Although 22 month old Freddy is well under the minimum recommended age for most craft kits we do enjoy sharing the activities and by allowing him to join in completing these kits his skill level is constantly pushed as he has fun. One of the kits we have recently shared is the Mister Maker Finger Puppet Making Kit that we bought as part of a set, but is also available separately at about the £5 mark. Mister Maker is a pre-school arts and craft programme shown on Cbeebies and is something we occasionally watch and get craft ideas from, but I can't say that we bought this set because of the name so much as because we managed to get five kits in a plastic box for just £7.50.
==What You Get==
This particular kit is supplied in a clear plastic package along with a paper insert featuring Mister Maker and some text telling us what the kit contains. This package does feel slightly flimsy, but can be closed between uses. Within this pack there is almost everything you need to create six finger puppets, but you will need to ensure that you have scissors, a ruler and a pen handy.
The main components of the puppets are felt sheets of which there are seven supplied in a variety of colours. The felt feels fairly thick and much better quality than you would get from a bargain basement shop. There are also a number of wobbly eyes, in a variety of sizes and there is actually one left over once the puppets have been made. There are also some tear drop foam shapes, again in a variety of colours for decorating the puppets along with some blue and yellow feathers and fuzzy cord. Rather than just one small bottle of glue there are two glue sticks in the set and three glitter glues (blue, silver and gold). There are also step by step instructions and a stencil sheet. So you get quite a lot in this set for your money and there is enough to allow your child's (and your) imagination go wild.
==Making Is Frustrating But Fun==
Now although this kit is billed as being suitable for children over the age of three don't think you will be able to plonk it down in front of them and get on with the housework, because you won't. There are steps in making these puppets that will need adult help right up until you are confident in allowing your child to use sharp scissors. For this reason it is a kit to share with your child, so be prepared to roll your sleeves up and join in the fun.
The enclosed instruction leaflet is actually pretty well thought out and takes you through all the steps to create the six finger puppets. The printing on the leaflet is bold and the language simple enough for a fairly confident reader to follow. But the font used is of a non-standard type which may cause problems for those with a literacy problem such as dyslexia.
The first step in creating the puppets is to cut out the templates, which is fairly easy for those with reasonable scissor skills. The shapes are fairly simple, with there being a square, triangle, rectangle and circle. The sock shape might be a little more difficult and the beak will possibly stretch those under six, but the shapes are fairly large and not too intricate. Once the templates have been cut out they need to be drawn around on the felt twice (four times for the rectangle). The instruction leaflet does state which colours should be used for the socks and bird, but I see no reason why this has to be strictly followed. There's more than enough felt for all of the puppets, I would say that less than half is used. I had no problem tracing the stencils on most of the colours, but struggled to be able to see where I had drawn on the black so didn't bother using that colour. (The other colours are : yellow, orange, red, pink, purple and blue). As the felt is fairly thick it needs to be cut out using sharp scissors, which is why I would suggest that this step is carried out by an adult, blunt scissors just won't cut it (pun intended). Personally I did all this prep the night before doing the activity with Freddy.
Once the shapes are cut out it's time to have fun gluing and making. The first puppet we made was the square, which I had cut out of orange felt. The instructions stated that we needed to start by gluing legs onto one half and rather than using the supplied glue stick I decided we should use PVA glue. I found that as I cut the fuzzy cord it did shed a lot of fibres, so watch your little one if they still put things in their mouth. After gluing these legs into place we came to a standstill as we had to wait for the glue to dry, which as we were using PVA glue was a good while. As we had some time to kill we moved on to the bird, only this time trying out one of the glue sticks, returning to the square once the glue had finally dried.
The next step was to attach the foam feet to the legs, which is a little fiddly and probably beyond most three year olds. The good thing is that the feet are self adhesive, but the bad is that you need nails to remove the backing and then good hand-eye control to line the two sides up. After putting the feet on the fun really started as we decorated the front of one of the squares. I put the glue onto the felt and then allowed Freddy to put the wobbly eyes on. The eyes are very small and could pose a choking hazard, so again if your child puts things in their mouth then close supervision is a give. While the instructions state that you can cut a mouth out of felt we decided to use the glitter glue instead. The small tubes of glue made it easy to apply the glitter exactly where we wanted it, but disappointingly were only half full. After decorating our puppet, it was time to once more leave it to dry, which is something we seem to have spent a lot of time doing.
