Written by Carol Barry
“For children, the world of puppets is entirely their own, a world without boundaries that they can freely explore.” ~ Teach Magazine
Eddy Franklin is 10 years old and he has a BIG PROBLEM! He is too embarrassed to share it with anyone, even his parents or his best friends. Eddy is being bullied at school and he feels it is his fault, but the bruises are beginning to show. What should Eddy do?
Actually, Eddy is not a real student . . . he’s a puppet, in an Assistance League® of Greater Placer program for elementary students called Kids on the Block (KOB). When Eddy’s friends, Melody and Clare, find out, they try to help Eddy figure out what he can do to feel SAFE AT SCHOOL again. Melody also teams up with Jennifer in another puppet show to explain LEARNING DIFFERENCES to third graders. In RESCUE OR REPORT, puppets talk with 1st graders about how to make safe decisions.
Assistance League of Greater Placer volunteers say they never imagined themselves as puppeteers. Many members just want to make a positive difference in the lives of school children, to get them thinking about values such as kindness and empathy and to support their self-esteem. Some of these dedicated volunteers have been members for many years and have served on a long list of community projects. They had never been puppeteers before and some had never even SEEN a puppet! But each one was committed to serving in whatever capacity needed. They especially love after-performance chats with students about their feelings regarding things like bullying, rescuing or reporting to adults, how we each learn differently and what they can do to be safe and help others. The young students are eager to share!
What could make a greater impact in our local communities than building confidence in our young folks and giving them problem-solving tools? Perhaps the simple kindness of a puppet inviting students who eat/play alone to join her will help prevent just one bully, or one lonely victim. Perhaps these delightful puppets can help encourage or offer empathy to one (or more) child who is feeling helpless or scared. Or build a safer school environment. It’s a sure bet that they’ll listen to a puppet show because it’s a safe place designed with their interests at heart.
Some of our puppeteers volunteer because they were bullied or teased mercilessly in schools that had no programs to help them. KOB scripts offer several alternatives to get out of a bad situation and every effort is made to revise scripts to be relevant to today’s issues, like cyber bullying. Some participants say they also love the camaraderie with fellow puppeteers and that happy feeling they carry home with them afterward.
Our Talented Puppeteers!
What really touches our hearts are the stories volunteers tell us:
“When I was practicing my LEARNING DIFFERENCES script at home, I invited my three grandchildren to come be our audience. When we finished, my little six year old wildly raised her hand. She really wanted to help Jennifer. Her heart went right out to that little girl. Time and again children related to the puppets as having problems familiar to theirs. They weren’t puppets. They were little people.”
“We were setting up for a show at a school when a fifth grader came to the door. She wanted to know what we were doing, and I explained that the show was for much younger kids. She said, ‘Well, I still have some youth left in me!’ We who dedicate time to KOB feel the same. We all have some youth left in us!”
“I promised my 3 year old great granddaughter there would be someone very special waiting for her when she woke up from her nap. And there he was, sitting in a little chair next to the fireplace . . . my KOB puppet Eddy. She immediately began talking to Eddy and hugging him, saying, “Everything is OK. I won’t let those kids be mean to you.” They had a great visit, those two! When her dad came home, it was time for me to leave. As I began to put Eddy back in his tote, she broke down in sobs that her Daddy tried to soothe. It broke my heart to see how her empathy for Eddy was so immediate, and so strong, that she wanted him to stay so she could be his friend.”