At the doctor’s office yesterday I witnessed my preschooler have a conversation with an older child. They greeted each other, offered their names, and discussed their interests.
At three and four years of age, children begin to participate in collaborative conversations with others. They may not follow all of the rules for having a conversation (ex. they may interrupt or talk off topic), but these beginning conversations are an important first step in their social-emotional development and will form the structure for building friendships and relationships with peers and adults.
Before transitioning to kindergarten, preschoolers should have lots of opportunities to participate in collaborative conversing with people within and outside of their immediate family. Collaborative conversing is talking that includes:
- Showing interest in others
- Listening to others
- Taking turns when discussing a topic
These collaborate conversing skills are important for budding relationships, as well as for literacy activities within the kindergarten classroom (think discussing a book during small group reading). Since my preschooler has hyperlexia, he doesn’t always understand the basics of conversation without direct and explicit guidance on how people speak. One way we discuss the basics of conversation is by using puppets!
Puppets often pop up in preschool classrooms as a tool for teachers to model appropriate social behavior. For example, a teacher may bring out a well-loved puppet during circle time or when children are arguing over a toy and use the puppet to demonstrate desired behaviors. Puppets are fun, and children are naturally drawn toward them!
Puppets can be used as a means of expression for teachers in a preschool classroom, but puppets are a great tool for children, as well. When children are given reign of the puppets and with coaching from parents and teachers, puppets are able to talk and do things that children may not be able to or feel comfortable doing. Plus, they lead to some great pretend play scenarios!
You do not need to write a formal script for your child to experience the benefits of puppetry, nor do you need to cover the cost (most libraries have awesome puppets!). You don’t even need a puppet stage; puppets can be used anywhere. Ours like to fly around our house (for some reason our puppets always have magic powers).
To begin coaching your child in collaborative conversing using puppets, have your child begin by simply experimenting with the puppets. What do these puppets like to do and say? What do their voices sound like? Let your child take the lead here. It is important that your child become comfortable (and is having fun) being the puppeteer.
After a few minutes of free play, have your child pick a single puppet for him/herself and one for you (and one for your toddler too if you have one tagging along as we do!) Then start these three conversational elements:
- Greetings. Anytime we play with puppets, we practice properly greeting each other. Hello. Hi there! How are you today? Good, how are you? I’m doing great, thank you! My preschooler often ignores people when they greet him, so we reinforce the importance of simply recognizing other people and saying hello. This also includes sharing your name to people you’ve never met. Thinking up names for puppets is too much fun!
- Showing interest. Showing interest in what others are saying and what others like to do is often tricky for preschoolers. They are just transitioning out of egocentric development and are beginning to notice the thoughts and feelings of others. Showing interest can begin with such phrases as, What are you up to? I’m coloring with crayons. What do you like to do? What do you like to play? I like to play tag. Have your puppet start this back and forth language. Then encourage your child to ask the questions. Whisper some of the phrases in your child’s ear, so they have some guidance when getting started.
- Ask to play. This seems simple enough, but some children will need encouragement on how to ask others to play with them. Have your puppets inquire: Would you like to play with me? Would you like to race with me? (Enter specific things your child likes to do here.) What would you like to play? Again, start by talking with your puppet, and then whisper for your child to try these phrases. Answer with excitement and praise to encourage your child to continue their inquiry.
Collaborative conversing is a pivotal social skill that your preschooler will need to thrive in kindergarten and in their future school years. Puppets make honing this skill fun!
Don’t forget to use fun voices! Can you do an accent? If not, talk really high or really low; the sillier your puppet’s voice the better. Keep the whole experience silly, and don’t forget to follow you child’s lead. Your preschooler will be a pro at collaborative conversations in no time.
Already a pro? Extend your puppet play to include expressing and sharing emotions and having a discussion on more than one topic. Feel free to comment on how you use puppets with your preschoolers, or email me with specific questions regarding puppet play!