Nico, CJ, and Mena may only be kids, and puppets to boot, but they and their creators were recently nominated for a 2023 Kidscreen Award, which recognizes children’s TV and digital media content.
The three puppets are the stars of the Feel Your Best Self project, spurred through partnership between UConn’s Collaboratory on School and Child Health (CSCH) and Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. CSCH sits between UConn’s Neag School of Education and Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy, while the Ballard Institute is part of the School of Fine Arts.
“These are like the Oscars for kid’s programming,” says Feel Your Best Self co-founder Sandra Chafouleas, who is also a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Neag School’s Department of Educational Psychology. “This cross-disciplinary collaboration has resulted in a project that is more than we could have possibly imagined, with each person contributing their unique talents to result in a project that can truly bring joy to kids and their caregivers.”
Feel Your Best Self began during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to address the emotional challenges faced by schools, children, and their caregivers. The team brings together collective expertise in educational psychology and puppetry to teach simple emotion-focused coping strategies to calm yourself, catch your feelings, and connect with others. Over the past couple of years, the project evolved synergistically into the complete, free FYBS toolkit and its 12 educational strategies.
The Kidscreen Award winners will be announced at a ceremony on Feb. 14, 2023, in Miami. Given their comprehensive educational toolkit that features Nico, CJ, and Mena as they navigate everyday issues and work through big feelings, the Feel Your Best Self team is a finalist in the “Best Web/App Series—Original” category and was one of 550 entries considered from around the world.
Feel Your Best Self is led by co-founders Chafouleas and Emily Wicks, who is also manager of operations and collections at the Ballard Institute, and Neag School postdoctoral scholar Emily Iovino who coordinates implementation support for the research team.
“Working together and seeing it be adopted for use in schools has been the most amazing experience, so we are very excited regardless of the Kidscreen outcome.” — Emily Wicks, co-founder of Feel Your Best Self
Chafouleas and the CSCH team took the evidence in emotion-focused coping to develop simple, fun, kid-appropriate strategies. Then Wicks put the work in motion to develop characters, video scripts, and the Feel Your Best Self world by connecting a team of Puppet Arts students and alumni. Among the many key players were Sarah Nolen ’16 SFA, John Cody ’17 SFA, Yanniv Frank ’23 SFA, and Heather Asch ’90 SFA.
“It’s such an honor to be nominated alongside productions coming out of the Canadian Children’s Block (CBC) and Peacock Kids,” says Nolen, who served as the creative force in many roles such as director, creative director, producer, and more. “I think this project showcases an impressive amount of alumni talent and proves what an incredible network we have access to through UConn.”
In addition to the short videos of Nico, CJ, and Mena demonstrating each of the 12 emotion-focused coping strategies, the FYBS toolkit features: strategy cards with simple words/pictures showing the steps in each strategy, reflection sheets so kids can journal about how the strategy worked for them, a facilitator guide for educators, and a guide to puppet-making to allow kids to create their own characters. The toolkit has been piloted in local elementary classrooms, and most recently has garnered attention from national media for its implementation in Natchaug Elementary in Windham.
While FYBS was originally created for use in classrooms, educators and community providers can adapt its free tools for use in small groups or with individual students. Families will also find the FYBS videos, tip sheets, and strategy cards to be a fun way to talk about emotions with children.
“Working together and seeing it be adopted for use in schools has been the most amazing experience, so we are very excited regardless of the Kidscreen outcome,” Wicks says.
Feel Your Best Self is made possible through the generous support of Principal Foundation. Additional support is from The Neag Foundation and others. To learn more about Feel Your Best Self, visit feelyourbestself.collaboration.uconn.edu or contact email@example.com.