Puppet shows helping families and students with stress of COVID-19 and more

It all started with a puppet named Cooper. 

Gainesville Educational Consultant Dr. Tracy Leibach had already been using puppets to connect with students when she worked as a school counselor and used them to announce the morning news and teach character lessons of the day.
“I would go into the classroom and bring puppets,” said Leibach who studied psychology, mental health counseling and school counseling at the University of Florida. 
“They respond very well, they eat it up, they love it,” she said about how kids react to lessons and messages delivered via colorful and creative puppet characters.
In 2019, Leibach started making videos featuring puppets for kids and soon decided that she wanted to launch an original character of her own creation. So she sent her ideas and schematics to a professional puppet maker who created Cooper, a goofy tan and white pup who joins Leibach who is known as “Ms. Tracy” in the discussion of serious topics.
While networking to learn how to become a better puppet master, Leibach said she connected with a husband and wife puppet show producing team known as DLUX Puppets. The Las Vegas based production company creates live theatrical shows that are  presented at performing arts centers across the country. 


When DLUX was contracted by Kaiser Permanente and Diablo Regional Arts Association to create a series of puppet shows that tackle serious topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they reached out to Leibach to help design the curriculum.
She met with the team to develop an outline on major issues related to the pandemic and then honed in on the areas to concentrate on. The result of the collaboration is a “free digital video series accompanied with curriculum, activities and mental health expert advice to serve this very timely need for children.”
The videos join Cory and Tina as they travel with their grandfather back in time in The Quarantine Time Machine. The series of videos and activities help children reflect upon their time in quarantine, the description on the website states, “The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine has had a tremendous impact on the mental health and wellness of our youth. Some children have experienced feelings of isolation, insecurity, fear, despair, anxiety, and helplessness.”
To explore the topics and curriculum materials visit https://www.quarantinetimemachine.com/topics/
The team narrowed down the program to four discussions.
“School is Different” encourages students to “tell their story and process their emotions about school being different.”
“How to Manage Extreme Emotions” teaches students “how to determine the size of problems they are having and will learn how to respond in a healthy manner. They will also build on their existing feeling vocabulary and learn strategies to help regulate their extreme emotions.”
“Practicing Empathy” has students practice active listening skills to gain perspective of other student experiences in quarantine. They will learn valuable interpersonal skills that will allow them to support others during this time and in the future.”
And “How to Manage Uncertainty” teaches students how to “zoom in on what they can control (e.g., thinking), and develop skills that will help them to focus on the positive in order to enhance their optimistic growth mindset.”
Each topic in the program has educational and entertaining videos, class discussion prompts for each topic, curriculum activities to reinforce coping skills, Quarantine Time Machine Character paper puppet craft activity, advice from a Mental Health Expert on each topic, a parent or guardian letter, a Quarantine Time Machine Coloring page and a bonus behind the scenes video showing how the puppets were built and how the videos. The program was designed for educators to complete with their students either in class or via distance or hybrid learning. 
To see what the program offers visit: https://www.quarantinetimemachine.com/topics/ and to see each topic covered and the accompanying videos and curriculum materials click on PROGRAM in the top menu and select the topic you want to view.
Beyond the Quarantine Time Machine effort, Leibach continues to grow her own series of lessons and topics offered through her Facebook page Coopers Corner Puppet Show. She serves as president/CEO of Cooper’s Corner Productions, LLC. Click here to see that page. https://www.facebook.com/cooperscornerpuppetshow
If a family or school contacts her through the Facebook page, she can arrange for Cooper to come to class virtually and discuss topics with teachers and students.
Leibach said her whole family is involved in developing Cooper’s Corner Puppet Show with her daughter editing on videos, her son managing the set and her husband joining her with the character Murray.
Leibach says she develops her shows based on current events and “when I talk to families, I get a feel for what their biggest concerns and worries are.” 
Her last show announcement reads, “Do you ever wonder what to say or do when people talk about LIVES MATTERING?  Many are struggling to find the “right” thing to do to help improve these difficult conversations.  One simple thing you can do to help is to respectfully listen…REALLY listen.”
Another show reminds parents and teachers how to wash their hands well and another show teaches children to distance physically while socializing.
Leibach said she will continue to tackle “topics that are difficult” and create them in a way that is “careful, cautious and sensitive to others.”
Her goal is to help as many people work through situations that cause stress.
She said the key is to start “talking, and keep on talking,” and added that, “Cooper’s Corner is a vehicle to get that conversation started.”

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