The Power of Using Puppets with People Living in Long Term Care Homes – Part 1

Storytelling with Puppets Workshop

Are you feeling discouraged by decreasing engagement and connection with your loved one or client living in a Long Term Care Home?  If you would like to move from a frustrating, deteriorating relationship, to having creative and playful interactions, I would love to share with you, the magic and power of puppetry.

At Puppeteria, what we do best is teach others (that’s you) how to make and use puppets as a tool for:

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • conflict resolution
  • storytelling
  • educating
  • building relationships
  • advocating for social change
  • enhancing creativity, and
  • simply having fun and playing.

If you don’t have a puppet, don’t let that stop you.  You can click here for a download on how to make a super cute and creative sock puppet to get you started!

“Why puppets?”, you may be asking.  Here are just a few answers to that question.

  • puppets create an atmosphere of playfulness
  • puppets add a sense of “safety”
  • puppets are empathetic listeners
  • puppets are wonderful conversationalists
  • puppets are good problem-solvers
  • puppets can interact with people or with other puppets

I could keep this list going, but so as not to overwhelm you, let’s start here.

Puppets and Playfulness

Puppets can be whatever you want them to be.  They can be a fun “trickster type” who likes to tell silly jokes or riddles.  They may be grumpy (in a comical way), or a singing “ray of sunshine”.  If your puppet can start from the same kind of mood or temperment of your loved one/client, a connection will happen more quickly. From there, you can artfully shift the overall mood to more positive and playful types of exchanges.

Use the knowledge you have of your person’s interests (music, movies, gardening, etc.) in order to help create a connection to the puppet.  Perhaps the puppet is a master gardener, or dog trainer, a baseball fan, or cellist in an orchestra.  If the puppet speaks from its “own experience” about these areas of interest, many playful and fun interactions can occur.

Storytelling with Puppets

How Do Puppets Create a Sense of Safety? 

Puppets don’t have expectations and they can relate to others through a sense of empathy.  This is important since residents of long term care homes are constantly adjusting to  increasing loss of independence.  Whether it is their mobility or cognitive functions that are declining, it is scary, stressful, and isolating to be in that position.  Puppets are not a threat in any way.  Puppets won’t challenge your loved one or client by expecting more than they feel capable of.  Puppets can come from a place of empathy where they can relate to the current challenges and talk about them from a place of understanding and acceptance.  Once your loved one/client has made a connection to the puppet, this allows for opportunity to share stories, compare notes, and problem-solve.

Puppets as Empathetic Listeners

You don’t need a puppet on your hand to take on the role of an empathetic listener, but it can be helpful, both to you and to your loved one/client.  Think about a time when someone was giving you their full attention – just listening without offering solutions. Puppets are the most adorable listeners in the world.  They can subtly nod, tip their heads in quizzical ways, react with surprise, respectfully ask for clarification when needed, reframe what they are hearing to ensure understanding and ask sensitive questions to keep the conversation going.  Three way conversations work well too!  For example, the puppet may look at you and say something like, “Wow!  That is really interesting.  I want to know more.”  In response, you can express your interest as well but saying something like, “Me too.  Maybe Mom will tell us more. Do you have any questions for her?”.  Of course, Mom can hear what you’re both saying and is enjoying the interest and attention she is receiving.

Puppets as Good Conversationalists

Hand in hand with being an expert listener, is being a good conversationalist.  Puppets are rarely at a loss for words and may even be tempted to interrupt at times (after all they love telling their own stories) but when that happens, it is an opportunity for you to say to the puppet, “Just hold that thought, puppet’s name, I really want to hear what loved one or client’s name is saying.”  That simple interaction between yourself and the puppet will let your loved one/client know that you care and enjoy your time together.  It’s a wonderful way to strengthen connections.  The puppet’s interests can act as a springboard for conversation.  As we touched on when talking about the playfulness of using puppets, the puppet can open a conversation about a common interest that is shared and encourage participation of the humans.

This is a true story of a time I was working in the school system as an educational assistant.  Because I was on the supply list at the time, I worked with many children (but not consistently) from kindergarten to grade 12.  On this particular day, I was supporting a 5 year old girl with autism, named Katie. The classroom was noisy and I could see she felt overwhelmed by the combination of noise, activity and other sensory stimulation.  I asked Katie if she would like to sit with me in the dress up area where it was quieter.  Katie didn’t speak, but followed me over to the quiet area.  I spotted a raggedy old puppet amongst the dress up clothes and slipped it on my hand.  The conversation went like this:

Puppet:  Wow.  It sure is noisy in here.  I can’t even here myself think.

Katie looked at the puppet with interest and curiosity.

