UNION INTERNATIONALE DE LA MARIONNETTE UNIMA Article Puppets for Education and Therapy by Marc Kohler




Finished Puffet








Published in UINMA Union Internationale De La Marrionnette

Puppetry International magazine Fall and  Winter 2017  Issue #42

Puppets for Education and Therapy

by Marc Kohler


Youtube Channel: Marc Kohler



A child makes a puppet in a workshop.  The job that the puppet has is “throwing

rocks”   The puppet discusses other likes and dislikes.  When the workshop is

done, the teacher explains to me that the child does not speak in class, and that

other students help them communicate.  After that day, the child speaks in

class.   In another workshop, a child makes a George Washington puppet.  After

the workshop, the teacher lets them keep their puppet on their hand.  When

“George” speaks, he has a profound and confident voice.  The teacher told me

later that a very shy child was shy no longer, and that the “power” of George had

given the child great confidence.  A special needs child, Tommy, makes a puppet

of a Red Sox pitcher, Dennis Eckersley.  I ask, “Did Dennis have any problems?”

Tommy says, “Yes, he could not pitch today.”  I ask “Who is going to pitch for

him.”  Tommy says “I will.”

These are but a few of the thousands of experiences that I have seen in

using my method of puppetry—something, I call The Kohler Puppetry Method

(TKPM).  It started in 1966, when I made a puppet with a burlap tube, stuffed with

felt, and the body was just a folded piece of cloth.  Over the years, burlap

became a very strong tube of cardboard stuffed with foam rubber, and the body

became a body designed by Alan Cook—with whom I had worked in the summer

of 1965.  The final impetus for the creation of what I called the Puffet was a

request from the RI State Council on the Arts to design a puppet that could be

made quickly on the street for arts events.  Since then, I and the artists of The

Puppet Workshop have helped over 25,000 of these puppets to be created with

children, adults, special needs children and adults, and about 5,000 were sold

directly to schools with teacher workshops.

The system is based on two things: an easy to make hand puppet that

takes no more then 20 to 30 minutes, and having no preconceived notions about

the character of the puppet.  In this way, the physical objects used in decorating

the head give a great deal of freedom of choice, so that it starts a “trip” for the

puppet maker and puppet.  I call it a “trip”, because it is after the puppet is made

that the puppet and puppet maker join in deciding the nature of the puppet

character.   We are not making puppets to fit into an already extant stories or

plays. Then, I ask six questions:  Puppets name?  Age? Where is the puppet

from? What does the puppet do for their job? What does the puppet like to eat?

What is the puppet feeling?  I add others as the workshop continues, and there

are actually many questions which help the puppet makers create puppet

biographies, life histories, family trees,  and personalities which will lead to play

and story writing with actual writing or taping!

The puppet maker uses whatever is laid out to make the puppet, and they

“talk” with the puppet to learn from the puppet about the puppet.  Together the

puppet and the puppet maker carry out a discussion not too dissimilar from the

classic Gestalt discussions established by Fritz Pearls years and years ago.  It is

not an Upper and Lower Dog, though. It is more like a friend discovering and

creating a new friend, and this new friend will say much about the puppet maker.

they puppet will express hopes, fears, dreams, confidence or the lack of

confidence, or whatever the puppet helps the puppet maker to express.  Puppets

created by makers who stutter do not stutter.  A puppet can jump, run, and scale

the highest mountains while the puppet maker sits in a wheelchair.  Parts of the

puppet maker’s personalities and personal feelings appear in the puppet.  The

attachment is strong and committed.  I once asked a class to rename their

puppets and create new characters for them—they vehemently refused.

There are other examples that will surprise you, for adults express

themselves just as deeply as children.  At a workshop for community arts

leaders, a puppet maker made a puppet of her maid, who had refused to use any

of the tickets to arts society events that the maker had given her.  When the

maker went backstage and she moved onto the play board, she could not talk.

Afterwards the maker said that they could not even conceive of what the puppet

would say.  At a puppet conference, a maker wrote that the puppet was a clown

in the circus—once on stage, the “clown” became the Ringmaster!!

We move in a world which has many levels of understanding and conceptions.  A

puppet made this way gives us a safe environment to express ourselves without

any judgement or criticism.  The puppet is completely emotionally “owned” by the

maker, and they cannot be wrong.  They do not even have to remember what

answers they made about the puppet before it appears on stage.   There is not

enough space here to include all the details which take place in this system.

There is room to suggest what the goals would be of my system.  The first goal is

to provide a reliable, usable, inexpensive puppet and system to use for

educational and therapeutic situations.  The second goal is to give puppetry a

product about which we, as a community, can be proud of and valued fro its

contribution to education and therapeutic programs.  My last goal is to return the

hand puppet to its important role in society.  We have experienced an

overwhelming influence of moving mouth puppets on our craft.  Making this

system available to the public will put puppets right back into our educational and

Therapeutic landscape.

Here are the links and resources you can see to learn about the Kohler Puppetry Method.


I have written a short book about the method that I use at:


There is a talk about it that I gave at the 2015 Puppeteers of America

Regional festival:


There are two videos of the workshop in action:



Here is a video of puppet shows from single session and multiple session



These ideas work well with Special Needs people, too: