Virtual puppet chats bring kids joy amid the pandemic
Orlando puppeteer Tracey Conner has been helping kids cope with the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic--with a little help from her friends.
Conner, who is the executive director of Michelee Puppets, joins Intersection with her puppet Astrid to discuss the puppet chats her company has been running online.
Conner says when schools closed because of the pandemic, she knew there was going to be a need to reach out to children who were sheltering at home and going through social isolation.
“We know from our long history of using puppets in all kinds of ways that they would be a good medium for helping kids kind of reconnect, help them talk through some of their feelings, give them moments of joy and just help them kind of get through their struggles of being stuck at home,” she says.
Parents can sign their children up for a 10-minute video call with a puppet on Michelee Puppets’ website. Sometimes, the puppets will play games or have dance parties with children.
“We giggle and we laugh and we dance and you know, we just have fun,” says Astrid. “You just kind of touch base and have a little moment of joy.”
Conner says the children lead the conversations, and will often return week after week with things they want to talk about.
She says children can open up to puppets in a way that they might not be able to with an adult.
“Puppets have this magical quality,” Conner says. “They seem real, but they're not, and children are not intimidated by them...So they feel free to express themselves.”
Conner says the puppet chats have impacted people in ways she never expected. She recalls a child with autism who wasn’t very communicative who had to do a Zoom interview for school.
“Her mom signed her up to have these Zoom conversations with a puppet and she just blossomed,” Conner says. “She opened up and she was able to carry on conversations, and she successfully had her interview for the school...Her mom attributes that to the puppet chats.”
Conner says the puppet chats have also helped a man from Canada whose brain was severely damaged after being mugged.
“He's been chatting with one specific puppet and puppeteer for probably eight months now,” she says. “He's going through some really hard times, and he does talk about what happened to him.”
Conner says the puppet chats have been a healing experience for the puppeteers, too.
“My great blessing in life is to be able to use my art, my talent to help others and particularly children,” she says. “And I have heard from the puppeteers that participate in the puppet chats that it has really meant a lot to them to be a part of these conversations...That's one of those beautiful things that we were not expecting as an outcome, but it certainly has been a positive outcome for us.”