Puppets are ideal for dramatic play and refining motor skills.

How Puppets Help Children Develop Motor Skills

by Susan Revermann

When a young child places his hand inside a puppet, he’s not only transported to the land of imagination and adventure, he’s learning new skills, too. University of California Davis Cancer Center suggests offering puppets to 3- to 5-year-olds to help develop social, emotional, language, creativity and motor skills. Children learn quite a bit through play, so bring out the bin of puppets and let him dive in.

1. Fine Motor Skills

As a child maneuvers his fingers and hand to have a puppet move, talk and dance, his fine motor skills are hard at work. The grasp and release movement of the fingers can be used to make the puppet pick up small objects, such as a pencil or small teddy bear, pretend to eat, move the mouth of larger puppets, or to make the puppets arms to wave or hug another puppet. Contracting and relaxing the fingers can make the head nod or appear to talk. A bend at the wrist allows the puppet to bow at the end of the show or simply look down.

2. Factors for Fine Motor Skills

Certain factors are required of the body to execute fine motor tasks, such as moving the hands, fingers and small muscles. According to MedlinePlus, children need awareness and planning, coordination, muscle strength and normal sensation to be able to properly develop fine motor skills. It also states that the nervous system must mature in the correct way for a child to be able to coordinate the muscles, nerves and bones needed for fine motor activities, such as playing with puppets. Some physical and occupational therapists use puppets during therapy sessions to challenge and coax the patient to work on strengthening these skills.

3. Gross Motor Skills

Puppet play is a full-body activity. When your child is playing with puppets, he’s not only moving his hands and fingers inside the puppet, he also crouches down, crawls, walks, jumps and moves his arm around. If he has two puppets at once, it’s even more of a challenge. All of these movements help refine his gross motor skills and coordination.

4. Factors for Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills get the large muscle groups moving, such as the arms and legs. According to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, muscle strength, coordination and flexibility are required to perform gross motor skills properly. The same nervous system maturation needed for fine motor skill development is also required for gross motor skills.

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