Can puppets help children with emotional learning?

February 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

The connection between learning and emotional well-being has been well documented. It is known that children who have chaotic lifestyles, have difficult family lives and have been taking into the care system often do less well at school and struggle to take up the opportunities that present themselves. They can also have difficulty forming stable and trusting relationships. The school system also has a responsibility to prepare all children and young people for the future and developing emotional resilience and good social skills are part of this.

One mental health trust has developed a unique and pioneering way of building emotional and social skills in young children. They have created a fun and interactive website for young child that is designed to be used in primary schools as part of the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning curriculum (SEAL). It teaches children about feelings, helps children build empathy and emotional intelligence and also encourages children to talk about their problems. It does this through dynamic content, animated stories and songs. As well as helping all children to understand feelings it also de-stigmatises mental health services by normalising this kind of intervention, introducing children to mental health services in a fun way. Throughout the site a puppet guide, or Cam as he is known to his friends, leads the children through the content and brings his gang of ‘feeling’ sock puppets into the mix. The site is a virtual world – built in Cam’s ‘den’. Den’s are spaces that children feel they own and feel comfortable in and Cam invites you to join him in his den.

I’m slightly biased because I was involved in the project, from the idea to the final stages, as I managed their communications department before coming to work at the Innovation Unit. But even if I am biased I’m sure you’ll agree that the site is pretty special. At its launch it already saw one young boy with Autism engage in the content for a sustained period of time, which the head teacher of the school said was very encouraging as it was unusual for him. There was also one young girl who talked very rarely in class or outside of school engaging with a film-maker, talking through a sock puppet she had made herself. She had called him ‘Talk talk’. This was typical of our experience with the content – even children with more severe emotional problems seemed to really open up when talking ‘through’ their puppet alter egos.

The site was funded by Camden PCT and they worked closely with children and teachers from a range of schools in Camden as well as recruiting some award winning animation and design agencies to the project, Absolutely Cuckoo, Elmwood and Redhouse Lane.

Check out Cam and his den at http://www.camsden.co.uk and join in the fun.

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