Feel Your Best Self Collaborative Project Wins Kidscreen Award

Puppets Nico, CJ and Mena won a 2023 along with their creators kidscreen Award recognizing it as one of the best children’s television and digital media content in the world. The three dolls are the stars of Community project “Feel Your Best Self” by UConnwhich took home the trophy for Best Web/App Series – Original at an awards ceremony in Miami on February 14.

Kidscreen award winner logo

The project is a partnership between UConn’s Cooperation for schools and children’s health (CSCH) and Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. CSCH sits between UConn Neag School of Education And Institute for Collaboration in Health, Intervention and Policywhile the Ballard Institute is part of School of Fine Arts.

“These are like the Oscars for children’s programming, and we’re honored that Feel Your Best Self has received such a prestigious award,” says co-founder Sandra Chafouleaswho is also a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at Neag School Institute for Educational Psychology. “This interdisciplinary collaboration has resulted in a project that is more than we could have ever imagined, with each person contributing their unique talents to result in a project that can truly bring joy to children and their caregivers.”

Feel Your Best Self began during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the emotional challenges facing schools, children and their caregivers. The team brings together collective expertise in educational psychology and puppetry to teach simple, emotion-focused coping skills to calm self, capture your feelings, and connect with others. In recent years, the project has developed synergistically into the full, free FYBS toolkit and its 12 educational strategies.

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Puppets Nico, CJ and Mena.
Kids will learn a variety of wellness strategies with the help of Feel Your Best Self dolls Nico, CJ and Mena. (Courtesy of Feel Your Best Self)

The UConn project was one of 550 entries from around the world submitted to this year’s Kidscreen Awards. Feel Your Best Self is led by co-founders Chafouleas and Emily Wicks, who is also operations and collections manager at the Ballard Institute, and Emily Iovino, a postdoctoral fellow at the Neag School, who coordinates implementation support for the research team. The comprehensive educational toolkit their team has created shows Nico, CJ and Mena how to overcome everyday problems and process big feelings.

Chafouleas and the CSCH team used the evidence for emotion-focused coping to develop simple, fun, and child-friendly strategies. Wicks then began work to develop characters, video scripts and the Feel Your Best Self world by bringing together a team of Puppet Arts students and alumni. Among the many key players were Sarah Nolen ’16 SFA, John Cody ’17 SFA, Yanniv Frank ’23 SFA and Heather Asch ’90 SFA.

“It was a great honor to be nominated alongside Canadian Children’s Block (CBC) and Peacock Kids productions,” said Nolen, who has served in many roles as director, creative director, producer and more as a creative force. “I think this project showcases an impressive amount of alumni talent and proves what an incredible network we have access to through UConn.”

In addition to the short videos by Nico, CJ, and Mena demonstrating each of the 12 emotion-focused coping strategies, the FYBS toolkit includes: Strategy cards with simple words/images showing the steps in each strategy Reflection sheets for kids to write about like the Strategy worked for them, a facilitator’s guide for educators, and a puppet-making guide for kids to create their own characters. The toolkit has been piloted in local primary school classes and has attracted attention national media for its implementation at Natchaug Elementary in Windham.

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While FYBS was originally designed for use in classrooms, educators and community providers can adapt its free tools for use in small groups or with individual students. Families also find the FYBS videos, tip sheets, and strategy cards a fun way to talk about emotions with children.

“Working together and seeing it rolled out for use in schools has been the most amazing experience,” says Wicks.

Feel Your Best Self is made possible through the generous support of the Principal Foundation. Additional support comes from the Neag Foundation and others. To learn more about Feel Your Best Self, visit or contact [email protected].

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