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Mr Fluffy teaches drugs message

Film stars can be a disappointment in real life, never managing to be quite as charismatic as they seemed on screen. But when Mr Fluffy puts in a surprise appearance from a side door at the premi re of West Dunbartonshire's new DVD on drugs, there is a stunned silence.

Not only is the star of the films devastatingly handsome, with his mauve fur and big red nose, he is also 7ft tall and looms over the audience of tots from a local early years centre.

Drugs education is not an obvious topic for pre-5s, and a third of parents canvassed were initially "concerned", says quality improvement officer Angela Simms.

"But that was before they watched the Mr Fluffy films, which we commissioned from the Pace Theatre Company, whom we've had giving workshops in primary and secondary schools on issues like drugs and sex education for years."

Feedback after the screening of The Adventures of Mr Fluffy changed, with every parent agreeing it was appropriate for their wee ones.

"The idea of drugs education for pre-5s is a little controversial," says Andy White, the leader of the council, who was at the screening in Clydebank. "But we believe it is essential for children of all ages to be able to make informed choices."

The three scenarios of the Mr Fluffy DVD contain one simple, practical message each: what to do if you find a syringe in the playground, or unknown substances around the house, or in the medicine cabinet.

Colourful characters, real children, absorbing storylines and a pleasingly daft dash of visual humour hold the attention of the whole audience, from the tots on the floor at the front to the adults.

The screening is followed by an energetic workshop for the children, run by Pace's lively young leaders, in which the educational message is again wrapped up in a package of fun and interactivity.

Afterwards, young Connor is still excited by his encounter with Mr Fluffy, an extraterrestrial who travels in a red postbox. "I was talking to Mr Fluffy, but he didn't say anything to me because he can't talk. I had to go to Mr Fluffy's planet. Then he got into his postbox and he came to my school.

"I like him. He is so bright and so big, like my Daddy."

The children have to enjoy what they are doing, says Anne McQuillan, the head of the Dalmonach early education and childcare centre, where the films were made. "It's also important to get the children's parents involved, by showing them the DVD and how it will be used. It lets them see that the issues are handled sensitively."

The DVD's educational impact is enhanced by the follow-up workshop, says early education headteacher Mary Goldie. "We'll be training people from all our early education centres. There'll usually be several who are very good in that kind of role."

Until now, these might have been wary about broaching the subject of drugs with pre-5s, says Eleanor Pollock, the head of St Eunan's early education and childcare centre in Clydebank. "But these Mr Fluffy films are innovative and very useful. Our staff will be able to use them right away."

The project was sponsored by Scotland Against Drugs

Workshops Follow-up activities and workshops can deepen children's learning. These can be led by early years staff, following training. West Dunbartonshire is happy to share its early drugs education work with other authorities and is looking at ways of delivering training. For more information, contact Angela Simms, tel: 01389 738659

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