A great year for mentors in miniature

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Wally teaches problem-solving skills with a big grin. And Molly's homely homilies make good manners seem good sense. Tiny's approach to anger management is practical and fun, and Dina's delivery of how to understand your feelings and do your best in school has children on the edge of their seats.

Personal and social development, puppet-style, is making a big impression on pupils in Aberdeen. Infants at Kittybrewster Primary and over-8s at the Aberlour Child Care Trust's Primrosehill Family Centre, have taken to their new role-models with great enthusiasm.

Wally and Molly are built to the scale of four-year-olds. Dina is a dinosaur, Tiny is a turtle with attitude, and the foursome are key resources in a new PSD programme for pupils, teachers and parents, created and marketed by American-based parenting expert Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton.

The Incredible Years programme uses puppets, videos, books, activity sheets, stickers and fridge magnets to build skills including emotional awareness, conflict management, academic involvement, school readiness and interaction with parents and teachers. It also promotes family learning and home-school crossover activities.

The programme came to Aberdeen in 2002 as an early multi-agency project involving Primrosehill Family Centre, Kittybrewster Primary, Aberdeen City Council's education department and community education family learning team and NHS Grampian's child and family psychiatry unit. The school had identified a lack of provision for early-stages pupils at risk of exclusion due to social and emotional difficulties.

It already had strong links with Primrosehill, which provided family support in this area. Project manager Jackie Kerr, who has since moved on, was interested in the Webster-Stratton behavioural approach.

The partners secured funding via the new community schools initiative and pilot models were launched at Kittybrewster for selected infants and their parents, and at the family centre for a group of over-8s.

Results highlighted many issues, such as difficulties in working across several agencies and a lack of take-up from parents, which meant cancellation of the adult group. But the overwhelming response from pupils and significant improvement in their self-esteem and social skills encouraged school and centre to continue with new versions of the programme geared to individual requirements.

At Primrosehill, activities from the Dina Dinosaur programme are now used with children and adult groups, where appropriate. Adapted puppet scripts reflect real situations at home or school and help children to solve problems together and consider the consequences of different choices. Staff are in no doubt about the value of the programme.

"Many children we see are desperate to make friends, but may find it difficult to be part of a group," says project worker Kenny Allan. Dina Dinosaur helps them build relationships with each other and work together as a team," At Kittybrewster, the Dinosaur School programme has proved so popular that it has now become part of the curriculum, with the aim of delivering its unique brand of PSE to all children throughout their first two-and-a-half years at school.

Headteacher Alastair Beaton says: "We felt a whole-class model would benefit all children and last year - the first full year of the programme - was a great success. We introduced Dinosaur School to parents during P1 induction and Gary Roberts, our resident family learning support worker, recruited a group of eight parents. It ran from October to January and was very well attended."

In the 2003-4 session, the programme was delivered to P1 by class teacher Margaret Clark, who has since been released for three-and-a-half days a week to develop the materials into a bespoke teaching pack for the school and to support her colleagues in delivering it.

"The original programme is very good and there are hundreds of activities," she says. "Having worked through it with my P1 class, I'm now modifying it to suit our children and to make it more accessible for other teachers."

Mrs Clark adds: "Children love the puppets and speak to them as if they are real. They tell them what they've been doing and the puppets take part in the activities, even bringing in 'homework'. It's hard to evaluate on the basis of one class, but there are strong signs that the programme is working, particularly in developing teamwork and co-operation."

Kittybrewster Primary's Dinosaur School programme will be showcased at the Aberdeen City Curriculum Conference, which will be held at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre on February 16.


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