Toddler Fun! Finger Puppets for fun and cognitive development.
Play doesn't just raise the giggle stakes, it's actually essential to child development. In fact, play, from peek-a-boo to finger puppets contributes to a whole load of cognitive, physical, social, emotional and well-being benefits for our kids.
Even a simple activity like playing or making finger puppets with your toddler is loaded with positive developmental outcomes. "Playing finger puppets develops skills that are perfect for the toddler age group," explains Dr Kimberley O'Brien, Principal Child Psychologist at Quirky Kid Clinic. "Cognitively, finger puppets help toddlers to develop hand-eye coordination. They also help kids to understand different perspectives and to develop empathy. Finger puppets can be used to teach turn-taking and conflict resolution, as well as building fine motor skills."
Dr O'Brien suggests adopting a playful attitude and making the finger puppets together.
"Get down on the ground to interact with toddlers, rather than sitting at a table. If you're at eye level with a child, you're more able to see things from their point of view," says Dr O'Brien. "Position yourself side-by side, rather than opposite a child. Adult body language can be quite confronting for little kids. They're more likely to initiate important physical play, such as climbing, rolling or jumping on you, if you're in a passive position."
When it comes to finger puppet play, don't be afraid to prompt your toddler. "Playing is a skill and not all children know how to do it," explains Dr O'Brien. "Parents can teach toddlers to be playful using finger puppets to act out a story that is relevant to their child. For example, if your child loves trains, make up a story about a puppet who loves trains to grab their attention. Change your voice tone, wiggle your fingers and use props for the puppets to jump on, run along or hide behind. Then let your child take the lead and create their own narrative."
Indeed, it might seem like simple fun, but research has shown that finger puppet play helps teach motor control, self-control, memory, social skills and vocabulary and language skills. Additionally, if you incorporate sound – through singing, for example, or inviting the child to make a sound for each puppet – this can prompt additional nerve growth. Science shows us that the cerebellum (or "the little brain", which plays an important role in motor control and cognitive functions) is five per cent larger in musicians, suggesting it's a great idea to combine finger-play, songs and rhymes.
And don't be rushed! "Find sufficient time and space to play with your toddler," advises Dr O'Brien. "Schedule uninterrupted play time and prioritise it – it's essential to children's development."
Here, Dr O 'Brien shares some of the key benefits of finger puppet play and a few ways parents can amp up the fun factor.
- Fine tuning fine motor skills. "Making finger puppets together isn't just about team work and family bonding, it also helps develop fine motor skills," says Dr O'Brien. "Cut the fingers off an old pair of gloves. Stick on crafty eyes and cut out paper for the nose and mouth, add wool or cotton balls for hair." If your toddler is too little for crafty fun, they'll still work those digits simply by popping the finger puppets on and off fingers!
- Building empathy through imagination. "Imaginary play is great for building empathy," explains Dr O'Brien. "The child might develop a story line around the puppets such as, 'this is the mum, this is the dad…' and play the role of both, which is excellent for developing empathy." Listen up to what 'mum puppet' or 'dad puppet' might say!
- Bonding with your baby and siblings. "Finger puppets tend to engage children of all ages - so feel free to invite older siblings to be part of the fun," suggests Dr O'Brien. "It doesn't have to be all about the toddler developing the storyline – take turns to lead the play. Making finger puppets can be a fun family project. Create characters based on teachers, family members or friends from school to increase the engagement factor."
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