Deb Ward Lyons is the Executive Director for Puppets in Education (PiE). She began as a volunteer puppeteer with Kids on the Block-Vermont 28 years ago, moving into Co-Director and Development Director positions along the way. Deb continues to actively puppeteer in PiE presentations, helping the troupe reach over 11,000 children throughout VT, NY and NH each year. She also works as a Standardized Patient at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, teaching and assessing medical students and other health care professionals. In her free time Deb enjoys pastel painting, house renovation projects and spending time with her four children.

Puppets in Education

For 2,000 years, people around the world have used puppets to educate and encourage positive change. Working the edge between entertainment and education, puppets can both teach and persuade.

Puppets in Education is a nonprofit program that teaches children how to keep themselves safe and healthy and to appreciate each other’s differences by using life-sized puppets that model effective leadership, problem-solving and social skills.

In our educational programs, the “puppet kids” discuss difficult topics—such as disabilities, abuse, depression or drug use—in a clear, non-threatening manner. The puppets also answer questions and correct myths by presenting accurate information and showing positive, helpful behavior that shows kids how to build better relationships. The programs are designed to provide age-appropriate information and engage students in brainstorming, role-playing and life-skill activities.

There is a magic that occurs when puppets and children interact. The puppets are large, colorful and lively. They capture the attention of children, then offer information that relates to their lives. Once the children are fully immersed in the puppets’ world, learning occurs effortlessly! Puppets can be mirrors, teaching us about ourselves—but they are much more than that. Watching a puppet show engages the parts of the brain that process experience and reason and thinking things through. The scripts are open-ended so children are put to work solving problems in a safe and voluntary way.

Because they are characters, not people, puppets are the ideal messengers for discussing sensitive issues. They create a world in which we recognize ourselves and identify with the characters as the drama unfolds. At the same time, a puppet show seems to hold a piece of “safety glass” between the action and the audience. Although we are drawn into the drama, we are not threatened by it.

Through the puppets our goals of prevention and intervention work together: For example, because the children feel safe and accepted in the world created by the puppets, they often find it easier to ask difficult questions—or for help. Some real life examples of questions asked of the puppets are:  

  • “How can I know when I should help someone with a disability?” to Mark the puppet who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
  • “When your parents get into a fight and it never stops—how can you help them?” to Brenda the puppet whose parents are divorced.
  • “How do you know when something is beautiful?” to Renaldo the puppet who is blind.
  • “Do you ever feel if there is a big hole right here (child pointed to her heart)?” to Shaun the puppet who lives with depression.
  • “If someone tells you they’re doing drugs, what should you do if they won’t listen? What if it’s someone you care about?” to Valerie the puppet who chooses not to drink or use drugs.

Puppets in Education has developed responses to these challenging questions based on research and in consultation with counselors and other professionals in the field of prevention.

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