Puppet:  When anyone runs too close to me, I feel like I’m going to explode.  I need space and quiet.

Katie shook her head in agreement.

Puppet:  I’m glad you came over here.  It’s nice to be with someone who understands.

Katie:  My head hurts when it’s noisy.  I feel like I’m going to explode too.

The conversation continued from there but the really remarkable thing is that Katie spoke to the puppet.  She was labelled as non-verbal in the classroom.  It was the first time the classroom teacher heard her speak. After this first “Puppet to Katie conversation”, Katie’s EAs started to use the puppet as well to encourage her to speak and to understand her needs better.

I’ve had similar experiences while working with puppets in Long Term Care homes.  It’s not unusual for people to stop communicating verbally as dementia takes it’s hold.  Just as with Katie, puppets are a great way to encourage conversation with the sick and elderly as well.  A bit of “puppet empathy” can go a long way.


Puppets Are Good Educators for Problem-Solving

When there are decisions to be made and problems to be solved, puppets can be excellent vehicles for sharing important information with your loved one or client, that will lead to better informed solutions.  By keeping the puppet in a neutral point of view (not favouring one side more than the other), the puppet can be a part of the conversation as a neutral third party.  The puppet can ask questions, bring clarity, and offer another perspectives to the conversation.  Of course, if you are the one manipulating the puppet, you have control over the information that is being shared.  I certainly don’t want anyone to use puppets to manipulate information to achieve their personal agenda.  I’m just saying that puppets are good teachers and can help you share the information that is important to the decision or solution.

Storytelling with Shadow Puppets

Puppets Can Interact with People or Other Puppets

All of the above strategies involve puppets interacting with people.  You can apply the same strategies to puppets interacting with other puppets.  In fact – one of the most powerful ways to build connection between yourself and your loved one or client is to take the time to make puppets together.  The creative process opens up opportunities for all kinds of meaningful conversations about people, personalities, dreams and life.  We’ll explore “Sharing the Creative Process through Puppets” in part 2 of this post.  In the meantime, download our free instructions on how to make a quick and easy sock puppet to get you started.  This will also ensure that you receive notification of Part 2 of this post.

Until next time,


…sharing the magic of puppetry

What’s New in 2017!

Despite the best of intentions, I find myself sitting down to write a new blog post a full year since my last post. Yikes! Although I feel badly that I haven’t been putting my blog to good use as a tool for communication, I realize I’ve made many amazing connections in the past year, have grown my business to include some very valuable and exciting new services and projects, and the learning curve continues to grow as I immerse myself into the world of on-line learning – not only as a student, but as an educator as well!

Owning a business has much in common with being a parent. As with a child, when you’re spending time with your business almost every day, you don’t necessarily recognize the growth that is happening. It’s only when you look back on a photo or some kind of written documentation, that you see how much growth there has actually been! While sitting down to write this much needed update, I was hit once again with the realization that “my baby is growing up!” My website has just completed a face lift to reflect the changes within my business. I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think of the new look and the new programming.

Here are some highlights of what’s new in 2017!

Coming in May 2017

Beginning May 1, 2017, I look forward to working with the The Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities to offer a 6 week “Giant Puppet” Project. Participants in the project will meet once a week on Mondays from 2 to 4 pm at Seeds of Change in the former George Street United Church.

Sexual Assault: The Roadshow is a participatory art gallery in a shipping container that is travelling to 15 cities and areas in Ontario over a three year period. At each stop, local anti-violence agencies work with local artists and participants to create work that “talks back” to sexual violence. In honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Sexual Assault: The Roadshow will be arriving in Peterborough/Nogojiwanong for the month of May 2017. I am so excited to be one of the 4 artists who will be offering workshops as a part of this important event.

My workshop is called “Inner Wisdom”. Participants of the 2-part workshop will create 2 puppets that personify their “inner critic” and “inner cheerleader” in a reflection and conversation about our individual strengths and fears. The workshop will be held on May 13th and 20th. Registration is limited to 15 spots and participants must be available to attend both sessions. To register or for more information, please contact the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre at (705)748-5901.

Puppets in a Box

My creative woodworking husband, Alan King and I are combining our talents to offer “PUPPETS IN A BOX” – a 4 day workshop for kids & teens over the age of 10. Every participant will build:
• a portable wooden rod puppet stage
• 3 one-of-a-kind rod puppets
• hanging scenery backdrops and
• fun & creative props.

The fun doesn’t stop there! The puppets will be brought to life by using puppetry techniques used by the pros, writing a script, creating a storyboard and performing for an audience! To register and for more information click here.

