From educators to puppeteers: FSU education students bring magic to preschoolers

Courtesy of Laura Hudock

Starting as fur, felt, and hot glue, student-made puppets were transformed into creatures of color and personality to enchant the preschoolers at the Centers for Early Childhood Education and teach them lessons on diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. 

For the first time, students in the Spring 2021 CFST 312 Preschool Curriculum: Integrating Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art course, taught by Education Professor Laura Hudock, performed puppet shows this past week for the preschoolers.

According to Valerie Hytholt, director of the Centers for Early Childhood Education, the Centers serve as on-campus field placement sites for FSU early childhood education students. 

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are not allowed into the Centers. 

Hudock said she had to rethink how her students would interact with the preschool classrooms because they were required to work remotely with the children instead of interacting in person. 

In order to have an “embedded experience with the Early Childhood Centers on campus,” Hudock developed an interactive group project in which her students designed, created, and performed a puppet show for children. 

According to Hytholt, puppets serve as a “creative way” to teach children life lessons without reading a book or talking about them. 

“A puppet is actually saying the same things, but children listen more to the puppet,” said Hytholt. 

The idea of doing a puppet show came to Hudock while she was volunteering at the Centers reading aloud to the children. 

“When I was doing my particular read aloud in early January, it kind of dawned on me that my read aloud was very performative. And, it dawned on me that the children were engaging,” Hudock said.

Her inspiration for the show came from her love of Jim Henson and “Sesame Street.” 

She said, “With ‘Sesame Street’ being an icon of early childhood, I just put two and two together with that performative visual aspect of childhood and the learning that can happen.”

The group assignment consisted of constructing a puppet as well as creating a curriculum to go along with the show. 

Hudock set ambitious and fun goals for her students. She said, “I wanted to see the process behind the creation of that curriculum so that they’re better able to develop a preschool curriculum that’s very student centered, developmentally appropriate, and engaging.”

Hudock said when she wrote the puppet show project into her syllabus, she had no experience with puppet making. 

“I knew that I was going to have to be a couple of weeks ahead of my students in thinking through the puppet making,” Hudock said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this would be really easy.’” 

She said she realized she was out of her “wheelhouse” while trying to follow a YouTube video on how to construct a puppet. 

From there, she reached out to professors in the fashion design and retailing department to see if anyone would be interested in collaborating on the project.  

Hudock met with Fashion Design and Retailing Professor Laura Kane to brainstorm ways to bring the puppets to life. According to Hudock, Kane “welcomed the challenge.”

The two communicated through email and Zoom in order to share resources and discuss the puppet-making process. 

Hudock said, “She [Kane] is so incredibly talented and was really able to pick up what the vision was and then see that through.”

Concerning the collaboration, Kane said, “I responded right away. It was very exciting. She [Hudock] sent me pictures of puppets that she had in mind, different styles that she had in mind. And then I looked at those images and sort of broke them down and created patterns for shapes that were similar.” 

According to Kane, the students were able to pick from three puppet styles: a “monster,” “sock-puppet,” or “human” style. 

Kane said Hudock encouraged her students to select their eye-popping and vibrant fabric colors from a large online selection. Students were also able to use fabric that was donated to the fashion design and retailing department by alumni. 

Once the students selected their puppet style and color choices, Hudock and Kane created supply packets for the class to pick up. Those who couldn’t make it to campus received their packets in the mail.

Each packet included colored fur, cut pieces of foam, the student’s selected fabrics, hot glue, felt, and cardboard for the puppet’s construction. 

Emily Parker, a junior early childhood education major with a coordinate major in child and family studies, said being able to select her own fur colors made the process very interactive. 

“We had a lot of say in what we wanted, so that was really awesome,” Parker said. 

Parker and the members of her group performed a show for the preschoolers on how to make friends.

She said, “I hope they got out of it a lesson of being able to include new people into a group and make friends.

“There was one situation in our show where one child wanted to play one thing but the other puppet wanted to play something else. There was that interaction where it’s OK to not want to play what your other friend is playing right now. You can play something else.” 

Parker added she hopes her group’s show taught the children a lesson on being kind to other people. 

Tanisha Jean, a junior child and family studies major, said, “The process of creating a puppet was very interesting because it is made from scratch. I have this monster-like fur, and cutting that was really hard to do.”

She added another challenging part of making her puppet was using the provided foam to shape the head and glue it. 

She said, “It was just a lot of sewing. I had a lot of fun doing it.” 

Jean said working with her group to create a curriculum and corresponding script was an “amazing” process. “We already knew what we wanted to do. We rolled it out really easily and I love our script overall,” she said. 

She said her script teaches children to be themselves. 

Abby Lydon, a sophomore early childhood education major with a coordinate major in child and family studies, said she felt stressed when first learning about the assignment. 

“It seemed like it’d be a really hard and draining process to actually put together this puppet. But once I started doing it and followed the steps to making it with my group, it was actually kind of fun,” Lydon said.

She said her group chose to teach the preschoolers about social and emotional learning. Their main focus was on how to learn about and deal with emotions. 

“It was really fun picking an emotion for each of our puppets,” Lydon said. 

The group selected a name and color for each puppet which corresponded to the emotion they portrayed. 

“My puppet is purple and blue, and their emotion is nervous. Their name is Cloudy,” Lydon said. 

Another puppet in the group was characterized as a happy puppet named Sunny. 

In the future, Lydon said she hopes to use puppets in her own classroom. 

“I never really learned about puppets and how they are used in classrooms. I think I would definitely use this in a classroom of my own because it really got the kids excited and wanting to learn by using the puppet.” 

Haley Steiner, a junior child and family studies major, said she thought the puppet-making process was a lot easier than she expected. 

She said the hardest part of the process was putting the final touches on her puppet to ensure it was ready for its curtain call. 

Steiner’s group chose to teach the children about culture. 

“There are a lot of ways you can go about that. Culture is not just about how somebody looks. There are other things in culture that make us all different, and that’s OK,” Steiner said. “We all tried to introduce food from our cultures that nobody has really heard about. 

“I hope that kind of opens their minds to at least try new foods, too,” she added. 

Although only some groups have had the opportunity to perform so far, Hytholt said “the puppets are outstanding.”

She added, “The children were just amazed when they saw the puppets.”

For those hoping to create a puppet of their own, Kane said, “Definitely check out some YouTube videos. There’s some fantastic puppeteers out there who made some very thorough video demonstrations. I would not have been able to do this project without them.”

Kane said creating a puppet allows for many opportunities to express one’s individual sense of style.

“Puppets can really be a fun little side project – anywhere from cutesy kids’ puppets to very crazy avant-garde-style puppets,” Kane said. 

Since the puppet show was such a success, Hytholt hopes to collaborate with the education department and fashion design and retailing department on future educational projects. 

Hytholt said the artistic elements of the puppet shows, including their scripts, contexts, and puppet personalities, allow for engaging performances for both the audience and performers. 

Hudock said she is going to welcome feedback from the preschool teachers and debrief with them following her students’ performances. 

“I think it’ll be a positive experience. And if it is, then I would love to continue this in future semesters,” she said.

Hudock added, “I think it just opens up so many doors of possibility for ways that we can think about learning.”