Students respond to puppets

November 23, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Joanie Lukins resembles a beekeeper as she slips black-netted material over her head. Dressed all in black, but able to see through the netting, she is less noticeable as she stands behind her puppet to talk about learning disabilities to a group of children attending Parents Night Out.

The Kids on the Block puppets are a new way that several local groups have adopted to talk to children about problems, such as bullying or not using alcohol or tobacco.

In Lukins' case, the puppet mentions famous people such as Walt Disney and Tom Cruise who had learning disabilities. She says that in a class of 30 children, maybe three or four will have a learning disability.

Lukins says the children relate to the 4-foot tall puppets better than having an adult talk to them about the subjects.


"Children are far more willing to talk to a puppet who is a child itself," she says.

After a skit is presented on a topic, the children are allowed to ask questions, and Lukins says they don't feel intimidated by the puppets.

"Children will interact and ask questions with a puppet," she says.

Sometimes the puppets have to turn to an adult for an answer.

"The puppets are children, so they don't have all the answers," Lukins says.

The puppets also have appeared in a skit on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs at Jennie Rogers Elementary School.

Cliff Dunne with the Danville Family Resource Center says the children couldn't take their eyes off the puppets.

"Even the kids who have the hardest time listening and behaving are totally engaged in the message."

He thinks the size of the puppets probably keeps the children interested.

"They almost seem to believe they're real."

Dunne knew about the puppets because they had been used locally by a group from Northern Kentucky, The Nurturing Center. He obtained a grant from the local Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention to help pay for the puppets.

"That's why I've been trying to get the puppets for Danville," he said. "Because we saw how effective the programs were in the elementary schools when they performed them."

Help buying the puppets

Several groups joined forces to buy the 12 puppets, which cost $700 to $900 each. R.R. Donnelley, which has tried to promote cultural diversity, brought the people together and helped fund the project. In addition to the Learning Disabilities Association, other groups involved are the Autism Support Group, the Danville and Boyle County Family Resource Centers, which want to use them to talk about bullying and violence prevention, and Heart of Kentucky United Way board members. The Danville Presbyterian Church also helped with the purchase.

The puppets require training because they come with copyrighted scripts on the different topics. Each program has five different scripts. "They must be performed word-for-word according to the script," Dunne says. "They do that because the subjects are carefully researched."

The goal for the agencies involved is to find people in the community who are willing to work with the puppets.

"The problem has been having the time and getting in touch with people who might be interested in helping," Dunne says.

Once the puppeteers are trained, others in the community could request a performance. Dunne says ideally there would be an adult group and a college-age or high school group. Community Education has helped by offering a puppet workshop and plans to offer another in the spring.

Dunne says working with the puppets is more demanding than it seems.

"It takes practice in how to use the puppets. Some of the puppets have braces or crutches so they're actually quite heavy."

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