The expression of children in the time of Covid-19 through play and animation practices

Matteo Corbucci, OMEP Italia, Italy (

Background: Italy was the first Western country to carry out a total lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in the history of the Italian Republic, all educational institutions of all levels and all educational services for children were closed, on March 5, 2020: something that did not happen even during the Second World War. In order not to leave families with preschool children in loneliness and isolation, the need arose for a strong educational alliance between educators, teachers, and families with the aim of reaching younger children in their new daily life at home, to try to restore a minimum sense of normality. With the spread of the pandemic and its consequences on social life, emergency pedagogy programs have been activated in Italy to reach children even in the remote mode through the game of animation to share a community moment and tell each other their experience in confinement in a safe but also engaging way. This was achieved with the use of puppet animation for educational and didactic purposes.

Aim: Through the action research model, the aim was to conduct an experiment with the languages and tools of play and socio-educational animation, with puppets in particular in order to encourage the expression of children from birth to six years old of age in remote mode during confinement at home due to the health emergency caused by COVID-19.

Method: With the direct participation of the professionals working in the structures, five centres were involved in the activity.With team-work between educators, pedagogues and teachers, the problem of using the puppet as a mediator of the distance educational relationship was analysed in an explicit and descriptive way and the impact that it would have had on the online meeting between adults and children. Together, planned interventions were carried out with shared objectives, actions, choices and times to verify the initial hypothesis of animation play as the most effective practice in those conditions. The observation and monitoring tools have been prepared including, diaries, observation sheets, audio/video recordings, questionnaires, interviews, etc. Over time changes and improvements were made to consolidate the winning strategies on the use of the puppet as an operational tool for professional training. Reflection on the actions was carried out both individually and in pairs. Finally, specific documentation paths have been provided for the “socialisation” of the research results.

Results: In the contexts examined, the tools in question have proved to be effective means for the realisation of LEADs, distance educational links (“legami educativi a distanza”, in Italian) as indicated by the specific document of the Ministry of Education for the continuation of the educational activity with children from birth up to six years. Educators, teachers and families have found these expressive tools to be very effective for continuing a loving and welcoming communication with young children even at distance. These situations were characterised as moments of active participation and game sharing between adults and children aimed at promoting well-being.

Conclusions: The tools of playing such as puppet theatre, animation of dolls and soft toys, games of singing and telling fantastic stories or of everyday life are typical work tools of the educator become even more important in the time of remote professional intervention as an ideal tool to be able to dialogue in a participatory and engaging relationship even at a distance: following the outbreak of the pandemic and the consequent restrictive measures.

Implications for children: Your educators have not forgotten you. You all had to stay indoors, but they did everything they could to keep you playing and having fun. Despite the distance, you have had some good times together.

Implications for families: Educators often never have to worry about your family’s welfare. However, they had to find new languages to reach you when it was no longer possible to live in normal educational spaces. You have never been alone in the task of education and care!

Implications for practitioners: Education did not stop. Despite the initial disarray due to the health emergency that deprived you of your physical presence in the educational intervention due to social distancing, you have spent your time recovering the appropriate tools to reach your children in a different way. You have understood even more how indispensable your professional contribution is.

Key words: children’s voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, communication, education, animation, right to play, puppets, COVID-19

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: