Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paper Mâché – Hand Puppets

The children create endearing characters filled with charm and personality. For ages 6 to 9. Plan 3 to 4 sessions.

  • Building on small motor skills
  • Working with three-dimensional form
papier mâché, dress

  • Newspapers
  • 4- by 5-inch pieces of heavyweight paperone per child
  • ½-inch masking tape
  • Wheat paste (I use PlayBox wheat paste.)
  • Tempera paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Containers of water for rinsing brushes
  • Sponges for drying brushes
  • Odds and ends for decorating such as yarn, beads, ribbons, cotton balls, etc.
  • Fabric for dresses
  • Felt for puppet hands
  • 8-inch pieces of yarn for securing dresses to puppets
  • Scissors
  • Large safety pins
  • Small pieces of paper and a permanent ink marker for names 
  • Large cardboard box and dowel sticks (See note below.)
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Access to a sewing machine to sew the puppet dresses
Note: To dry the puppet heads upright, I poked holes in the bottom of an upside-down box and inserted dowel sticks which were long enough to protrude about 6 inches above the box. 


First Session
  • Cut newspapers into quarter sheets for forming heads.
  • Tear newspapers for papier-mâché into approximately 1- by 3-inch strips.
  • Cut heavyweight paper into 4- by 5-inch pieces.
  • Mix paste to a creamy consistency.
  • Poke holes in the bottom of an upside-down box and insert dowel sticks.
How to Begin
Forming the puppet head
  • Explain to the children that they will be making puppet heads with papier mâché, a process using paper and paste. When the paste soaked paper dries it will be very hard and can be then painted.
  • First demonstrate how to make a finger tube by wrapping the 5-inch piece of heavyweight paper loosely around your finger and securing it with tape. This will form a 4-inch tube to be the base for the rest of the puppet. Before starting to make the head, pull several strips of tape to have available. Crumble single sheets of newspaper and wad them into a ball around the upper half of the finger tube. Hold them in place with the strips of tape. Be sure the children understand to place the wadded paper around the finger tube rather than on top of it. This will make a much stronger puppet head. Add more wadded newspapers with tape until the desired size and shape of the puppet head is achieved. The bottom half of the finger tube will form the neck of the puppet.
  • Have children complete their puppet head forms before starting to apply the papier mâché.
Applying the papier mâché
  • Demonstrate the process by dipping strips of torn newspaper into the prepared paste. Pull the wet strips between two fingers to remove excess paste. This step is important to avoid having the puppet head become too wet. Lay the dampened strips on the puppet head, overlapping and smoothing the edges as you go. Cover the entire head and neck, leaving the hole for the finger open. Apply two more layers of papier-mâché, keeping the edges as smooth as possible.
  • To add features, dip small pieces of newspaper into the paste and squeeze into a pulp. Use this pulp to form noses or any small features. Apply a small strip of papier mâché over the pulp to keep it in place. Before drying, smooth the papier mâché as much as possible to make an easier surface for painting.
  • As the children start to work, assure them that the first coat of papier mâché is the hardest to apply. The second and third coats are easy and fun.
  • When heads are covered with three coats of papier mâché, put each child’s name on a small piece of paper and paste it directly to his or her wet puppet head.
  • Keep the puppet heads upright while drying by placing them on the dowel sticks in the cardboard box.
Note: If time permits, use an extra session to add charm to the characters. Hats, crowns, large ears, etc. made from cardboard or found objects can be attached to the dried puppet head securely with tape and then covered with another layer of papier mâché. Make sure to cover any exposed tape as well. (The chef puppet's hat was formed by wadding a piece of newspaper, dipping it into paste, and putting it on a piece of cardboard tubing.)

Second/Third Session
  • Set out paints, brushes, containers of water, and sponges.
  • Set out dried puppet heads.
  • Cut dresses for puppets. Using the pattern below, you will need to cut two for each puppet - a front and a back.
  • Set out pieces of felt for cutting out hands.
  • Set out scissors, safety pins, and small pieces of paper and a marker for names.
How to Begin
  • Show the children how to paint the rough edges of the dried paper mâché. Load the brush with paint and dab into the crevices, smoothing over the area so as not to leave puddles of paint which tend to chip off when dried.
  • Have the children apply the base color of the puppet first; for example, skin for a person, green for a dragon, etc. They should paint the face area first, then the back of the head and neck. This will allow time for the face to dry before painting on the facial features. If yarn is to be glued on for hair, it is still best to apply paint on the whole puppet head, leaving no exposed papier mâché.
  • When facial features are complete, dry the puppet heads upright on the sticks.
  • Explain to the children that the part of the puppet which hides the user's hand is referred to as the puppet's dress.  As they complete their painting and their puppet heads are drying, the children can choose which of the cut fabric pieces will work best for their puppet dresses.
  • Using scissors, the children should cut two hands or paws. Some children may have trouble cutting the felt. Assure them that any two small pieces of felt will serve the purpose.
  • After cutting two hands or paws from the felt, pin them together with the dress along with the child’s name.
Note: A coat of polyurethane will give strength and protection to the puppet heads, but must be applied by an adult. The dresses will also be much stronger if sewn on a sewing machine rather than by hand. Below is a pattern that works well. Align two pieces of fabric with the right sides facing each other. Pin the felt hands between the two pieces as shown. Stitch an ⅛- to a ¼-inch seam along the stitching lines, keeping the top and the bottom open. Turn the fabric right side out and be sure the hands have been secured in the stitching.

Final Session
  • Set out white glue, sewn dresses, and dried puppet heads.
  • Cut 8-inch pieces of yarn, one per puppet.
  • Set out odds and ends for decorating.
  • Cover work area with newspapers.
How to Begin
  • Use glue to add yarn for hair, beads for decoration, etc.
  • To attach the puppet dress, apply a generous amount of glue around the bottom half of the finger tube. Gather the opening of the dress to fit around the tube and tie in place with yarn. This will take two sets of hands so the children can help each other.
  • Allow puppets to dry overnight.
  • Newspapers that use soy ink are less messy and easier to work with.
  • Always tear the newspaper strips to be dipped into paste; the rough edges from tearing are much easier to smooth. Newspapers tear easily when ripped vertically.
  • When forming the puppet's head, it's important to wad small pieces of newspaper around the top half of the finger tube. Placing a ball of newspaper on top of the tube will produce a weak connection between the head and neck.
  • Warn the children to use only as much tape as necessary. Too much tape makes it more difficult to apply the first coat of papier mâché.
  • Use a scissor to trim any sharp edges that may have formed around the finger holes of the dried puppets.
  • Review the process which changed paper and paste into such characters.
  • Discuss the interest added by the adornments.
  • Great time for a puppet show!
What the children might say...
  • Yuk! This paste is slimy.
  • The wet newspaper keeps falling off.
  • My puppet is too wet and it’s falling apart.
  • I can’t cut out a hand. This felt is too hard to cut.
  • Should I paint on hair or use yarn?
What you might say...
  • After you are finished, you can wash the paste from your hands. 
  • Remember that the once the first coat of papier mâché is completed, the rest of the coats will have something to stick to and become much easier to apply.
  • If your puppet has become too wet, put one layer of dry newspaper on to soak up the extra paste.
  • Any little pieces of felt will give the illusion of hands.
  • Whether you choose to use yarn or hair, it's best to paint the back of the puppet's head to cover all of the newspaper.
 Click to view this lesson in a printer-friendly format.