The show opens with two young girls talking.
The first girl is telling her friend how she travels back and forth between her two parents’ houses week to week. It’s a common result of divorce in many families, and one that kids may struggle to cope with. The skit follows the young girls’ conversation as they navigate the feelings associated with parental separation. Three people and two puppets put on the entire production.
Divorce/Separation is just one of the shows offered by Kids on the Block, a Stockton-based organization that helps kids navigate common, age-appropriate social issues. Each show, ordered by local elementary schools, includes three skits, the separation skit as well as two pieces on bullying—Bullies and School Safety. In the past, a skit titled Cerebral Palsy was included to teach children about tolerance.
Every year Betty Outlaw, the program’s coordinator, schedules performance dates with schools. At the end of each, children send letters and paintings as thank yous. “We have quite a collection of those,” Betty says.
The bullying skits share one very important message. “There are ways to deal with problems but [kids] do need help, they aren’t in it alone,” explains Betty. Both shows encourage children to seek help and the young audience is asked to help brainstorm ways the puppets can handle the sticky situations they find themselves in. Assistance League of Stockton, a thrift shop that sells donated apparel, home goods, furniture, and books to benefit local charities, funds the program.
Every skit is told with life-size puppets and trained puppeteers, many of whom have attended national trainings paid for by Kids on the Block.
The organization started in 1977 with only its Cerebral Palsy skit, created in response to Public Law 94-142, championing inclusion of kids with disabilities. The skit aimed to teach children tolerance of those with disabilities.
Since then, the offerings have expanded and so has the outreach. Last year 31 schools and 2,500 third graders enjoyed a Kids on the Block production.
Dressed in black, the puppeteers blend into the background and the third graders who make up the audience interact with the puppets directly. At the end of each 15-minute skit, the floor is open for questions that the puppets answer.
Ever wanted to learn puppetry? No experience or training is needed for those who want to lend their talents to Kids on the Block. More volunteers would allow the organization to expand its offerings, and start performing the original Cerebral Palsy skit again.
Assistance League of Stockton
1323 E. Harding Way, Stockton