Teaching with puppets

History teacher uses finger puppets to help students learn


Owen Musser

Eight to a hand, teacher Valerie Schrag shows off her collection of finger puppets of historical figures. “It just became kind of this silly little thing,” Schrag said. “It is completely silly and absurd, and it is the best thing ever.”

By Connor Thornton, Reporter

If you’ve been a student of history teacher Valerie Schrag you’ve more than likely had a finger puppet teaching your class at some point. 

This is because Schrag has a grand collection of 14 historical figures in finger puppet form. The historical figures range from Barack Obama to Nelson Mandela. 

The collection originated in Washington, D.C., nine years ago at the National History Day competition. When leaving the Library of Congress, Schrag and her team saw the gift shop where they discovered a finger puppet of Theodore Roosevelt. 

“Of course we went to the gift shop and here were these finger puppets and wouldn’t you know there was Teddy Roosevelt,” Schrag said. “With his monical with a little chain of his eye with this big grin, and I thought this is too good, so I bought Teddy Roosevelt.”

The collection of finger puppets has continued to grow. Some are gifted by students, some bought online, others purchased on field trips, but the finger puppet team continues to grow as time goes on.

One question you may find yourself asking is why would anyone teach with finger puppets? 

“Because it’s fun,” Schrag said. “It’s just a silly way to remind us that history is always around us and that history doesn’t have to be dry and dull and boring. They can be finger puppets and sometimes all you need is just a little giggle in the middle of the day with a finger puppet.” 

She is not the only one who stands by this belief. 

“The finger puppets added youth and playfulness into many deep and dark topics we covered,” senior Sarah Derby said. 

Not only do the finger puppets serve great purpose in the classroom, finger puppet Nelson Mandela has served as a good luck charm for the debate team, courtesy of senior Helen Viloria. 

“Helen Viloria was in my classroom looking at them, and I was like, ‘which one do you want to take for good luck?’” said Schrag. “Last year’s debate theme was on criminal justice reform, so she took on Nelson Mandela. They came back third in state.”

The story doesn’t end there though. Once again this year the team has taken finger puppet Teddy Roosevelt.

“Teddy Roosevelt is now hanging out with the debate team as a good luck charm. They periodically find their ways in different places,” Schrag said. 

Being so highly valued comes at a price though. The finger puppets were hit with a kidnapping threat just this year. 

“Someone threatened to take the finger puppets during the devious lick challenge,” Derby said. 

However, the finger puppets remained safe and sound on Schrag’s whiteboard, and appear to be in good hands going forward. 

“My whole class protested and swore to protect them,” Derby said.