Is friendship a gift to the children of the world?

July 29, 2015

FriendshipFriendship is a valuable part of human life. The bonds we choose to form with others are a precious connection that can bring us happiness, teach us life lessons, and give us comfort when life challenges us. Some of the most important friendships come in childhood as we learn about ourselves and the world around us.

Since 1998, the world has celebrated this noble human bond with the UN International Day of Friendship. After recognizing the impact that violence against one another has on the human race, especially children, the United Nations set out to promote a Culture of Peace. Knowing that attitudes and violence can often begin in childhood, the program seeks to instill values of peace and non-violence in children through education. “If children learn to live together in peace and harmony that will contribute to the strengthening of international peace and cooperation”(

So how do you begin to teach children about friendship?

Friendship is something children are naturally interested in – it is fun and they enjoy communicating with each other. Since you have a captive audience, teach them a few basic rules about friendship:

  • Friends are kind to each other
  • Friends share their toys. Teach them turn taking, trading, and sharing. Use the magic phrase, “You can have it when I’m done.”
  • Friends share their friends. Remind them they can have many friends and that as they share friends, they make more friends.
  • It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to play.

A few activities to use with children to promote friendship and positive relationships . . .

Best Smile activity

Fishing for Friends

The Kindness Curriculum is a great resource for promoting self-confidence, acceptance, and friendship in children. If we can plant the seed of kindness now, we can grow a culture of peace for the future.

What activities or resources do you use to teach children about kindness and peace? We would love for you to share them in the comments section so others can use them too!

How to work with parents of gifted children #NPGC15

July 22, 2015

This week is National Parenting Gifted Children Week sponsored by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted). Families of gifted children often deal with special needs related to social and emotional development. So how do you, the educator, help families celebrate the joys and challenges of raising a bright young mind?

Working with gifted children


Find the right time and place to listen to parents’ concerns and questions. Don’t jump in right away with suggestions and resources. Try to get to the heart of what parents most fear and most hope for their children. Keep in mind that many parents of exceptionally bright children were once exceptionally bright children themselves. Their parenting may be influenced by their own positive and negative experiences as children.

Ask what they need

Don’t assume that parents are looking for something specific, such as a referral for screening and evaluation services. Ask parents what they need and how you can help. Then listen to their answers.

Help parents recognize their child’s cues

Sometimes when parents are struggling to understand or communicate with their child, they just need a gentle reminder to slow down and watch or listen, in order to recognize their child’s cues and needs. Model this for parents in the ways you interact with children in the classroom and in the ways you interact with their child when the family is together. Informal family events like picnics and potluck dinners are great times to have these kinds of interactions.

Offer reassurance and affirmation

Parents of exceptionally bright children are usually looking for two seemingly contradictory things: they want reassurance that their child is perfectly normal, and they want recognition that their child is special. You can certainly give them both of these things. Children who are exceptionally bright are perfectly “normal” children. They need their parents’ love and acceptance, the friendship and companionship of other children, and the guidance and support of their teachers and other adults in their lives. They need all of these things just as deeply as any other child. They are also special. They have the gift of being able to see and understand the world in a way that is different from that of many other children. Your job is to help parents keep these two realities in harmonious balance as you work with them to lay a foundation for a lifetime of joyous learning.

The above excerpt is from Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms by Ann Gadzikowski. The book also includes a wealth of information on assessing and identifying gifted children, adapting curriculum to meet their needs, classroom strategies for several topics children often excel at, and resources for further assistance.

Challenging exceptionally bright children


How to get started with Parent Engagement

July 15, 2015

From the Washington Post to Education Week, the topic of parent engagement has been making headlines. Some states are now including parent engagement as a component of evaluation for both teachers and curriculums. Grants specifically for engagement programs are increasing, but with more specific strategy requirements.

As Patricia A. Spradley, one of Education Week’s 2015 Leaders to Learn From, says, “’strategic and intentional programs,’ developed using student data and research, now are having a much greater impact on student learning”(Reid, 2015). So how do you, the educator, begin to foster relationships with families to meet the increased desire for engagement?

Parent with child

Take your time

Relationships don’t develop after the first drop off, especially not lasting ones. Take your time and be committed to the process. Be available, but in a way that works for both you and the parents. Quick conversations, emails, and other short forms of communication can go a long way in developing trusting relationships. Just be yourself and only share within your personal boundaries.