Forest Theatre Camp

In July 2016, I had the great pleasure of partnering with Jumping Mouse Outdoor School, to run “Forest Theatre Camp”, a one week day camp for children between 5 and 12 years of age. It was a week full of outdoor exploration combined with incredible creativity. The result was awesome performances set in the woods and creek of beautiful Jackson Park (Peterborough) by a zany cast of young puppeteers and wild critters (or were those just masks?).

“Forest Theatre Camp” 2016 was such a hit, we’re doing it twice in July 2017 – once with 4 to 6 year olds and again with 7 to 13 year olds. For more information, go to

Know Me

I’m very excited about my new partnership with Linda Briden, Special Education teacher & author. Linda recently released a new children’s book called Know Me. Her book is the basis for a uniquely creative program for students in grades 3 to 6. This 1 ½ hour workshop gives students the opportunity to challenge assumptions and discover common ground with classmates and members of their community, despite surface differences. Puppetry is used as the medium for delivering and reinforcing the key messages. We use a combination of sock puppets and shadow puppetry to present to the students. Following a classroom discussion, each student makes and uses their own sock puppet to keep the learning going.

Linda & I piloted the “Know Me” project in three classrooms earlier this year to rave reviews. Our promotional brochure was mailed out to about 100 schools this week. We can hardly wait to start scheduling our presentations for the 2017/18 school year.

A Journey into Puppetry in Long Term Care

This is a very exciting week for me – a week of embarking on a new phase of learning and teaching as it relates to puppetry.  This week, I’m putting the final touches on a workshop for staff who work with people living in long term care.  On Tuesday morning, I’ll be delivering my workshop to staff at Fairhaven Long Term Care in Peterborough, Ontario.  Every participant will be creating their very own sock puppet, bringing it to life, and practicing a variety of ways to use their puppet in the work they do with the people who call Fairhaven their home.

Many people think of puppets as a child’s toy, but puppets are so much more than that!  Puppets have the ability to enhance communication, build relationships, solve problems, tell stories and tap into our sense of play and fun.  Tuesday’s workshop will be the first step in coaching care-givers to learn how to do just that; to learn to use their puppets to enhance their own work and the lives of the people they devote their time and energy to, through their work.  I feel grateful and honoured to kick-start this fun and creative journey with them.

I will also be on the learning end of this exciting journey as I begin to build relationships of my own, with the staff, volunteers and residents of Fairhaven.  I look forward to devoting time every week over the upcoming months, to building those relationships as a volunteer visitor, a workshop facilitator and a project coordinator as we work together to create puppet-based programs that will bring greater joy, creativity and connection to the lives of the residents, caregivers, family members and community who participate together.

I hope you’ll come along on this journey of learning with me, as I write about my experience in upcoming blog posts. 

A New Home and an Updated Website

The past month has been very intense here at Puppeteria. We have made a physical move for our home & Puppeteria office from Wilberforce to Peterborough! Our house in Wilberforce sold in record time with a very short closing date so all the tasks associated with moving had to happen very quickly. Down-sizing from 2,700 square feet of living, workshop & office space to 900 square feet of living, workshop & office space added greatly to the challenge and I have to admit, there are still several lingering boxes whose contents need to be sorted, put away, given away or thrown away. It’s worth it though! I’m thoroughly enjoying the much de-cluttered and efficient nature of our new, compact, comfortable home. The puppets seem quite pleased with their new space as well and are able to keep a closer watch on me as I work on new programming and rehearse new scripts.

With new contact information, updating the Puppeteria website also became a high priority and a great opportunity to add information about our brand new birthday party packages and other expanding services. I hope you’ll take the time to explore each page to check out the changes. One of the most exciting changes is the addition of the Puppeteria Chef! He appears in a different pose on each page as the “spokespuppet” of Puppeteria. Many thanks go out to the talented Aaron King, who designed and created this unique character for Puppeteria. The photos in the posting from January 26th, 2014 show the puppet version of the Puppeteria Chef. You’ll be hearing more from him as time goes on. I’m also fortunate and grateful to have an excellent web designer, Linda Middleton, of Crystal Image Studio, who worked her magic to make all the changes and get my updated site live in a very timely fashion.

One big advantage to our change in location is easier access to a whole new geographical area and population base. We’re very excited to serve Peterborough, Kawartha Lakes, Durham, Northumberland, Hastings and Haliburton Counties! I look forward to making new friends and colleagues in these areas as well as nurturing and growing with my friends and colleagues in Haliburton County and North Hastings. If you know anyone who might be interested in a puppetry workshop or a birthday puppet show, please steer them in my direction. I look forward to your comments and ideas!