Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book: Blueberry Girl

"Ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never-you-mind, 
this is a prayer for a blueberry girl.
First, may you ladies be kind."

This is an excerpt from "Blueberry Girl" by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How Preschoolers Become Leaders

A leader is the holder of the story, someone whose experience of it's reality is deep enough so that she can hold the belief on behalf of others. 
~Charles Eisenstein~

An image came to me when I first heard what Mr. Eisenstein said about leadership. My son was 18 months old and in love with trucks. He was leading his father, his grandmother and his grandmother's friend on an adventure around a picnic table. Each grown-up followed his direction to choose a toy and follow him, pushing the trucks in a circle, one after the other. My son was the Holder of the Story. 

Experience of It's Reality is Deep
I will never know exactly what was his story. To be sure, it involved trucks working and he was the boss. He knew where the trucks should go and what they should do with the sand in their beds. He knew they should not crash but sometimes they could fly. 

With the panache and charisma of someone who felt acknowledged and important, my young child inspired others to play along.

Holding the Belief on Behalf of Others
When the others played along an important lesson in leadership was emerging. Of all the toys on the beach, the mounds of soft Great Lakes sand, and the smooth lake-side sandy shoreline, my son believed that going on a truck adventure at the picnic table was the best thing to be doing with his time. He convinced three adults to appease him and in doing so had a pint-sized lesson in leadership...about knowing what he wanted, showing others what he thought they should do, and then doing it together.

This whole thing was successful because at its core was reciprocity of trust.

They trusted him to choose something to do that would meet each person's needs.

He trusted them to follow along as best they could.

And they did.

Four Picture Books about Solving Problems

In times of transition or discomfort a rare few are inclined enough, brave enough, and able to draw on the right resources to create something good in seemingly difficult times. Here are four picture books that show what beautiful things can happen when someone commits to solving problems.

How to Heal a Broken Wing
by Bob Graham

In a spare urban fable, Bob Graham brings us one small boy, one loving family, and one miraculous story of hope and healing.

"No one saw the bird fall."

In a city full of hurried people, only young Will notices the bird lying hurt on the ground. With the help of his sympathetic mother, he gently wraps the injured bird and takes it home. In classic Bob Graham style, the beauty is in the details: the careful ministrations with an eyedropper, the bedroom filled with animal memorabilia, the saving of the single feather as a good-luck charm for the bird's return to the sky. Wistful and uplifting, here is a tale of possibility — and of the souls who never doubt its power.

The Tin Forest
by Helen Ward, Illustrated by Wayne Anderson

There was once a wide, windswept place, near nowhere and close to forgotten.... 

In the middle of a dark, lonely wasteland filled with old scrap metal lives an old man. Every night he dreams of a lively forest, full of sunshine, plants, birds, and animals. Every morning he wakes to gloom and bad weather. Then one day, he comes up with an idea to change things. But can an idea turn rain into sunshine? Can a dream make plants grow? The rich, detailed illustrations and lyrical text of The Tin Forest carry an important message of imagination and hope.

What Do You Do With a Problem?
From the same author and illustrator as the #1 nationally best-selling What Do You Do With an Idea? comes a new book to encourage you to look closely at problems and discover the possibilities they can hold.

This is the story of a persistent problem and the child who isn't so sure what to make of it. The longer the problem is avoided, the bigger it seems to get. But when the child finally musters up the courage to face it, the problem turns out to be something quite different than it appeared.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
by Justin Roberts, Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Hardly anyone noticed young Sally McCabe.
She was the smallest girl in the smallest grade.

But Sally notices everything—from the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl can make a big difference.

Grammy-nominated children’s musician Justin Roberts, together with vibrant artwork from award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson, will have readers cheering for young Sally McCabe.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade is reminiscent of the story of "Fired Up."
Fired Up from Dan Fipphen on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Magna-Tiles: They Aren't Just for Building Houses

Three years ago, I wrote this about great toys:

              A well-designed toy is the right toy time and time again. It scaffolds different lessons at different times.
              A well-designed toy has lasting and evolving value in the eyes of a child (and his or her parent, too).

At the time I was writing about wooden blocks. I marveled at all the ways my children used them and how their play with wooden blocks evolved over time.

Well, in our family, Magna-Tiles have had even more staying power than wooden blocks! Here are six surprising ways Magna-Tiles get used in my house.

