puppet characters in the Sprig Store.



Tips for Using Hand Puppets to Enhance Early Literacy Development

From the prior section, it is understood that incorporating hand puppets into reading and storytelling activities can help to capture children’s attention and make learning a more interactive experience.

Let’s now look at some tips on how to best optimize the use of hand puppets in the classroom. 


Choose Age-Appropriate Materials

When selecting hand puppets for young children, make sure they are made from safe and durable materials that are appropriate for their age group. 

Look for puppets that are easy to maneuver and comfortable to wear.


Incorporate Puppets into Storytime

Use hand puppets to act out stories during storytime, and encourage children to participate by asking them to take on roles or make suggestions for the story. 

This can help to improve comprehension and encourage active listening.


Create Your Own Puppet Shows

Help children create their own puppet shows based on their favorite books or stories. 

This can help to improve creativity, language skills, and imaginative play.


Use Puppets to Teach New Concepts

Hand puppets can be used to teach new concepts or reinforce ideas. 

For example, use a puppet to help teach letters, numbers, or colors, or to act out social situations and demonstrate appropriate behavior.


Use Hand Puppets in the Classroom to Teach Early Literacy!

Use Hand Puppets in the Classroom to Teach Early Literacy!

To conclude, hand puppets can be a powerful tool for promoting early literacy development in young children. When teachers incorporate hand puppets into their teaching routine, it makes a world of difference in the engagement and learning that happens in the classroom.

A systematic literature review was conducted on the use of hand puppets to reveal that using hand puppets played a key role in early childhood language development. 

Besides improving listening skills and making children more self-confident, puppets also increased word recognition and vocabulary in children.

By encouraging active participation, promoting imaginative play, and fostering social and emotional development, hand puppets can help children to develop strong literacy skills. 

By combining the evidence-based reading practices with the innovative use of puppets, educators can help young children to become confident, engaged, and successful readers.

Need for Oral Language Development in Early Literacy

Oral language forms the bedrock of early literacy.

It is one of the greatest predictors of a child’s success in school.

Oral language development plays a critical role in early literacy because it provides the foundation for reading and writing. 

As children acquire more words and learn to use them in meaningful ways, they are better able to understand and use written language.

Beyond the foundational role of oral language, early language skills are in fact predictive of later reading comprehension development. 

Grade 5 students with poor reading comprehension despite adequate word-reading skills – showed weak language skills as early as 15 months of age

Studies show that children with unresolved specific language impairment in kindergarten are at a higher risk for reading difficulties, particularly in phonological processing and reading comprehension.

Given the crucial stature of phonological awareness and reading comprehension in evidence-based literacy, mastering oral language early on is key to reading successfully!


How is Oral Language Acquired?

How is Oral Language Acquired?

Babies begin to acquire language within months of being born and by age five, they can master basic sound system structures and grammar. 

Young children develop their oral language skills through conversations with their caregivers, exposure to a rich vocabulary, and opportunities to practice their language in different contexts. 

Thus, for the acquisition of oral language, It’s important to provide high-quality early learning experiences which contain such interactions, exposure and opportunities to practice. 

Oral Language is a skill practiced all the time with teachers, educators, parents, peers and members of the community. If well-supported properly, it encourages reading and writing.

Thus, there also needs to be a high-level of parental involvement and community participation, where adults in the child’s life are taking the time to speak to them and encouraging them to speak also. 

Cultural relevance can make a huge difference in strengthening early learning, especially in how it promotes oral language acquisition. Culturally responsive content helps students to see themselves in what they are learning. Connecting with words and concepts is easier, and learning is more fluid.

Having understood the need for oral language in early literacy and its acquisition process, how do the aforementioned practices translate into practice?


What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

Since few children entering kindergarten can read words, early literacy programs should look at oral language skills that develop word recognition and/or decoding ability. 

When taught in combination with language comprehension, concepts such as communication and vocabulary leads to reading comprehension.

Thus, whether it’s a program for preschool, kindergarten, or the early elementary grades, it is very important that early literacy programs teach both word recognition and language comprehension. 

Besides the actual teaching content focusing on oral language, the following considerations should also be made for maximizing oral language growth. 


Holistic Learning for Constant Exposure to Oral Language

Early learners should be exposed to oral language activities holistically, in all aspects of life. 

It’s important that an early literacy program engages caregivers as well. Students that have caregivers actively engaged in their learning do better in overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.

Holistic learning is a large topic which Sprig has covered previously in multiple blog posts. It should be used in early literacy where a child has more than one person to practice oral language skills with, and more than one environment where such practice can take place.


Early Assessments to Gauge Oral Language Requirements

Assessments of oral language skills are important to identify children who are likely to need more intensive instruction to achieve reading success.

By identifying and working with students across all literacy levels early, educators can be proactive in ensuring that students meet or exceed academic expectations.

Early and frequent assessment of children’s oral language abilities provides educators and caregivers with a clearer picture of student learning. 

Holistic learning also plays an important role in early assessments of skills which digs deep into each student’s needs, strengths and interests.

Such assessments conducted regularly early on as these traits are being formed, are called formative assessments. It’s another topic that is covered extensively by Sprig. Holistic formative assessments are great for assessing oral language skills early and frequently.


Making the Connection Between Oral Language and Other Foundational Reading Skills

Oral language is paramount for early literacy, not just on its own accord, but because it has such strong ties to other foundational reading skills that result in reading proficiency. 

For example,

Children learn to recognize and manipulate speech sounds through activities such as rhyming and segmenting words into individual sounds. 

This is phonological awareness, and its development can be encouraged by teachers by encouraging children to play with sounds in oral language.

Also, children develop comprehension skills through conversations, discussions, and storytelling, where they learn to understand and interpret the meaning of oral language. 

Teachers can support reading comprehension development by asking open-ended questions about the text  and encouraging children to make predictions about what will happen next. 

These language comprehension skills come in very handy for reading comprehension. 

Similarly for vocabulary acquisition, children build their vocabulary knowledge by being exposed to a variety of words and phrases in different contexts in oral language.

Teachers can support vocabulary acquisition by using rich and varied language in their own speech and reading aloud high-quality books that use sophisticated vocabulary.


How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

Children who have strong oral language skills are more likely to develop strong reading and writing skills, while children who struggle with oral language development may experience difficulties with literacy. 

Therefore, it is important to provide young children with rich language experiences and opportunities to develop their oral language skills to support their early literacy development. 

Oral language development is an ongoing process that occurs over time, and it is best supported through a combination of explicit teaching, rich language experiences, and opportunities for children to engage in meaningful conversations and interactions.

Sprig Learning offers two solutions that deal with oral language development. 

Sprig Language does a deep dive on the fundamentals of oral language for Pre-K to Kindergarten students, working on things such as pragmatics and syntax. 

Sprig Reading also covers the fundamentals of oral language, but dovetails this one component of early learning with other foundational reading skills that are needed to turn a child into a confident and proficient reader by Grade 3.