Be proactive with information

Being forthcoming with information helps build trust and if parents know they can help children understand experiences and lessons. If you have information to share that is of a sensitive nature keep a few things in mind:

  • Begin with assurances that everything is okay.
  • If you don’t know how a parent will react, don’t bring it up in front of the child.
  • Talk to the parent out of earshot of other parents.
  • Make arrangements for a follow-up conversation if needed

Try to see it from the parent’s perspective

Parents want to know information that pertains to their child and what they can do as parents. Don’t use jargon and give general information about the class or age group. Ask yourself these questions to help see it from the parent’s perspective:

  • How does this issue directly affect the parent?
  • What do you want the parent to do?
  • Are you truly listening to the parent’s point of view?

Use active listening and respectful communication to avoid conflict.

Regardless of whether parent engagement is required by your program, it is important because educators and parents have a lot to offer each other and working together creates the best environment for children to learn in.

For more tips, tools, and scenarios to help improve your parent engagement skills check out Parent-Friendly Early Learning and watch for the updated version, Parent Engagement in Early Learning: Strategies for Working with Families, coming in February for even more information on working with modern families and technology for improved parent engagement.

Summer science: Ice Cream in a bag

July 1, 2015

Who doesn’t love a science lesson that you get to eat afterwards? So why not use this National Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day for a fun science experiment – Ice Cream in a Bag.

Ice Cream in a bag

Things to discuss: Changing phases (liquid to solid, solid to liquid); temperature (freezing and melting points); crazy flavor ideas!

ice cream in a bag recipe

Summer, science, and ice cream – sounds like a great day to us.

Source: This recipe comes from Cooking is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook by Marianne E. Dambra

Essential play experiences for a joyful childhood

June 24, 2015

Many of us remember our childhoods with a sense of nostalgic joy. We remember our toys, playing in the grass, being outdoors. If that is the case, you probably also worry about today’s children.

Are they playing enough? Are they on electronics too much?

Electronic playmates

What you have to remember is that play is play, even when it looks different, and by definition is “an activity that is done purely for pleasure”. Still worried about whether children are getting the play that is important for their development?

Here are five play experiences that can be shared with children for a balanced and joyous childhood . . . and perhaps a little fun on the adult’s part.

Building blocks

  1. Building with blocks

Children love to create and build. While they are building towers they are also developing dexterity and balance, and learning science, design, and physics lessons. If you build with them they learn to work together, communicate, and sometimes even negotiate.

And who doesn’t enjoy knocking the tower down at the end.

  1. Pretending and make-believe Make believe

As a practical use, it is a dress rehearsal for real-life. Pretending to be mommy or daddy or another adult in their life. In its more fanciful form, it is storytelling and pretending to be imaginary creatures such as mermaids or dinosaurs. Regardless of what they are pretending to be it is important for children’s mental health and especially important during stressful times.

  1. Running around like crazy

Physical movement and exercise is important to everyone’s well-being and allowing children to experience that early is important to life long health. Give children the space to run, skip, dance, and just be crazy.

We could all benefit from a little time to let loose and move.

  1. Cuddling something soft and small

Cuddle time

Many people probably remember their special stuffed animal and the unique name they had for it. Or perhaps it is a blanket, t-shirt, or other soft item? Allowing children to latch on to something for a time is one of the first ways children learn to connect with something and helps them practice being kind, helpful, and compassionate.

  1. Laughing, joking, and other general sillinesssilliness

Who doesn’t enjoy hearing a baby’s first laugh or the toddler belly laugh that is filled with pure joy? Humor teaches us to deal with surprises and incongruity. As children age their developing language and cognitive abilities allow for more advanced humor such as word puns. Regardless of age, humor helps us connect and makes it easier to make friends.

These are just half of the essential play experiences you can offer to the children you know. Find out more about these and the other five essential play experiences in Ann Gadzikowski’s newest book, Creating a Beautiful Mess: Ten Essential Play Experiences.

And we would love to hear about your favorite play experiences from your own childhood or those you like to experience with the children in your life today.

Happy Eat Your Veggies Day!

June 17, 2015

It’s national eat your veggies day! Really everyday is a day to eat your veggies, but sometimes that gets forgotten. So in honor of this special day here are a few ideas for working veggies into kid’s everyday activities to create an environment that reflects healthy practices.

  • Include fruits and vegetables of multiethnic selections in your dramatic play area. Think sushi rolls, steamed dumplings, and tortillas . . . these are easy to find now in most children’s toy sections. Avoid cakes and ice cream.
  • Instead of make believe visits to the ice cream parlor or candy store, create props and activities focused on visits to the farmers’ market and the doctor’s office. Or even better, actually go there.
  • Count fruits and vegetables for math lessons and leave the cookies and candies off the table. Berries, carrot coins, and pepper sticks are just a few ideas.
  • Sing songs about healthy practices instead of songs about bubblegum and sugary treats. You might have to do a little internet searching for these songs, but there are some fun ones out there.
  • Pick books for story time that convey positive nutrition and health messages.

Kids really do learn from what they experience and if they have continued exposure to healthy examples it simply becomes a part of who they are.

Breakfast Burritos

Delicious Bell Pepper Breakfast Burritos (The Early Sprouts Cookbook, 2012)

And, of course, we couldn’t leave you without a tasty veggie dish on eat your veggie day J

Recipe breakfast burritos

The Early Sprouts Cookbook, 2012; Redleaf Press

Check out The Early Sprouts Cookbook for more ideas on helping children learn healthy habits for life and recipes that kids love.

The Early Sprouts Cookbook

The Comfort of Little Things: Where the magic awaits

June 10, 2015

We all have things in our pasts, and sometimes in our present, that we allow to hold us back and stall our lives. What if we could change that? What if we could help others not fall into the same trap? Holly Ellisa Bruno did just that, and she documented that journey for others to be inspired by and learn from. This month we are proud to release Holly’s latest book, The Comfort of Little Things: An Educator’s Guide to Second Chances. 

Give yourself a little break and enjoy this excerpt from The Comfort of Little Things . . . 

Where the Magic Awaits: The Worst Becomes the Absolute Best 

Surrendering to the unknown can be hard, if not impossible, for me. Oh sure, I’m a free spirit. I break into song. I get a groove on when Motown pops into my head in the middle of a keynote to five hundred people. I travel the world. I meet new people to love every day.

It’s a good life. And it’s a complex life. We all have pain. We all have sorrow. You have your challenges. I have mine: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My nervous system craves safety and stability. My early years were a Molotov cocktail of beatings, neglect, household mental illness, and blame: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” is one phrase I heard often that still echoes in my head sometimes.

I am not the only one with this history. Abuse and neglect are endured by more children than anyone wants to imagine. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010), 29.1 percent of adults grew up with a substance-abusing household member; 25.9 percent were verbally abused (1611). Even one abused child is one too many.

I have taken this early unhappiness and reconstructed my life into a blessing, thanks in large part to the kindness of so many loving fellow travelers. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, a principal from Christchurch, New Zealand, reminded me as he described the deafening earthquake that flattened his school and annihilated all records and resources. With the help of his teachers, that man picked up the pieces and created a new school that is even more effective.

I trust my life is far richer and my spirit is more resilient than they ever would have been if I had enjoyed an easy beginning. Little things delight me. I have a deep capacity for joy that balances my early experiences with sadness. Today I am grateful for all of it.

I believe I am meant to be an explorer every day of my life. Children surrounding me learn rapaciously. I learn with a similar hunger. In fact, each time I let go of thinking I have the answer, I end up loving my job as an explorer. My brain creates new pathways, and my heart opens just that much more.

So, I made my resolution to be open to a year of second chances, even if it meant I had to let go of my life preservers. Sink or swim? Okay, I would swim, even in cold, choppy waters. Robert Frost reminds me in his poem “A Servant to Servants” that “the best way out is always through.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. But I know there’s more to it. I committed this year to honoring my resolution.

So began my treasure hunt for second chances.

Are you ready to make a change in your own life? Or lead the children in your care to their own second chances? We would love to hear your stories about second chances and the adventures that you’ve had as you create a magical life for yourself and others.

The Comfort of Little Things

Get your own copy of The Comfort of Little Things and start your own journey to the life you were meant to lead. Also check out Holly’s other books including Learning From the Bumps in the Road: Insights From Early Childhood Leaders.

One book’s journey to Syria

June 3, 2015

We often hear that a book can change your life. The right book, in the right hands, can change many lives. We were recently reminded of that fact when we were contacted about our book, Making It Better: Activities for Children Living in a Stressful World by Barbara Oehlberg.

This book has helped teachers and students across the country, but we were touched by the story that came to us about this book’s journey to a place far away from the normal classroom. A place where children and their families have been displaced from their homes. Where violence surrounds them and their country is in collapse. A country that has been at war for years—Syria.