One: First Exploration of Volume and Shape
This exercise never ceases to amaze me. A child has two Magna-Tiles, puts them together, and takes them apart. Two squares placed side-by-side become a rectangle and then squares again. Two squares placed on top of one another make a small stack, reminiscent of maths lessons in volume and space.

Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to be Creative When You're Not Creative

Togetherness. We love it. There are few things sweeter than hearing my four-year-old daughter ask, “Mama, will you play with me?”

It usually happens after she has been entertaining herself while I have been cooking. But that is kind of an awkward time because I am tiring out from the work of life and wishing for some downtime at the same time she’s craving attention and running out of her own creative power.

Make the Dolls Talk!
In fact, her request is almost always, “Will you make the dolls talk?”

This type of pretend play is a wonderful and important part of development. The back-and-forth of conversation between the dolls is an important lesson in communication and turn-taking. The subjects we discuss lend themselves well to social-emotional learning. Plus, it is fun.

However, sometimes my daughter is just spent and my job is to bring all the creative power to the play. I have to be creative when I am not feeling creative.

Read the answer at Fat Brain Toys...

When What Matters to Her Doesn’t Matter (As Much) to Him

Giftedness comes with intensities, high needs, and special needs. Activities and moments other families take for granted can become a planning nightmare when a gifted child, or two, is involved. Conflicting needs can lead to strained relationships between siblings and parents. How can families manage the various needs giftedness brings to the table, while creating a closer family, and maybe even while having fun? Learn from the GHF Bloggers who have managed to walk this path and come out stronger and happier. This is my take on the matter...

From the Same Soil
One autumn day my family drove the winding canyon road into the mountains to find a campsite. I marveled at a fire-red splash of color hugging the trunk of an evergreen tree. Virginia creepers climbed the entire height of the old tree but didn’t strangle it. I was amazing at how indifferent the tall tree was to the colorful vines and yet the creepers needed the tree. From the same soil these two plants grew, much the same way my children grow in our family, I thought. My son often seems indifferent to my daughter, who dances and twirls around him.

However, it is not that he is indifferent to her. It is that he has a different “love language” than she does. What matters to her doesn’t matter as much to him. And the way those differences manifest in our lives deserves a little attention, if only because if I understand the differences then I can be a better parent and, together, we will learn all the ways to express and receive love.

What Matters to Him and What Matters to Her
One of the most succinct summaries I have seen that sheds light on “what matters” to my children comes from the Research-Based Behaviors of Five Major Domain Profiles by Karen Rogers. In this framework, my son is both “The Brain” and “The Creative Thinker” whereas my daughter is “The Social Leader.” What matters to him? Heady, intellectual, creative, individual pursuits. To her? Attending to, navigating, and responding sensibly to social life. He looks at his work, and so does she.

He Has Our Attention
It has been that way since she was born. He was 27 months old and still required a lot of attention. As it happened, in the time it took me to change her diaper, he circumvented the child lock on one door, unlocked a padlock on the door to the garage, got a stool to reach the garage door opener, opened the garage, and ran across the street to our neighbor’s house. So the better part of her first year we attended more to his needs and his interests than to hers. If we didn’t, we risked him doing it anyways on his own.

Traipsing Together
In fact, at her six-month well-child check-up I had more questions about him than about her. That is when the pediatrician directed me to her behavioral specialist, who then showed me the trailhead for the path I have taken to learn about Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, and Giftedness.

Shortly after meeting the behavioral specialist, he began speech therapy. And by “he” I mean “we.” The therapist welcomed all three of us - my son, my daughter, and me - into her office. I was there to ease his separation anxiety, my daughter was there because she had nowhere else to be. He would only barely engage with the work of speech therapy, keeping his eyes on the mechanically interesting toys the therapist offered him. My daughter on the other hand, soaked it all in. She watched her brother and the therapist and followed her instructions right alongside her brother.

He did, she did, and I did.
Over the course of the next year, occupational therapy was added to speech therapy as was therapeutic gymnastics. A full developmental assessment revealed that he is twice exceptional: his social skills and restrictive repetitive behavior place him in the bottom 2% of children his age, which is labeled “Autism”; his IQ places him in the top 2%, which is labeled “Gifted.”

Through all of it - the therapy, the homework from therapy, the parenting guidance offered by his doctors - we all attended to the work. He did, she did, and I did.

