Polizei with puppets teach students safety
March 26, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- As the Muppets and Sesame Street have shown both parents and children, puppets can be wonderful teachers. And, as demonstrated by local polizei, puppets are educational magic when combined with a safety lesson and a jaunty German humor.
On March 13, five German polizei from the Weiden Polizeiinspection set up a stage, propped up theater lighting and performed a puppet show for the kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders of Grafenwoehr Elementary School.
In a lesson aimed at this age group, the polizei drove home the lifesaving importance of seat belts and car seats through the friendship of Steven and Peter.
Before the players introduced the puppets, the children met polizei officer Georg Huettner, or "Mr. Georg." Mr. Georg introduced himself to each child with a flourish of the hand, a deep bow and a hat that repeatedly flops from his head to the ground. After peals of screeching laughter and shouts of "You're silly!" from the young audience, the children instruct Mr. Georg to place his hat and his keys on a nearby hook.
The lesson: Objects heavier than air fall unless something holds onto them.
At last, Steven and Peter emerge on stage. They are puppeted by two polizei dressed in black turtle necks, black pants, black gloves and black masks, looking ironically similar to cartoon robbers. Peter admits he's excited about his new car seat to Steven, who immediately becomes jealous. Peter, hurt by his friend, leaves to play alone. Steven then places dolls in two toy cars that he slams together in a head-on collision. The dolls, not wearing seat belts, fly from the vehicles and onto the floor.
Shocked at the destruction, Steven calls for "Dr. Peter" and his ambulance to help the injured dolls. With new dolls in hand, Steven resumes playing, but first straps his sidekicks into their chariots with Velcro seat belts. This time, the dolls stay put.
Not missing a beat, the first- and second-graders cry out, "Now they have a seat belt!"
It is now Peter's turn to shine as he brings out his new car seat to show the spectators. The children, however, are unimpressed, and shouts of "That's a baby car seat!" and "That's for babies," fill the auditorium. Peter retorts, "It is not for babies," before climbing in and proving the audience wrong. Accompanied by Mr. Georg and American police officer Shane Krantz, who helped with the production, Peter and the children pretend the car seat is a rocket ship and, together, they all lift off into space.
The lesson: With an imagination, riding in a car seat can be a fun adventure.
Officer Max Roessler, a patrol officer the days he's not Steven or Peter, says that though he has done the puppet show for 12 years, he never gets bored with the production.
"It's very interesting. It's very different every time," said Roessler. "You can see the kids and they're funny. In my real job, people aren't funny."
The Weiden Polizei have been bringing puppet shows about safety to children since 1999. The show sprang from the concept of "proof by signs," the idea that visual learning is more concrete than verbal learning.
As Roessler explained, an audience can retain 80 percent of information when presented through a puppet show, compared to the 20 percent retention rate of a simple speech. As proof, Roessler claimed that each year they return, the children remember the safety information presented the previous year.
How much information this year's audience will remember is yet unknown, but the students displayed rousing approval for the show. One group of kindergartners left the auditorium chanting their hero's name: "Peter! Peter! Peter!"