Stuffed animals and fuzzy, furry puppets—especially of the owl variety!—are my favorite props to engage students. There are so many types of stuffed animals and furry puppets! I usually bring small-ish ones so they fit in my bag, but sometimes I bring Timmy the Toucan, who is the size of a toddler!
Yesterday I brought Mr. Owl (a small owl stuffed animal who is older than me) and also Buggy, a crocheted green and purple flying insect finger puppet. I was biking so these two friends were the best to come along for the ride. I’ll share how I utilize these friendly and fun props by highlighting how Mr. Owl and Buggy assist in my class.
Mr. Owl helps a lot around the classroom. He originally came to the classroom to be our Savasana (I call it “Secret Garden” with my Yoga kids) companion. If I ever have a student who is having a real tough time in Secret Garden, or gets upset for any reason, Mr. Owl will fly over to the student and provide instant comfort. Mr. Owl will frequently come up in the relaxing stories I tell while the children are lying down in their Secret Gardens.
After the children stretch and sit up from their Secret Gardens, Mr. Owl sits with me and the talking stick. Everyone says “Hi!” to Mr. Owl at this time, which is the method I like to use to bring the children’s attention and awareness back to the group and to me, as the teacher, after they have had their special relaxation time. After greeting Mr. Owl, I review how we share during our talking stick time (the only person who gets to talk is the person with the talking stick).
If it’s been a particularly chatty and fidgety day, I say that Mr. Owl will share something special at the end of the talking stick time if—and only if—everyone listens to each other well and stays in “criss-cross-applesauce” the whole time. It does the trick. Mr. Owl doesn’t actually talk, he whispers into my ear and then I share what he said to me. All my other stuffed animals and puppets talk (usually in very silly voices), which allows Mr. Owl to bring a special type of magic to the kids.
Mr. Owl also serves as a balancing, stability prop when the children learn Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) and Purvottanasana (Intense Stretch of the East, Upward Plank Pose, or Table Pose). Using stuffed animals as props to place on a student’s tummy is perfect as they are soft and fun and will do no harm if the props drop!
Let’s get to know Buggy, the crocheted finger puppet. She comes out when class management needs to happen. If the class is not being respectful to me or to each other, Buggy will come out with a very squeaky voice and divert attention and dispel the situation.
If the kids are low energy and therefore not really into our games, Buggy will come out to pump them up! If I can tell the kids are simply tired of listening to yet another adult voice talk at them for the ninth hour straight (when I teach after school classes), Buggy will come out to offer a different voice to the mix. Or if I’m getting tired of talking, Buggy will come out and help me too. Somehow when I make my voice sound silly it washes the tired away!
Mr. Owl and Buggy are just two of my many helpers. I like to mix it up with bringing in different helpers but I also like providing consistency to my students and so, Mr. Owl comes with me every class. I’ve forgotten Mr. Owl only once; the kids were so worried about where he went that class that I do not want to have them feel that way again!
A friendly warning to teachers bringing stuffed animals: your students will want to bring theirs as well! When I started teaching I was concerned that if one student brought a favorite stuffed animal that it would distract and make the other students upset. That sometimes happens, but truthfully not that often. If I see a student bring a little friend in, I allow her to have the stuffed animal at the front of her mat. If it is being a distraction, I invite the stuffed animal to sit with Mr. Owl on my teaching table. Problem smoothly solved — who wouldn’t want to sit with Mr. Owl?!
Experiment and play around with stuffed animals and puppets!! Each will have its unique personality and silly voice that will assist you in your teaching. Allow them to benefit and bolster your teaching.