Puppet play is a perfect way to let kids act out their feelings.

By Jean Gorman, Photo by Ted and Debbie
October 05, 2005
lets pretend image

Let's Pretend, p.1

What better way to involve children in the magic of make-believe than by making simple puppets together? This fun activity will engage their imagination and provide an ideal forum for self-expression.

What better way to involve children in the magic of make-believe than by making simple puppets together? This fun activity will engage their imagination and provide an ideal forum for self-expression.

"When you and your child create puppets and act out stories, he uses his creativity to convey his feelings," explains Irene Wineman-Marcus, a child psychoanalyst in Great Neck, NY.

She adds that the facial expressions your child chooses for his puppets can speak volumes about what's on his mind. Plus, there are educational benefits, says Sara Wilford, director of the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, NY. "Puppet play will lay the groundwork for reading and writing skills, bolstering vocabulary and encouraging language development."


  • Ruler
  • Pencil or pen
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Safety pins
  • Felt in various colors, including skin tone colors such as brown, tan, and white
  • 3/8" buttons for eyes
  • Thread to match buttons
  • Needle
  • Fabric glue or hot glue gun
  • Embroidery thread
  • Ribbon

Let's Pretend, p.2

To Make the Puppets

1. Ask your child to place his open hand on a sheet of paper and trace around it. Measure the span from thumb to pinky and the width of the hand from the base of the thumb across to the other side of the hand. Record the measurements.

2. Using a separate sheet of paper, make patterns for the heads and hands of the puppets. For the bodies, create a T shape with the top of the T measuring 1" wider than the thumb-to-pinky span of your child's hand. The bottom should measure 1" wider than the base of the hand; the height should be 5 1/2".

When drawing the T shape, round the inside corners so the arms gently curve into the body. Heads for boys should be drawn as rectangles about 3" by 4" and for girls as ovals about 2 3/4" by 3 1/4". Draw two small half-circles for the ears halfway down the head. To make the hands, draw an oval either 1 1/2" by 2" or 2" by 3", depending on the size of the puppet's body. Then cut out the patterns.

3. Fold 9" by 11" pieces of felt in half so the 9" sides meet, and pin the T-shaped pattern to the felt, aligning the bottom along the fold. Ask your child to cut around the pattern and then along the fold line to create two pieces. Repeat for heads and hands, cutting two pieces for the heads and one piece for the hands. For the boys' heads, round the corners of the rectangles. Cut the smaller oval in half to make two hands.

Let's Pretend, p.3

4. For facial features, let your child pick tiny rectangles or triangles for eyebrows; crescents, zigzags, or circles in red or pink for mouths; and crescents in a color slightly darker than the face for noses. He can choose round buttons or felt to make the eyes. Sew on button eyes, or if you wish, make crying eyes from black felt in tiny crescents and add a rhinestone teardrop. Then glue on all the other features.

5. For felt hair, cut an oval 1/2" larger than the face, and then snip it in half. Place one half on the back of the head. Have your child help you cut bangs or design other hairstyles for the front half. To create yarn hair, snip several strands of yarn to the desired length (about 1" for short hair, 3" for long).

6. Attach felt hair along the top of the face using fabric glue or a hot glue gun (a glue gun creates more secure seams, but be sure to keep it away from children). Repeat for the back of the head. For both short and long yarn hair, squeeze glue on the inside-back of the head, and place strands along it. For long hair, apply an additional line of glue an inch up from the outside-bottom of the head and another at the top; align hair on the bottom line, letting the excess stick out at the top.

Next, apply glue along the inside perimeter of the back of the head (be sure not to glue across the chin or neck area so that your child's fingers can fit in the head). Press the face on top, and let dry. If desired, your child can gather the yarn hair in a ponytail with embroidery thread or ribbon.

Let's Pretend, p.4

7. To complete the puppets, dab glue at the ends of the sleeves on the back piece of the body, and place the oval hands on top. Then squeeze glue along the inside edge of the left side of the body, and press the front into place on top. Leaving a 2" gap at the neck, repeat on the other side. Attach the head by applying glue along the inner edges of the base of both pieces of the head and placing them over the neck opening.

8. Add details, such as belts, flowers, or stripes by cutting shapes from felt and gluing them to the body. Scallop the base of a dress with decorative scissors or pinking shears if desired.

To learn more about play therapy and find a provider in your area, visit the Association for Play Therapy.

Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the September 2001 issue of Child magazine.