Inside: These cute pebble puppets are fun to make and cultivate wonderful make-believe play. Use them to help act out stories, sing songs, and bring along for portable car entertainment.
I don’t know of a more underappreciated object than the humble pebble. Most people only think of a pebble when they feel it uncomfortably poking them from inside a shoe. Then they hastily pull the shoe off, probably while comically jumping around on the other foot, grab the pebble, toss it out, and sigh with relief.
However, there is a lot to be said of the genius of a simple pebble. Take a pebble and examine it with care as it lays in the palm of your hand, polished by waves and time to perfection. Its color comes from minerals, sun, water, and time. Where has it been? What has it seen? What rivers, oceans, dinosaurs? Each pebble has a mysterious history. You can invent countless stories of pebble adventures with your kids.
Putting together a pebble puppet is just one of a number of super fun activities you can do with your kids using simple pebbles.
And you know what?
Once you make the puppets, you get to play with them over and over again! They’re toys made by you to create countless hours of make-believe, acting out super fun fantastic stories, and the best part?
You can take them anywhere.
Creating pebble puppets is developmentally beneficial in many ways.
Pebbles help kids practice:
- Visual scanning (visually scanning the environment is actually the same skill that’s involved in reading and writing),
- Imagining (might be one of the most vital 21st-century skills)
- Tactile perception (understanding information coming from the skin)
- Fine motor practice (grasping small objects and moving them around with fingertips),
- Bilateral hand coordination (when both hands are doing a different job – for example, one hand is holding the base down while the other hand is arranging the pebbles in a pattern),
- Logic and reasoning (such as trying out many possible solutions to a task, i.e. how to make a lion’s mane look good), and
- Problem-solving (such as identifying a goal and staying persistent until an appropriate solution can be found).
The complexity of pebble puppets is largely open to variations depending on your resources of time, energy, and materials available. However, the basic principles will stay the same.
How to Make Pebble Puppets
What you need
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Leaves, grass, flowers (optional)
Craft glue (we tried wood glue, craft glue, and glow-in-the-dark Elmer glue)
What to do
1. Study pictures of animals
I especially like Googling “how to draw animals easy” tutorials because they break down complex shapes into basic outlines. It helps kids realize that it all comes down to simple shapes.
2. Collect pebbles
Scour the beach or local park for a variety of pebbles of different colors, shapes, and textures.
3. Play with simple designs
Move the pebbles around, arranging them this way and that way to see what you can accomplish.
4. Cut circles out of cardboard
We traced circles around a Mason jar on a cardboard box and cut them out.
5. Finalize the composition
Kids are usually pretty good at translating their thoughts into imaginative adaptations, but if they run into a problem, ask…
- What title would you give this work? (This helps to narrow focus. The next pic is what my daughter named Two Friends Talking) and she spent hours (without any exaggeration) having this cat talk to this fish. We would get in a car to drive to a grocery store or music lesson, and my daughter would say, “Mom, would you rather listen to the radio or to two friends talking?!” And then she would just talk non-stop until we get to our destination because apparently a cat and a fish have a lot to say to each other, lol!
- Can you describe what you’ve done so far? (This question often helps kids realize that they’ve done enough. Just a few final touches, and they are all set to play!)
- I noticed you put similar colors together/ you used all different colors/ bigger pebbles on top / all the same size pebbles/ etc. Tell me about it! (Encourage your kids to be communicative and talk about their creative process).
- Maybe you can put this oval pebble here. How do you feel about it? (This helps when they feel frustrated and seem ready to give up).
- How can you fix this problem?
- I also like to say, “I’m excited to see what your next step is going to be.” It helps kids to get going when they are stuck.
6. Apply glue
You can put all the pieces onto the circle, then lift each one at a time, dip into glue, and press down. Or, as an alternative, you can put a composition together elsewhere, cover the circle with glue, and then transfer your final composition pebble by pebble.
If you want your design to be extra secure, apply an extra layer of glue on top.
Note: we didn’t do that part because my kids didn’t want their puppets to be shiny.
6. Add details to your pebble puppets
If you have oil-based markers, grass, and leaves, you can add additional details like eyes, ears, and tails, as well as bushes for your puppets to peek from.
Also, we think it’s fun to tape a popsicle stick to the back of each circle.
The Science of Pebbles
Shape is such a fundamental concept! Most kids understand and recognize shapes by the time they are 2-3 years old. Scientists tell us that we are born ready to detect shape-related information (i.e., newborns respond to face-like shapes), and it’s processed in the part of the brain involved in visual discrimination.
Visual discrimination is a wonderful skill that helps us detect differences and similarities in shape, size, color, and pattern. And surprisingly or not surprisingly, our brains find certain patterns more attractive than others.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: Research shows that people of all ages find symmetrical patterns more pleasing than asymmetrical patterns. Let’s take a moment to explore that!
The Science of Symmetry
An important concept you kids can practice with pebble puppets is symmetry.
Symmetry means that one side of something is identical to the other – actually, it’s reflected along a line of symmetry. Look at the face of someone nearby (or a picture of a face if you want to avoid staring). Faces are symmetrical: two nostrils, two eyes, two ears – everything. The line of symmetry is right down the middle. It’s as if someone drew half a face on a piece of paper in wet ink, folded the paper, and then unfolded it so that you have two of everything.
Now go outside and look around. Is a tree symmetrical? Well, maybe not exactly, but it’s close. Now look at a leaf, an insect, a bird – can you find the line of symmetry? For many things, it’s right down the middle.
Now, look at a flower. The petals radiate out from the middle. They seem to turn in a circle. This is called Radial Symmetry. Think of things like domes, flowers, stars, and mandalas.
Things in nature – things that grow – often grow according to symmetrical patterns. It’s easier to make two of the same thing than two different things, and a lot of the time, it’s better to have two than one. Two eyes see better than one. Two ears hear better than one. Two hands work better than one. Nature is full of symmetry, and so are we!
It’s no wonder that it just feels right to look at a symmetrical image.
Visual Construction in Art
It wasn’t until I started taking art classes in my adult years that I learned about construction, and it made a lot of sense.
Instead of engaging in the impossible task of replicating a real bunny (above puppet), you start by breaking it into basic shapes – circles and ovals. And then piece all of the shapes together, essentially constructing or forming the object of your desire – a bunny – with just four simple pebbles.
What I came to learn is that you can draw pretty much anything with basic shapes. If you don’t believe me, Google “how to draw … with basic shapes” and give it a try. I know that I was astonished at how much easier it became to create decent art pieces by thinking of objects in terms of simple shapes.
I have included a few patterns for you to download to help with your designs here. And I hope these art projects would be as rewarding for you as an adult as for your kids 🙂