Using Puppets In Speech Therapy

I have known for a long time that puppets are engaging for kids, but I have always been a bit self-conscious about using them. How do you use them? What can they specifically help teach? What if the kids don’t like it? I’ll be left sitting there like an idiot with a sock/doll/animal stuck on my arm!

Yesterday I had an idea for an activity involving a sock puppet and so I made one. When I was discussing the activity with a colleague, she suggested I should see how many different activities I could use the one sock puppet for. So here’s my list so far!


1. Teaching syllables for phonological awareness

This is the activity I originally created the puppet for. I have a client who is starting school next year but is quite behind in his pre-literacy skills and phonological awareness so I have been trying to teach him how to break words into syllables. This has been really tricky for him. We have tried the standard tapping or clapping words but it just wasn’t working! I needed to find a list of words with a variety of numbers of syllables, a new way of explaining syllables, and an engaging activity – what a list!

In came… The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. A classic children’s book about a caterpillar who eats his way through many different foods and then turns into a butterfly. There are 16 different foods eaten by the caterpillar in the story and they range in length from one syllable to four. This seemed like a good collection of words to begin with. The caterpillar in the story is easily turned into a sock puppet to enhance involvement and interaction, and in this activity he does one “chomp” per syllable for each foods. The full instructions on how to conduct this activity and create the resources can be found here.

During the first session in which I used it, a child who I had been told does not like books spent a full 30 minute session engaging with the book. He has previously had difficulties making attempts at activities he is unsure of but during this session he tried to guess the number of “chomps” every single time despite not yet understanding how syllables work. He became fully involved in the story and had a great time – not bad for a child who doesn’t like books!

Skills targeted during the session:

  • Separating words into syllables
  • Engaging with books
  • Participating in an activity until the end
  • Following instructions


2. Developing play skills and early communication

Being the first day I had my new puppet, I was keen to use it with as many clients as possible. Later in the day I had a session with a nonverbal child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who has difficulty engaging in activities and even when he does engage he can become quite upset when he decides he has finished with the activity. This often ends in items being thrown around the room and a fair amount of crying. Most speech pathologists working with preschool children have at least one client like this on their caseload and it can be very tricky trying to figure out how to engage these children.

Because he likes to throw things we have been playing lots of games that involve throwing – skittles, building and knocking down towers of blocks, etc – but today I wanted to see if he would engage in a quieter activity with the puppet. I took the box of plastic foods and the caterpillar puppet with me and sat on the floor next to the open box of food. With encouragement from his mother and myself, he began to feed the plastic food to the caterpillar (who of course made the big Cookie Monster eating noises) and seemed to really enjoy it. He fed that caterpillar every single piece of plastic food in the box! Once all the foods had been eaten, they reappeared (magic!) from behind my back and we began to pack them back into the box they came from. At this point, the caterpillar occasionally asked the child for “more” or “more food”. Though he was generally engrossed in his packup task, whenever the caterpillar asked for food he would feed the caterpillar whatever food he was holding! It was a great opportunity for the puppet to model some language skills we are aiming for with the child, such as appropriate interruption techniques and verbalisation of wants/needs. I was so proud and impressed that he had achieved so many goals in just the one session.

Skills targeted during the session:

  • Engaging in a task for an extended period
  • Participating in an activity chosen by another person
  • Turn taking
  • Following instructions
  • Imaginative play
  • Modelling of appropriate language (interrupting & asking for more)