On any given day, hundreds of schoolchildren descend on the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. They giggle and exclaim with delight during puppet performances and ogle at the museum's strange and wonderful puppets. But their visit doesn't end there.

Upstairs in this former schoolhouse are classrooms one might find in any elementary school - except for a few things. Walk into one of these rooms and instead of seeing the ABC's on the wall, you may encounter a big purple octopus or a smiling monkey puppet hanging from the ceiling.

This is where the center's education and outreach staff give puppetmaking and performance workshops for children and teachers. In the past year they have served about 20,000 people in-house and another 24,000 in their outreach programs, which travel to schools, camps, churches, and other organizations mainly around the Southeast.

Claire Ritzler, education director, says puppets can be an extension of the classroom. Not only can they be used to creatively teach about other cultures through performances, scriptwriting, and storytelling, they bring an art form to schools whose art budgets have been cut. ``Puppets tie into the school curriculum in many ways,'' Ms. Ritzler says.

Many schools seem to agree. The number of teachers and students Ritzler has taught has quadrupled in the last four years.

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