Allen Edwards watches two puppets teach sex education
The puppeteer and former teacher Caz Frost uses a puppet show to teach sex education to break through the "blush zone". Stop the World I Want To Get Off, a fast, zany performance combined with discussion, is one of several puppet shows she performs on a range of subjects.
Using characters and a story line children can identify with, she hopes to help them find answers to their own problems.
The Japanese-style Bunraku hand puppets she uses look a little like characters from children's television but seem 20 times as street-wise.
Children in Year 6 seemed to enjoy watching the show at Woodhouse Junior and Infants, in Quinton, Birmingham. The performance was put on as a preliminary to a sex education programme taking place for six weeks of the summer term before they leave the school.
The children from this mixed area were well behaved and gave the impression of shyness mixed with a dash of curiosity.
But the performance gave a strong lead, showing a male character called Geshi and a female one called Kandia, experiencing different aspects of puberty.
The puppet show was itself set in a school where the two central characters were part of a class studying sex education.
It mentioned the names of different parts of the body although it did not go into the mechanics of sex.
The story emphasised the confusion the characters felt, how they found sex education embarrassing and had problems in their relationships with their family and friends.
It stressed how these feelings were only natural and tried to get the pupils to understand why they or others might feel uncomfortable talking about what was happening to them.
The story included a nightmare scene and ended with the characters singing a song called "Stop the World I Want to Get Off", with children and teachers joining in.
Afterwards, some children admitted to being embarrassed. One girl said that when she had asked her parents about sex they just said nothing.
Others sat more easily and looked more quizzical, suggesting that they had a little more know-ledge than they might be letting on.
Perhaps the most telling point was the speed with which children volunteered explanations for characters' actions, seeing why they were embarrassed or felt uncertain.
The discussion was designed to lay the foundations for further lessons, where the children would learn more about the mechanics of sex and the nature of relationships. Ms Frost said: "This is a lovely age to teach sex education. By the time they get to 14 they get hot under the collar. Learning at this age means children feel it's all right to talk about sex and it's all right not to know about it. If they ask me a question about sex I try to answer it simply.
"We also get to have a good laugh about things that are worrying them and most of the teachers ask me back."
Sex education teacher Doreen Moule said: "We find the puppet show tends to make the children more open about asking questions and are probably more comfortable about talking to each other. Children tend to be fairly knowledgeable and I find many of them have talked about sex with their parents. They often know about the mechanics of sex and girls tend to be more knowledgeable than boys. We have been teaching sex education for four or five years and have seen a bit of difference in the children's behaviour."
Headteacher Don Emmerich said: "I believe that the more children know the more responsible they are likely to be. Parents generally accept sex education as part of school. Coming at it this way with the puppets removes some of the tension and stimulates discussion."