Who of us hasn't played with puppets? They always provided the best entertainment when we were little kids, and most of us can remember our parents taking us to puppet theaters or parks where puppet shows were put on for children.

The History of Puppets

Puppet history is really quite ancient, probably dating back at least 1,000 years BCE to India. There, stick puppets were used to depict sacred texts and although the program was meant to convey spiritual meaning, the puppet shows were often loud and boisterous. The Far East took up the art, with Japan using bunraku puppets (like large marionettes) to replace actors on stage. The 18th century saw puppetry flourish in Italy and by the 19th century, Europe boasted the finest marionette theaters. Fast forward to the 20th century and we find Jim Hensen bringing the wonderful world of puppets to television with "The Muppet Show" and those irrepressible professional puppets like Kermit and Miss Piggy. As they say - the rest is history.

Making Puppets for the Kids

Probably for as long as anyone can remember, mothers have been making puppets for their children. Hand puppets were made of cloth with a head sewn on. There were sock puppets - those very easy to make crafts that could keep a little tike entertained for hours - and puppets made from popsicle sticks and paper bags. The beauty of these puppets is that they never go out of style, they're easy to make, and they remain a favorite toy for children from infancy through childhood. Puppet patterns are available in craft stores and online. But, in reality, you don't need a fancy pattern to make a puppet. Simple materials and a little imagination will yield great dividends.

Sock Puppets...

Sock puppets, made of random socks that have lost their mates, require a bit of cardboard to make the mouth stiff, some felt that can be hot-glued onto the sock, googly eyes to glue on and anything else you think you'd like to dress your puppet in - within 30 minutes you've created a wonderful toy that you can use to communicate values and have fun with your little ones.

...and Paper Bag Puppets

Paper puppets are super easy to make, even for little tikes. Have your children (if they're old enough to control a crayon) color patterns for ears, nose, mouth, bow tie, sweater - whatever you want to create - and then you can cut them out and together, with the children, glue them onto a brown paper bag. The smaller the bag, the smaller the puppet. Paint stick puppets are made with a styrofoam ball stuck onto a paint stick and the clothing for the puppet is made of felt that is glued onto the stick. All of these puppets are easy to make, and fun for children, encouraging them to use their imagination as they play act.

Bath Tub Toys

Of course, there are all sorts of hand puppets and finger puppets on the market designed to encourage learning as well as play. Baby Einstein bathtub puppets can be used to help children overcome a fear of water by using them to communicate safety and fun to a worried little one. Bath time becomes playtime very quickly. Baby Einstein hand puppets, for outside the bath, are made of washable, child-safe fabrics that are guaranteed for safety and wearability.

Games to Play Using Puppets

Stumped over what kinds of toddler and infant game activities you can do with puppets? Here are some ideas: An ideal infant game is peek-a-boo. Pick a puppet with huge eyes so your baby can focus on them and learn eye-contact, then play peek-a-boo. Show affection and give your baby the pleasure of hugging back by using a soft animal puppet, perhaps a puppy or kitty, to gently caress and hug the baby. The baby will hug the puppet back - puppets are great because they actually can hug! Even if you don't think you have a great voice, your puppet can sing and teach your little one songs. This is one place where perfect pitch is totally irrelevant. Teach your baby songs through the puppet, allowing the puppet to do the singing and the dancing. What fun.

If you have a fussy eater, pretending to feed your puppet and having your puppet feed your baby are both ways to get food in without a lot of work. It's much more pleasant than fighting. Bedtime puppets can read a story to your child and even tuck him into bed. Got a thumb sucker? Try a sock puppet over your child's hand as a diversionary tactic.

Puppets will continue to be an excellent toy and teaching tool for infants, toddlers, young children and even adults. They are inexpensive, can be made at home or purchased, and are limited only by your own imagination.

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