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Big Bird to Dr Sam

Back in 1968, the children's TV programme Sesame Street proved that puppets could be powerful teachers of literacy and numeracy. They follow a long tradition, going back to tiny figures found in prehistoric sites, of puppets being used to get a message across.

Unicef has backed initiatives using puppets to communicate with children, particularly in war zones. The Genesis Project, sponsored in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, used a yellow rabbit and a bumble bee to warn 100,000 children of the danger of landmines.

Puppets are used by psychologists and social workers when trying to establish if a child has been abused. At Manchester's Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Dr Sam, the cheeky puppet (operated by play consultant Frances Binns) sticks his tongue out at consultants, and is the "person" brought in to explain complex or painful treatments. Young patients are far more likely to confess their fears to Dr Sam than to his operator.


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