How Puppets Are Teaching Kids to "Feel Your Best Self"

Three colorful puppets smiling

Feel Your Best Self (FYBS) is a free bilingual toolkit for kids that teaches 12 simple coping strategies to promote emotion regulation through the use of puppets, videos, and supporting materials. In this Q&A with Colorín Colorado, the FYBS team shares how the idea came about, why they wanted to make the materials in Spanish, and how schools are using the toolkit to support students.

What is Feel Your Best Self?

Feel Your Best Self is a free bilingual toolkit for kids that teaches 12 simple, emotion-focused coping strategies through the use of puppets, videos, and related activities. These types of coping strategies are important life skills, and when used regularly, they can promote emotional well-being. Using FYBS, kids explore different strategies to find those that help them feel their best as they navigate different situations. And the videos and resource materials are also available in Spanish!

Can you describe the different components to Feel Your Best Self?

The toolkit includes short videos for each of the 12 strategies in which 3 puppet kids offer and show each other options to help them shift their thinking, settle their body, and more! Tip sheets with brief discussion questions are provided to support co-viewing the videos with caregivers. In addition, strategy cards are included that outline three to five steps, using simple words and visuals, to prompt what each strategy entails. For educators, a facilitator guide is available to help walk through using FYBS, including tips on incorporating puppets so that kids can make their own fun friend to help them practice the strategies.

For more information, educators can watch the two-part introductory webinar as well.

Meet Nico, Mena, and CJ, and learn about different types of feelings!

How did it come about?

During COVID, like so many organizations, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at UConn was looking for ways to shift their workshops online. Simultaneously, Dr. Sandy Chafouleas and team at the Neag School of Education and UConn Collaboratory on School and Child Health were disseminating simple strategies that anyone could easily adopt to help support emotional well-being as schools re-opened. The initial collaboration started two years ago, and we haven’t looked back since as interest in and use of Feel Your Best Self continues to grow around the world.

Why did your team feel that this initiative was needed now?

COVID thrust a huge spotlight on increasing mental health concerns. The stress over the past few years has amplified these concerns as kids and their caregivers find their coping skills to be not typically developed or stretched too thin. Our team was concerned about the capacity for schools to meet this need; educators were experiencing the same stressors as the rest of us, so it was unreasonable to expect school systems to be ready to address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs as schools re-opened.

This is where we dug deep into what we knew about simple strategies — the smallest intervention element, rooted in what we know works in psychology — that could be packaged in a fun way to support emotion-focused coping. There are many more details in between, but this is how Feel Your Best Self was born. Our goal was to give every person options to help them navigate their feelings in the moment using fun, simple strategies.

What kinds of research-based practice informed its development?

Twelve core strategies are featured in Feel Your Best Self. Our team worked to map the evidence in emotion regulation, selecting those strategies that could be taught quickly for anyone to use in shifting their feelings in the moment. We organized the 12 strategies into three categories that could resonate with kids:

  • Calm Yourself: These strategies focus on self-soothing skills that settle the body or refocus attention. Often these strategies incorporate physical movement, like Belly Breathing or Shaking out the Yuck.
  • Catch Your Feelings: These strategies support self-awareness of one's emotional state, again helping us re-focus attention or shift our thoughts, like Turn the Dial or Push the Clouds.
  • Connect with Others: These strategies are all about social relationships, which could be choosing, offering, or seeking connection. Bring a High 5! or Be a Kind Helper can help both others and ourselves to feel our best.

What led you to using puppets?

Given our goal to put lots of fun in learning these emotion-focused coping strategies, puppetry offered a perfect complement! Puppetry has long been used in therapeutic and educational settings, so it was a natural fit. We also have an evidence brief with more information about why and how you can use puppetry in the classroom.

Why did you decide to include videos and materials in Spanish?

As we built and continue to grow Feel Your Best Self, we have prioritized access. We have worked to ensure that materials are available in different formats — for diverse readers and non-readers. Within our home state of CT, Spanish is the second-most spoken language, and many of our school partners expressed that it would be helpful to have Spanish materials, so that became one of our priorities for increasing access.

Have you seen any outreach taking place in Spanish?

We have been tagged in social media posts that are disseminating information about Feel Your Best Self in Spanish. Our own work has primarily been within the CT bilingual programs that have been our partners, who have been supporting outreach to the families of their students. The recent piece by Edutopia shows what Feel Your Best Self can look like in Spanish-speaking classrooms.

What are some of the ways that schools are using Feel Your Best Self?

Schools are primarily using Feel Your Best Self universally — meaning at the whole class or school level. However, we have also gotten feedback from school-based mental health professionals (e.g., school counselors, psychologists, social workers) and community providers who are using FYBS in more targeted ways to support small group and individual needs around emotion regulation.

How can schools incorporate Feel Your Best Self into their social-emotional learning?

Feel Your Best Self is flexible and versatile. This means that it can be integrated in many ways and at different times during the school day and can serve as a stand-alone option or can complete existing initiatives. For example, Feel Your Best Self can be used in morning meeting, a designated SEL block, during transitions, and even into related services/arts (e.g., mental health supports, health/physical education, music). If you are already using a program or curriculum, you can teach kids how the "language" of Feel Your Best Self aligns with whatever you are already doing.

What kinds of responses do you see from students, teachers, and families?

We have received an overwhelmingly positive response to FYBS — whether it be the "fun" videos and puppetry, or that the materials are free and easy to use. Students, educators, families, and community providers have all shared different success stories. But stay tuned, as we are currently collecting this information to summarize and share!

How are families using it?

From families that we have been in contact with, many are using the videos along with our Feelings Forecast to learn together and talk about emotion-focused coping strategies. Our Tip Sheets offer a great starting place to get those conversations going; watch a video together and use the tips to talk about it and try the strategy in your own family! Some families also have shared that they had their children create sock puppets.

Is there a success story you’d like to share?

One of our favorite success stories is about an elementary student attending a bilingual classroom. We worked with that classroom over the course of a month. During our first visit, this student was pretty disengaged — head down on their desk, hood up. The student started to come around during the second visit when we were making puppets with the class, but was still apprehensive. Each visit, we noticed the student was engaging more and more; by our last visit, this student was standing up at the front of the class demonstrating strategies with their puppet!


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].

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