Oak Park school uses puppets to teach social skills

Kyla Smith, The Detroit News | January 22, 2016


Chana Stein, a teacher at Lubavitch Cheder Elementary, helped develop the program used to teach students about handling jealously and procrastination with hand puppets. (Photo: Photos by Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)


Oak Park — The classroom of youngsters erupted into cheers and began making siren noises as Zriri the firefighter rode in on his fire truck.

Zriri always gets the job done fast. He never procrastinates and makes sure all of his tasks are completed before hanging out with friends or playing games.

One more thing about Zriri: he’s a puppet, one of many used to teach children social skills and behavior at Lubavitch Cheder Elementary.

"If a child is book smart but does not learn the tools to become a good person, we see that as a failure"

“Finish your homework and clean your room right away,” Zriri told the class of 5- and 6-year-olds this week. “Buzzy the brain roller will try to make you do a puzzle instead, but procrastination is bad.”

Rabbi Mendel Stein, development director, said the Jewish faith-based school focuses on character development and education.

“If a child is book smart but does not learn the tools to become a good person or is not nice, we see that as a failure,” Stein said. “It’s important for the children to learn how to be refined and upright.”

With hand puppets, a new social skill is introduced each week to the children. Zriri was a part of a 30-minute, interactive lesson, titled Sticking to the Task, about how procrastination can hinder success in school and at home.

The curriculum was created by Torah Team, a national program that encourages Jewish children to make the right choices, while becoming emotionally intelligent.

Other lessons include handling jealousy, combating bullying, thinking before speaking and becoming an effective problem-solver.

Chana Stein, a teacher at the Oak Park school and the rabbi’s mother, helped develop the program and teaches all of the lessons by using puppets and other interactive tools.

Among them is the “1-10 Facial Wheel,” a cutout with illustrations of different faces to help children express how they are feeling, ranging from 1 (having an idea) to 10 (being very angry). Chana Stein said if kids can identify how they feel in a given situation, it’s easier to solve a problem if there is one.

“What makes this program so unique is that the tools are given to the children. The parents and teachers help to reinforce the lesson in the classroom and while at home,” Chana Stein said. “Being able to teach these skills is the highlight of my week.”

The school opened in 1965 and has an enrollment of 100 students in grades K-7. Stein said because of the school’s reputation in the community, students come from all over to attend Lubavitch Cheder.

“Students commute from Ann Arbor and as far as Toledo. Many of them go on to become respected leaders in society,” he said.

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