Puppeteers teach about disabilities

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Cerebral Palsy of Virginia organization recently came to Robertson Elementary School and presented &uot;Kids on the Block,&uot; an educational puppet program that promotes understanding about disabilities with the emphasis on abilities.

Shannon Ashman and Erin Godsell performed several skits to bring awareness that children with physical and learning challenges are not strange, they just do things differently. The emphasis was on CP, Down Syndrome and learning disabilities, though the troupe does deal with other subjects like self-esteem, prejudice and gang issues.

The &uot;Bunraku&uot; style of puppetry means that puppeteers are in &uot;the shadow of the puppet&uot; explained Ashman before the show began, but the children were not fazed by seeing the puppeteers. The dialogue of the two puppets caught their attention and asked relatively few questions concerning the puppets once they warmed up to the subject and interactive style of the program.

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The fear of differences was correlated through a skit where one of the puppets helps the other one to overcome the fear of a pet snake (it was fake, of course). By the time that skits were done the children were ready to ask questions.

&uot;What’s it like to be in a wheel chair?&uot; &uot;What is Down Syndrome?&uot; &uot;Do kids always tease you?&uot; &uot;Do you get your numbers messed up?&uot;

Such questions let the teachers who accompanied their classes know that children want to bridge the gap between just seeing someone in a wheelchair and relating to others with physical and learning challenges.

&uot;I think that people with disabilities are just like everyone else and they deserve every opportunity,&uot; said Ashman. &uot;I think it’s important to educate children while they are little to try and stop the stereotyping of kids with disabilities.&uot;

For more information on the Kids on the Block program contact Cerebral Palsy of Virginia at 757-497-7474, or through e-mail: cerebralpalsy@cerebralpalsyofvirginia.com