Alert and Engaged: Modelling with Puppets



Most children really enjoy learning about how their bodies and brains work. In this video an elementary school teacher describes how she harnessed her students’ natural curiosity about their bodies to teach them about their prefrontal cortex  (PFC) and how this part of the brain plays a critical role in reasoning[1] and regulating emotions[2] and behaviors. Learning that it is possible to exercise and strengthen our own PFC can help empower children in knowing they can learn to manage their emotions and control impulses. These executive functions play an important role in being alert and engaged.  This understanding of the role of the PFC also helps adults think differently about children’s negative behaviour and explore ways they can help children develop self-regulation skills.

This video showcases an enjoyable and creative lesson to help students talk about feelings and emotions, learn about what it means to be alert and engaged and also explore age appropriate self-regulation skills[3].  Through the use of role play with puppets, and by externalizing children’s own feelings which can produce a degree of vulnerability, the teacher sets up a make-believe context where children explore a variety of feelings through their puppets. Students are given the opportunity to let their creative juices flow- using sock puppets made in a previous lesson based on personality profiles they also created. In these personality profiles they are invited to reflect on, discuss, and write about what causes their puppet to experience both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions;  to have high and low energy; to feel the most and the least alert and engaged; and self-regulation strategies to help their puppets (and themselves) be able to learn best.

Children love make-believe play [4]which can teach them important social and emotional skills. Make-believe play provides opportunities to practice and enhance a multitude of important self regulation skills by preparing for and planning out a scene, negotiating between roles, and using practice skills.  In this video, the puppet role play activity allows children to explore a variety of feelings within the different scenarios and learn and practice a variety of effective self-regulation strategies to help their puppets ( and themselves!) be more alert and engaged. The teacher also role models, with the aid of a puppet, how emotions and behaviours can be regulated. Adult role modeling is an effective way to help children build their own repertoire of strategies for improved self-regulation.

Another important dimension of this lesson is that children are learning how to share their internal emotional world and tune in and listen to others doing the same. This helps children to connect with one another in an empathic way, a critical factor in developing and sustaining healthy relationships.

Classroom Application

Below are overviews of lessons that educators can use with their students. There are also links to completed lesson plans that can be downloaded for use.

Lesson 1: Creating a Puppet Personality Profile
Create your sock puppet’s personal details (e.g. hobbies, like/dislikes, family) using Puppet Personality Profile.

Download Lesson Plan 1

Download Personality Profile Booklet

Lesson 2: Creating a Sock Puppet
Create a fictional sock puppet character:
Make a plan by first drawing a picture of your sock puppet
Make a sock puppet adding body parts, clothes and accessories

Encourage students to think about the choices they make while creating the puppet e.g.-“I gave my sock puppet yellow shoes because I like yellow.”

Download Lesson Plan 2

Lesson 3: Learn About the Brain
Teach the students about how our brains work and the important role that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays in helping us to be alert and engaged and secure and calm. The class can watch Dr. Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain video or alternatively the educator can demonstrate the hand model of the brain for the students. Another good video to watch is Flipping Your Lid, also by Dr. Seigel, which describes the brain process that leads to an anger explosion and what can be done to avoid ”flipping your lid”. The puppets can be used here to show what it can look like to ‘flip your lid’, to be distracted, to have high and low energy states and also to be alert and engaged. An educator can also model self-regulation strategies using the puppet.

Lesson 4: Alert and Engaged- An Exploration Using Puppets

Use the Alert and Engaged PowerPoint presentation to introduce concepts and scenarios to students:
Educator poses questions for students and ask them to demonstrate their learning using their sock puppet 
Students- working with a partner, engage in role play using their sock puppet.

Download Alert and Engaged PowerPoint Presentation

Download Lesson Plan 4

Lesson Extension Activities

As we are always changing,  so too can the puppets. Later in the school term another lesson could enable students to make changes and additions to their puppets and to their Puppet Personality Profiles.

Create several different school scenarios which typically impact the children’s energy states and their ability to be alert and engaged. Give each set of partners a different scenario and pose the same questions as in Lesson 4. Then have each set of partners act out their scenario in front of the class.

Ask the students to create their own scenarios and explore same concepts.


Research is showing strong evidence for the importance of helping children and youth develop strong self-regulation skills. In one longitudinal study, children who had poorer inhibition (i.e., poorer ability to manage their behaviour, emotions and attention) grew into adults who had poorer health, lower earnings, were less happy and more likely to committ more crimes 30 years later as compared to children who had better inhibition as children.

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky viewed social experiences such as make-believe play as prime catalysts of development.

Studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex is vital for controlling attention, thinking and behaviour.

According to Professor Riichard Richardson the prefrontal cortex appears to play a critical role in the uniquely human capacity to modulate emotions.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.