Jim Henson just might have been onto something when he created Sesame Street and The Muppets. The popular puppeteer single-handedly created lovable characters that have been educating, entertaining and inspiring young children and adults for nearly four decades. Dolphin Encounters’ Educational Department has taken its cue from those timeless television shows by creating its very own Ocean Puppet Pals – an exciting roving puppet show that is jam-packed with colourful characters and fun storylines. This unique program, which was specifically designed for children in kindergarten to grade 2, reinforces learning by using a host of comical characters that students can relate to. The Education Department travels to various classrooms throughout the Bahamas teaching students about marine life. The one-hour outreach program includes an entertaining puppet production on marine life, and teaches kids about the various marine habitats, which animals live in the deep blue sea, and how each one of their unique designs makes them ideally suited to live in that part of the ocean.
“We know it’s not always practical for an entire grade level to leave their school and head to another island for a field trip, it’s a very time-consuming process, so we thought we’d make it easier by bringing marine science alive right in the schoolyard,” said Annette Dempsey, assistant director of marine mammals at Dolphin Encounters.
Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of entertainment, and has been amusing children for centuries. However, we know that puppet shows must be specifically crafted in order to grab and keep students’ attention, and this is exactly what we’ve done. Teachers select which show they want their students to see. Each production deals with marine mammals, coral reef wildlife, deep sea creatures, and open ocean animals and includes hands-on activities. Puppets have always been an important teaching tool at Dolphin Encounters, and its traveling puppet theatre has developed quite a following over the years. Kids get to meet Goombay, a dolphin with a real thirst for adventure and a desire to explore the unknown. Goombay also happens to be the name of one of our 19 dolphins. During the puppet show, Goombay learns about new animals, their special characteristics and some of the challenges of survival they face in ocean habitats around the world.
“The children are always thrilled by our puppet shows. It’s amazing how much they remember from these programs, and the types of questions they come up with,” said Ms. Dempsey.
“This is a great learning tool and the kids get so involved in the characters. They become a part of the show. While we love entertaining the kids, it’s what they learn that make us feel incredible. After our sessions they tell us how much they want to take care of our marine life.”
Ranaldo Smith, educational assistant at Dolphin Encounters says even students who exhibit initial fears about dolphins and other marine mammals are set at ease by the end of the program.
“The students certainly have a deeper appreciation for these animals once they get to know them. People are always afraid of what they don’t know. It’s wonderful to expose children to different marine life, so that they have a deeper understanding about their habitat and how they live,” he said.
“What’s amazing is that most of the children have an open mind to learning. They have interesting questions as well. Sometimes they ask things, I didn’t even think of. So it keeps my mind sharp as well. The learning process definitely goes both ways.”
The children don’t just sit back and watch the puppet show – they become active participants. They also get to sing and dance along with the puppet crew. Dolphin Encounters has a wide range of educational programs that have been praised over the years. The company’s non-profit Project B.E.A.C.H (Bahamas Education Association for Cetacean Health) program has even received the Cacique Award – the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism’s highest award for excellence in tourism.