Last Spring, a third grade teacher asked me to join her Zoom class to introduce myself as the new Elementary School Counselor for Fall and to share a story to address anxiety. We were at the start of the Covid crisis, adjusting to remote learning amidst a worldwide pandemic.
I unpacked my puppets and introduced the class to a shy anxious turtle named Bartholomew. I told them Bartholmew moved to Seward over Spring Break, right when Covid hit, and now I can’t get him to come out of his shell. I asked them to help by sharing what they like to do when they feel scared, worried or shy. One by one kids raised their hands and told me different coping strategies that worked for them. As the students spoke, Bartholmew slowly poked his head out, and I thanked the kids for making him feel less alone.
There is something magical about puppets that helps kids express themselves more openly to these soft creatures than to a human alone; perhaps because animals haven’t betrayed kids in the ways people have let them down.
On the first day of school, I stuck a small polar bear puppet in my pocket as I greeted kids outside. Most of the children missed him as they walked past with their backpacks filled with hopes and fears, but a few noticed and their eyes lit up.
When I introduced myself to the primary classes I told them, “Sage is my young wise polar bear friend who reminds me to breathe.” Their faces melted into smiles, not at me, but at the puppet in my hand. Even the intermediate students responded with grins when I told them I had many puppet friends who helped me with my job.
Recently, a first grade girl pushed everything off her desk in anger. In previous lessons, I addressed this girl’s behavior but this time I knelt in front of her desk and Sage spoke to her. She smiled at the small bear and gave him a quick hug before picking up her supplies and returning to work.
During a recent Zoom lesson, I introduced a third grade class to Alice the Owl, who was born with one eye and once felt ashamed about this difference until she realized it gave her the superpower of superior hearing. A boy in the class with visual impairment of one eye said, “That’s kinda like me, if I squint with this eye I can block out something I don’t want to see, but with my good eye I still have to see it.”
Of all the tools in my Counselor’s shed, stories and puppets prove the most reliable when it comes to connecting to the emotional lives of children. I often think how lucky I am that creative play is an essential piece of my job. And really, who doesn’t love a cute furry puppet?
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