Puppets Nico, CJ, and Mena, along with their creators, have won a 2023 Kidscreen Award, recognizing them as among the best children’s TV and digital media content in the world. The three puppets are the stars of UConn’s Feel Your Best Self collaborative project, which took home the trophy in the “Best Web/App Series—Original” category on Feb. 14 at an awards ceremony in Miami.
The project is a 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, and we are honored that Feel Your Best Self has received such a prestigious award,” says 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 UConn project was one of 550 entries considered from around the world at this year’s Kidscreen Awards, which recognize 52 categories spanning programming, broadcasting, and digital media at the annual Kidscreen Summit — the global kids entertainment industry’s largest gathering of the year.
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. The comprehensive educational toolkit their team created features Nico, CJ, and Mena as they navigate everyday issues and work through big feelings.
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 was 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 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,” 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.