Chattanooga's Kids on the Block

Chattanooga's Kids on the Block Continues to Provide Educational Performance to Children in Our Area

We wear black from head to toe - black gloves, black shirts, black pants and even a black hood over our heads. We become the shadow behind the puppet. You will see our arms move, our heads move and even our mouths move, we are not ventriloquists.

Our puppets are tall and colorful and soon, you will forget we are behind the puppets. This is Bunraku puppetry, the traditional Japanese style of puppetry. When you see us, you will know we are Chattanooga's Kids on the Block (CKOB)!

The CKOB puppets consist of characters that are three to four feet tall. They dress in real kids' clothes, have distinctive personalities and portray real-life situations, through carefully scripted material and follow up resources.

For the past 28 years, CKOB has relied upon puppetry to help educate children about social concerns and accepting differences giving them skills to stay safe and healthy. The educational programs present sensitive and often times difficult information to elementary school-aged children in a non-threatening manner. In addition to the material presented during the program performance, children Pre-K through First grade interact with the puppets by responding as a group and children in grades 2 and up have the opportunity to ask questions of the puppets.

These questions range from: 'Where do you go to school?' to 'What's it like to be in a wheelchair?'; How did you feel when your parents got divorced?'; and 'What do you do if someone makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable?' The puppets respond with clarity and candor to the hundreds of questions asked by the audience.

Chattanooga's Kids on the Block Puppets

Classroom presentations for elementary school aged children are the main focus of CKOB. Executive Director Kelly Williams said, "Research indicates that children in this age group are developmentally able to react to characters that are peer role models and are able to retain more knowledge."

This year alone, CKOB staff performed 393 programs and served over 31,000 children and adults in the 11 county area of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia on a very modest budget. Each child is asked to send a letter to CKOB following the performance to help evaluate the impact of presented information. Educators also evaluate each performance.

CKOB receives letters from children that include: "I learned that sometimes it's ok to feel sad..."; "Chattanooga's Kids on the Block helped me to stand up to bullies..."; "I learned child abuse is not a kid's fault...".

"When one child has the courage to raise their hand and share their personal experience openly and can say that happened to me, I know that we have done our job," said Azusa Dance, Bunraku Specialist & Program Director.

Each puppeteer is nationally certified as a Bunraku Specialist in educational performance. The puppeteers also hold degrees in criminal science, education and psychology. "Sounds like an easy and fun job," said Ms. Williams, "but, in reality it takes a very special, talented and dedicated individual to become a Bunraku Specialist for Kids on the Block."

Through a grant from the State of Tennessee, the United Way, CABIA, Tennessee Donor Services among others and the donations of corporations, businesses and individuals, and through corporate and private individual puppet adoptions, CKOB provides programs to all elementary schools in the 11 counties free of charge.

Currently CKOB offers 10 programs including: Life Lessons: Practicing good manners, handwashing and making new friends; "Three Lessons for Me to Be Hurt Free"- personal safety lessons of stranger danger, 911 and emergency plans; "Divorce" from a child's perspective; "Accepting Differences" - physical and learning disability awareness; "Personal Safety" - child abuse prevention (physical and sexual); "S.T.E.P.S."-Safety Talk Encouraging Peaceful Schools - bullying prevention, school safety plan and anger management; "Happy Brain" - brain injury awareness, problem solving; "The Gift of Life" - organ donation awareness; "Kids on the Move" - childhood obesity and healthy snacking; and "Bereavement: - coping with the loss of a loved one.

"We have scripts for other programs available if there is a need in our community," said Ms. Dance. "Our mission is using the power of puppetry to education children about social concerns and differences, giving them skills to stay safe and healthy."

"I am always amazed at the impact CKOB performances have on an audience, young or old," said Ms. Williams. "We are fortunate to have CKOB in our community, a vital resource to help educate our children."

For more information or to book a performance, please call Chattanooga's Kids on the Block at (423) 757-5259, or Contact Us here.