He treated it all as an intellectual pursuit - happy for the novelty, the one-on-one teaching and learning (mentorship), and the opportunity to direct it all.  She treated it all as a social pursuit - happy to be the other child in social skills lessons. I treated it all as my job of being a stay-at-home-mom - managing the logistics of weaving together transport, meals, naps, therapy, reading, and playtime.

He Is
Fast forward four years. He is still that same rambunctious and charismatic child who is different from his peers. He draws attention from his sister and others. He is a Gifted Visual-Spatial Learner and recognized by people who see his strengths in art and science. And when it comes to social endeavors he is able to analyze the situation but he cannot intuit within it (flow naturally in playground play). He is as unwavering as an evergreen tree, imitating nothing and caring most for his inner life.

She Is
She imitates him. She imitates his intellectual pursuits - learning to read, write, build, and create things right alongside him. She imitates his restrictive repetitive behavior - flapping her arms and shaking her head in play. She gives him space when he needs it (usually), wraps him in blankets when he is cold, and reminds him to eat his lunch when we drop him off at school. She cares for him in a way that everyone recognizes as caring.

Books at the Playground
These ways they are different are rarely more apparent than when we are at the playground.

One weekend in autumn, our family went to the local library and had discovered a new book called “Electronics for Kids.” My husband and son had dived full-bore into it, creating circuits together and reading the physics related to each lesson. My son was delighted and soaring with inspiration and satisfaction. He wouldn’t leave home without it...not even to go to the playground.

So with his 328-page book and box of electronic components in hand, we walked with his sister to the neighbor playground. Upon arrival, he saw a friend from a school - a little girl plus her older sister. He was bursting with excitement. He invited them to see his book and his box of components. They came over with mild curiosity.

He asked, “Does your big sister know how to read?”

“Great! She can read this for us.” The girls took one look at what he was offering, looked at each other, and told him they would rather ride their bikes.

They even asked him to join them. But he just could NOT understand how they could dismiss his interests, his offering, his intellect, HIM, so easily. As they rode their bikes in circles, he chased them reciting passages from the book, explaining that he was going to build a robot, and declaring that they must be excited that he would be their friend who could build electronics and teach them all about it.

Meanwhile, my daughter found her place under the jungle gym and opened an imaginary ice cream parlor. The girls rode their bikes to the storefront, ordered an ice cream, paid for it, took a couple licks before riding in another circle. Then they would repeat the play.

As the girls played, my son chased them, climbed around where they were, and regaled them with physics lessons. The girls were not mean; they just weren’t interested. What mattered to him didn’t matter to them.

Walking home he could not make sense of it. He told me he felt stupid, disconnected, unlovable. (In so many words.) He wanted to know why they played with his sister instead of him.

They played with her because her gift serves her well on the playground. She is a four year old who can design and direct a game that a seven year old and a nine year old will play as her peer. She appealed to their interests, connected with them, and was satisfied with her success.

When they reject his ideas they unknowingly break his heart.
The discrepancy between his feelings of disconnectedness and her feelings of connection are under the microscope at home. Together we look for an answer to his question: “why?”

The thing that sustains him, excites him, and feeds his soul does not serve him well on the playground. It is not the place for thinking, reading, least not to most seven year olds. But he opens his heart when he shares ideas. If the person with whom he shares does not hold ideas, learning, reading (at the playground) in the same esteem, then when they reject his ideas they unknowingly break his heart.

His four year old sister might be the only child who sees his heartbreak. She offers him gifts to cheer him up - small drawings she’s made, a cookie, a hug. When he rejects her gifts he unknowingly breaks her heart.

When their hearts are broken it is evident that their needs are not being met. It is obvious from their behavior - they become hot tempered, they cry easily, they hit and argue and yell. And so it becomes of utmost importance that I figure out what needs are not being met.

What matters to him is what he needs. As a “Brain” and “Creative Thinker” his unmet needs often land solidly in the “Autonomy” and “Growth” categories of the List of Needs from Happily Family/Nonviolent Communication.

What matters to her is what she needs. As a “Social Leader” her unmet needs often land in the “Acknowledgement,” “Attention” and “Connection” categories.

He needs ideas. He needs to learn and to teach. He needs to build and to dissect. And to feel loved, he needs to do those things with other people.

She needs to be in charge. She needs to make things and give them to people. And to feel loved, she needs others to accept her direction, to accept her gifts, and to offer gifts to her.