Beryl Cheal, CEO of Disaster Training International and a former teacher and author that we have had the pleasure of working with in the past, recently traveled to Jordan as part of her volunteer work with Salaam Cultural Museum, where she worked with young refugees who have escaped Syria.

My house is burning

Children can work through trauma using art and play, just as this boy expresses his memories of his home burning. [Photo courtesy of Beryl Cheal ; taken in Jordan during work with SCM]

She knows “that children are some of the most vulnerable groups in war and the trauma they experience can affect their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives.” The children in thse photos have survived not only war and violence, but also the trauma of fleeing their homes and living as a refugee. Play Therapy programs are designed to help these amazing young survivors heal.

In such places as in these photos, there are still those that hold out hope for a bright future and see the children as the key to that path. Syria Bright Future is one of those organizations, and through Beryl they contacted us about using Making It Better as part of their program to help the youngest survivors of war heal using play therapy.

Mohammed and face plate

Art therapy helps children use their imagination and work through and understand their emotions during traumatic experiences. [Photo courtesy of Beryl Cheal; taken in Jordan during her work with SCM]


Play therapy

Play therapy [Photo courtesy of Beryl Cheal; taken in Jordan during her work with SCM]

This amazing group of people working with Seattle Cultural Museum, Syria Bright Future are working in the refugee camps of Syria and the surrounding areas. They work directly with the survivors and are training others to do this work, including psychological first aid, building effective communication skills, and support groups for stress management and mental well-being. As Beryl experienced first hand, “a children’s center provides noisy and quiet games and activities that will help children relieve their stress; grieve losses they may have experienced; learn to identify and express their emotions in a safe place; develop and practice creative problem solving and conflict resolution skills; practice being adults; create images which they can destroy and rebuild again; or create stories with happy endings. The basic philosophy of a program is that children can heal through play.”

Counting the camels

Group time lets these children spend quality time together having fun. [Photo courtesy of Beryl Cheal; taken in Jordan during her work with SCM]

Can I read it

Children gather to share a familiar folk tale. [Photo courtesy of Beryl Cheal; taken in Jordan during her work with SCM]

Experts, such as Beryl Cheal, who work with trauma victims “know that when traumatized children receive appropriate services and caring, they can heal.” The work being done by Syria Bright Future, Seattle Cultural Museum, and other organizations will help these children adapt to the difficult circumstances they are facing and thrive to create a brighter future for themselves and Syria.

One book has made but a small difference. What the team needs now are more resources and the most up-to-date materials for working with children facing trauma. If you have any recommendations, please contact us and we will be sure to pass the information on to the teams we have met.

Summer skin safety tips

May 27, 2015

Summer is nearly here and that means more sunshine and playing outdoors. That also means we must be even more aware of protecting the delicate skin of the little ones around us. So here are a few fun cartoons to remind everyone, including the children, of what we should be doing everyday to protect our skin and still have fun.



Cover up


Hot surfaces


Have a safe and fun summer season! Check out Hip on Health for more tips and fun cartoons.

Emergency Medical Services for Children tips and resources

May 20, 2015

Children are not little adults and this is especially true when it comes to treating them in emergency medical situations. That is why EMSC (Emergency Medical Services for Children) has been working with medical facilities at the local, state, and national level since 1991 to make sure as many locations as possible are prepared and trained to work with children.

Today, May 20th, is the national Emergency Medical Services for Children day to help raise awareness of these efforts and increase funding for these important services. So what does this all have to do with you as a teacher, child care provider, or family?

A lot! The important emergency care actually starts before the medical experts arrive on scene. That is why EMSC advocates for everyone being prepared and knowledgeable about at least the most common and basic of accidents and first aid needs.

So here are a few easy things you can do to get prepared.

Create a basic First Aid kit (and keep it stocked)

first aid kit

Source: Redleaf Quick Guide Medical Emergencies in Early Childhood Settings (2007)

Teach children some of the basics of emergency protocol

  • who to call and what to say
  • where emergency contact information is located so first responders can find it
  • keep a list of allergies and immunizations handy and make sure care providers are aware

Great resources to keep on hand:

Guide to give to parents from Emergency Medical Services for Children 

Redleaf Quick Guide Medical Emergencies in Early Childhood Settings – new revised and updated edition coming March 2016!

Take care!


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