By now we all have a good understanding of how the Covid-19 pandemic affected life as we knew it in unimaginable ways. It meant that many things had to be postponed or approached in a completely different way. Our Emotional Resilience outreach programme is something that we felt was extremely important to keep running throughout this time.

Ailie Finlay, the lead puppeteer for our Emotional Resilience programme, has written a bit about the programme and how it was adapted, so that we could ensure teachers and children were being supported during this difficult time in a way that was safe for everybody.

“Since the beginning of the year, I have been regularly trotting up the road to my local Post Office with bundles of packages in my arms – as if it was Christmas every month!

I am the lead puppeteer on the Emotional Resilience project and have been involved with the project for a number of years now. I train teachers how to use glove puppets in the classroom to foster the emotional resilience of young children (3 – 6 years). For the academic year 2020/21 the plan had been to work with teachers and nursery staff in Dunoon. Then Covid arrived…

Initially we thought it might be best to simply postpone the project until the following year. But thinking about it we realised that the pandemic situation meant that children were even more in need of emotional support at school than in other years. So, we decided to run an emotional resilience Puppet Packages Project. Rather than traveling to the schools and training the teachers in person I made up packages of puppets, scripts, props and books for each class every month. Hence the many trips to the post office!

As with other years it was planned that the project would provide a simple way for teachers to talk about emotions with their pupils and also allow the children the chance to discuss feelings in a non-threatening, relaxed atmosphere. The puppets were all very non-judgmental and great listeners! Each package explored a particular theme through short scripts and activities. For example, towards the end of term a hermit crab arrived and explained to the children how worried he was because he had outgrown his shell and was going to have to find a new one. The teachers were able to use this scenario to talk about coping with change in general and specifically about moving on from nursery to school. The children could give the little crab lots of advice. (In general, the puppets made lots of mistakes and the children loved to give them advice!)

Hermit Crab in his new shell

We also realised that the puppets this year could provide a little bit of fun and novelty to the schools in difficult times. None of the normal ‘extras’ that provide a break from routine were available in the classroom (no visitors, no trips, no clubs). But the arrival of a new puppet character each month was just like having an interesting and sometimes eccentric guest come to stay!

Training was provided by video. And we used commercial puppets rather than the usual hand-made ones, in order that they could be machine-washed without coming to harm. This extra hygiene was necessary during Covid times. (Normally we would work with Ruth Bailey theatre-maker to make bespoke puppets for each teacher.)

A year after our decision to convert the project so that it could continue to run during the pandemic, we are again making plans. We have learnt some valuable lessons from running the project in this way. The teachers responded well to distance learning so we will go forward with a hybrid training programme, mixing in some video and zoom teaching with face-to-face contact. We have also discovered the appeal of a package in the post – to both child and adult – so I will be continuing to trot up and down to the post office with arms full of packages!”

-Ailie Finlay

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