To Love and Be Loved
So here I have two children with two different sets of needs, a tree and a vine. I love them for who they are, but when it comes to parenting them I aim to give him what he needs, to give her what she needs, even if their needs are different...because fair isn't everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need.

To this end, I make time and space for him to learn with and to teach his sister. I make time for her to direct things. I hear her say, “That’s so interesting!” to her brother and know his heart swells with pride. Her heart finds peace when I teach her brother how to acknowledge her efforts by saying “thank you.” In these ways my family learns how to love and be loved.

Read more about how gifted traits collide at the GHF Blog Hop...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Adventures in ING: PlannING


Adventures in ING
ING is a wonderful world where kindness is important. In fact, kindness is the most important thing in ING and all the elves, sprites, fairies, and gnomes who live there celebrate kindness every chance they get. They celebrate small kindnesses like when someone smiles at them and they smile back. And they celebrate big kindnesses when someone smiles at them and they smile back.

One of the best things about ING is that everyone knows that there are countless ways of being kind and countless ways of celebrating kindness. The tricky thing for humans to learn is how to notice kindnesses. Humans have to learn to notice when other people are being kind to them just as much as the need to learn to notice when they are being kind to others (and themselves). (Yes! You can practice being kind to yourself!)

But...once someone learns how to notice kindness, many wonderful things happen. First, they start to see kindness everywhere. Then they are able to be kind wherever they go. And the funny thing about being kind - the more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the more ways you imagine to do it!

Those are the Adventures in ING. Noticing kindnesses. Being kind. Imagining new ways of being kind.

January is for Planning
The elves from ING take turns inviting humans to practice being kind. Every once in a while a couple of experts from ING offer ideas about how little humans can learn about giving, sharing, caring, loving, laughing, and living in kindness.

In January the Planning Elves, named M.O. and Iwill, like to explain that by planning to be kind we are more likely to be kind. Then they imagine all the ways to Plan to be kind.

A Letter of Introduction
When they arrive, M.O. and Iwill like to introduce themselves because that is the kind (and polite) thing to do.
Dear Little Humans, 
Our names are M.O. and Iwill. We are elves from ING, Planning elves to be exact. We like to visit little humans, like yourselves, in January. 
We've noticed that you are often kind without even meaning to be kind! What an excellent skill. However, we find that when we make plans to be kind we find new ways to show kindness to ourselves and to others. 
We look forward to doing this fun and important work with you! Sincerely,  
M.O. & Iwill

What is Planning?
After introducing themselves, M.O. and Iwill like to explain a little about Planning.

Planning is how you make ideas come true. By planning to be kind, you can make being kind important. 

Four Weeks of Planning - Some Ideas

Then M.O. and Iwill suggest some ways to practice planning. Once a week, they ask the children to notice when other people planned something special for them and when they plan something for others.


Dear Little Humans,  
It is important to be kind to yourself because if you feel good then you can share your goodness with others.  
There a many ways to be kind to yourself. You can make a plan to say something kind to yourself every day. Some people say, "I love myself." Others say, "I am strong." or "I am beautiful." or "I am smart." or "I am funny."   
You can even do something nice for yourself. You can make something beautiful to decorate your room. Or you can go outside to smell nature. Or listen to your favorite song.
We think Planning for Yourself is important! Do you think you can Plan to be Kind to Yourself today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
M.O. & Iwill 


Dear Little Humans,  
We think Planning to be Kind to Your Family is fun! Certainly your parents make plans to eat good food, go fun places, and read good books with you. What other things do you notice your parents planning for you?
What about you? Do you think you can Plan to be Kind to Someone in Your Family today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? What is your plan? 
You can start by saying, "I plan to ___ for my mom."
M.O. & Iwill 

Dear Little Humans,  
Have you ever noticed something special your friend has done just for you? Maybe she asked to hug you or made a special gift. He might have invited you over to play. Sometimes hugs and gifts and playdates are spontaneous but sometimes they take a bit of planning, right? 
We think Planning to be Kind to Your Friends is easy! Do you think you can Plan to be Kind to a Friend today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? You can start by saying, "I plan to ___ for my friend."
M.O. & Iwill 

Dear Little Humans,  
We think Planning to be Kind to People in Your Community is tricky! Sometimes you have to wait for a special day at church or in the town to work. But sometimes it is simple enough to say, "Today, I'm going to pick up any litter I see in my neighborhood and throw it away." (Don't forget to take a trash bag along with you and to wash your hands when you're done.) 
Do you think you can Plan a Way to be Kind to someone in your community today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
M.O. & Iwill 

Saying Goodbye
Before departing, the Planning elves say goodbye because that is the kind thing to do.