The final step was to glue the two squares together along three edges and this is where I really got into difficulties. I found I had to hold the edges together while they dried and that the edges kept coming apart, especially where the legs were attached. I ended up giving Freddy some pencils and paper while I held the two squares together for about half hour. After that half hour we left the puppet to dry completely overnight before testing it out the next day. Come the next morning Freddy and I couldn't wait to play with our finger puppets. Unfortunately they didn't stay stuck together for long. The ones where we had used the glue stick came apart immediately and those where I had used PVA followed soon after. Cue one upset and disappointed little boy. I did attempt to glue them together again, using more glue, but we got the same results. In the end I resorted to sewing the pieces together, as Freddy really did want to play with them.
The bird puppet gave us even more problems, the feathers wouldn't stay stuck and there were more pieces to glue together. After our experiences with the first two puppets, I didn't even attempt to glue the pieces together. Instead Freddy and I decorated them and then I sewed them together.
From a making point of view this kit is a real mixed bag. It's great that there are more than enough materials to create the advertised six finger puppets but it's really not a kit that children at the lower end of the recommended age will be able to compete. But even children younger than three will enjoy helping to decorate the shapes, Freddy loves gluing and glitter and really enjoyed that aspect. Even children that are capable of cutting out the shapes themselves are going to become frustrated with how the shapes will not stick together, either with the supplied glue sticks or PVA glue. What I would recommend is that you allow them to apply the glue, then tell them the need to let it dry overnight and then when they're asleep sew the pieces together. Or if they're old enough help them to sew them themselves.
Due to the problems we've encountered in making these, I can only give them two stars out of five for the making aspect.
==Playing Is Even More Fun==
Once we had made the puppets, let them dry and I had sewn them, it was time to test them out and have some fun. The lovely bright colours and sparkling glitter mean that these puppets are instantly attractive to young children. The finger holes are big enough for my somewhat podgy fingers, I have no trouble putting them on, although it is a little bit of a snug fit. As soon as I put them on my fingers and start pretending that they are talking to each other in funny voices, Freddy toddles over to join in. Freddy loves playing with these, he loves the rattling noise the eyes make and feeling the fuzzy legs and making them chatter to each other. They also make great props when singing "Tommy Thumb" , where we sometimes change the words to encompass the different shapes. For instance we'll sing "yellow circle" instead of "Tommy Thumb" and "orange square" instead of "Peter Pointer".
As you can imagine, being a 22 month old toddler, Freddy is a little rough with these and although my stitching has held up well, glue wouldn't have stood a chance. Indeed several of the eyes have come unstuck at different times and have needed gluing. For this reason there is no way that I would allow him to play with these unsupervised, but there again he has the most fun when we play together. As far as the fun aspect of these puppets goes, I think they deserve a resounding five stars out of five, as not only did Freddy have fun making them, but he also has fun playing with them.
==Learning Is Fun Too==
All arts and crafts activities are invaluable in helping your child develop their creative skills and these are no different. There are enough different colours of felt to allow you child to decide which colour they want to make each shape. The addition of the glitter glue and feathers means that they can also decorate them however they wish. Making these puppets will also help them improve their fine motor and cutting skills, they even help children learn the benefits of patience as they wait for the glue to dry.
What I really like about these puppets though is that the fun and learning doesn't end when they've been completed. The puppets can be used to talk about colours and shapes, I especially like that the shapes are the ones that you are likely to teach your child first, i.e. square, triangle and circle. The puppets will also help your child develop their imagination and role play skills as they get them to talk to each other and put on little plays. Puppets are also great for helping your child to talk about their feelings, it's often easier for a child to transfer their feelings to a puppet rather than tell you outright. Finally the puppets can be used to talk about new experiences that your child is likely to encounter, our puppets have been to pre-school as I prepare Freddy for when he starts in September.
As I've said before this kit really does have a split personality, with some really good points and a major bad point. The good points include the range of materials within the kit, that there are more than enough to complete the six puppets, how good they look when completed and the fact they can be played with after they've been completed. But the single bad point is a pretty big one, in that we've found it impossible to get the felt pieces to stick with glue. So while I'm not completely writing this kit off, I do feel that it really only deserves three stars out of five and can only recommend it if you are willing to think a little outside of the box and sew the decorated pieces together.