Let’s Play: Puppets and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John


Puppets can be very open ended and offer children of all ages the opportunity to re-create favorite stories and often inspire new tales.  They come in all shapes, sizes, materials and complexities. You can purchase them new, or just use odd socks, your hands or paper. You can create a stage, or not. But if you did, stages can be found everywhere, even in the backseat of the car as you head out to visit friends over vacation!

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With the children in my preK family care, our puppet project this month started very simple but keeps morphing. We started with patterns from 10 Minute Puppets by Noel MacNeal. Dancers and butterflies were a quick favorite. This lead us to a desire for puppets that were closer to people we know, so our next step was to use a simple body shape and magazine cutouts for faces, very colorful yarns for hair and popsicle sticks for handles.

Today we need a stage..Using two curtain tension rods, a couple of pillow cases and a few paper cutouts, we had a simple outdoor scene complete with flowers, trees and clouds to match this great spring weather.

No rules about what makes a puppet! We used simple bunnies from a Martha Stewart spring craft idea, and even brought out the store-bought finger puppets we have acquired over the last six years, adding a few toy animals and Playmobil people to the mix.

We also made paper animals from Made to Play by Joel Henriques. Altering our paper animal into new animals, like a green, long neck dinosaur, was both fun and simple…plus a great chance to work out a patterns and create our own versions.

Aside from working with the children in my preK family care, my goal this month as Mom (with organized and labels storage bins for every toy) was to let my daughter keep the puppets out, allow the play to be open ended, and leave things as she did for easy story pick up when inspiration strikes (As I write this, we are hunting for the perfect socks for a woolly mammoth to go with the current read at school.). As a result, the stories I overhear are continued day to day and are very telling of her thoughts, extremely entertaining and I get invited in to PLAY! My favorite part!

Play Bombs

We wanted to share the fun. But how?… Toy bombs! Play bombs!

If you have wandered around downtown Northampton recently, you have seen local yarn bomber’s creations—those busy knitters and crocheters that leave little visual treasures on parking meters and trees…Why not Play Bombs! Northampton? I think we will be leaving some simple puppets at our favorite kid spots this spring.



We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Keep a few bins within your child’s reach that have:

  • odd socks—outgrown clothing, lost in the wash
  • magazine clippings—a variety with interesting faces, animals, articles of clothing from catalogs
  • glues—fabric glue, white glue, superglue
  • various papers—the local copy shop is also a great place to pick up a few sheets in a range of solid colors and weights


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

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