Dear Little Humans, 
We have had great fun with you. Thank you for practicing planning with us. You had many clever ways of planning big and planning small. And every kindness counts! 
M.O. & Iwill


Fan Favorites - December 2016

Daddy Daughter Hair School

The Japanese Yosegi Art of Parquetry

Instead of using paint, Japanese Yosegi decorations are made out of natural fine grains and textures of wood. First, timbers are cut into rods of desired sections, the rods are then glued together to form a section of geometrical design pattern. The surface is sliced into thin plates of wood, which are glued onto boxes and other handicraft works. This mosaic-like art originated during Japan's Edo Period (17th-19th century) and are still respected all over the world.

Check for more Japanese arts here:

Man Creates Amazing Snow Art with Footprints

It's possible you've never heard of Simon Beck, but after today, you won't be able to forget him or his wintry works of art. Simon is an artist and is most well-known for making incredibly delicate and detailed art in the snow, just by walking over a fresh snowfall.

For more, check out the National Geographic Short Film:

The Physics of the Hardest Move in Ballet

View full lesson:

In the third act of "Swan Lake", the Black Swan pulls off a seemingly endless series of turns, bobbing up and down on one pointed foot and spinning around and around and around ... thirty-two times. How is this move — which is called a fouett√© — even possible? Arleen Sugano unravels the physics of this famous ballet move.

Lesson by Arlene Sugano, animation by Dancing Line Productions.

Cool Toy Alert: FlowToys: Toroflux Demo

My kid came home from school raving about a toy he discovered in the principal's office. By the miracle of Google, I was able to find it my first try by typing "rings twirl connected toy" and what I found was something worthy of sharing here. It is called "Toroflux" by Flow Toys. One look at a still photo of this toy and it is no wonder that my kid picked it up......and after watching a video of Toroflux in action I understand why he fell in love.

Mom Invites Children to Become Santa

Fill unused Amazon boxes with donations and they'll be shipped to Goodwill for Free

Can we practice handwriting without a pencil, please?
Efficient handwriting skills require some very complex skills that can be developed in some very simple ways.  Children seem to know how to hone these skills when they are given the freedom to experiment.  That’s called “play,” by the way!  There are five areas where children need to be proficient in order to be “handwriters.”  I will connect them here with some very simple and inexpensive activities that will create fun handwriting experiences – without a pencil!

    Avant Garden: Seven Botanical Sculptures Inspired by Haute Couture

    Vacation Tradition
    Whenever we visit Ann Arbor, we make a trip to the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens. In the summers we spend most of our time in the Children's Garden building and exploring. In the winter, we look forward to the original exhibits in the conservatory.

    Exhibits in Nature
    This year's exhibit did not disappoint. I wandered through the conservatory with my little family, my mother-in-law and my sister and her husband. The theme? Fashion. We walked up and down the paths in search of seven fantasy outfits made from plants and organic materials. To our delight and surprise, there were a dozen other small treasures to spy - tiny dresses that could fit in the palm of my hand made from silk florals and imitation berries, bark, etc.

    To Share with You
    Since we're big fans of exploring nature, I had to share this discovery here, with you. (I asked permission to share these pictures with the staff at the gardens.) So without further adieu I offer you images from the University of Michigan's Avant Garden...

    Avant Garden
    Weaving Fashion & NatureTogether
    Avant Garden brings to life the connection between plants and fashion. Seven fantasy outfits adorn the conservatory, each incorporating plant materials such as succulents, Spanish moss, ferns, and poinsettias. The result is topiary couture that ignites the imagination. Permission to try this at home!

    Below are the fairy-sized garments we spotted on our journey...

    Last but not least... This isn't fashion inspired per se but a fairy-sized castle made out of empty sparkling water cans screams "PRINCESS ENGINEERING!"

    Setting the Tone for the New Year
    I love everything about these treasures offered by the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens. The way they weave together art and nature echoes how they weave together knowledge and whimsy, which I think are key features for inviting people of all ages to explore, to learn, and to celebrate creativity. And I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of the new year.

    Happy New Year!