Talking with Kids About Bullying

My husband and I discuss emotional health and boundaries in age-appropriate ways with our daughters, who are ages 2 and 4. We especially appreciate using books and Bible stories as practical tools to help our children gain understanding of how to best handle conflict.

Even with kids who are not yet in school, like mine, or children who are homeschooled, bullying is an important topic to address. We’ve dealt with minor instances of bullying at the park, the children’s museum and the public library. Having conflicts with other people is unavoidable! But we can prepare our children and our students for the best way to handle those conflicts.

As a side note, my husband and I also teach our children to check their own behavior and make sure they aren’t bullying others… or even one another!

My favorite picture book for introducing this topic with younger kids is Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Not only is the book cute and relatable, but it outlines 5 important aspects of bullying:

  1. Clear description of bullying behavior.
  2. Clear boundaries established by an adult (the teacher) that apply to all the children (students in the class).
  3. Simple and clear language to say, “That’s not okay.”
  4. Adult involvement and appropriate consequences for the child who demonstrates bullying behavior.
  5. Opportunity for forgiveness and a “second chance.”

For many children who encounter bullying and/or domineering behavior, this is a great way to break down the way to handle that behavior. Llama Llama and the Bully Goat is an excellent resource for home or school use.

Note: If there is a serious, ongoing issue with bullying and your child is involved, please use your discernment on how to ensure your child’s safety and emotional well-being. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from appropriate people such as a classroom teacher or school counselor.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten



Celebrating MLK Jr. & Coretta Scott King

On Monday, January 16th, the United States will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And what a perfect timing.

Many Americans experience genuine and ongoing pain surrounding the events of 2016 that revealed ongoing racial tension in our nation, from police shootings to a gut-wrenching and divisive presidential election. On Monday, we need to be reminded of the incredible dedication of those who have already lived out how to charter these waters of injustice and division…. peacefully.

In a previous post, I wrote about an excellent children’s book on the life of MLK Jr. This week, my children and I read the book Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange.

Beautiful illustrations and poetic text make this book a wonderful read-aloud.  While is not religious in tone, the book describes how Coretta and her husband prayed together for peace and equality, and also referenced the work MLK Jr. did as an ordained minister. This background information helps children to understand an important reason the Kings chose to fight against injustice in a non-violent way. They were acting in obedience to Jesus’ call to Christians to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28).

The book also references Ghandi, who held very different religious beliefs, but chose to act and lead in non-violent ways. Ghandi’s example in India was a source of inspiration to many civil rights activists in the United States.

Coretta Scott proclaims a timely message for our children and for this nation: We can be agents of change within our families, our communities and our country.

And we can do it with respect, dignity and peace.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

Calendar Practice

Happy New Year! January is the perfect time to practice calendar work with your child or students. The book When Lucy Goes Out Walking: A Puppy’s First Year by Ashley Wolff provides a great platform to kick off learning or practicing months of the year.

Having fun learning with the calendar…Although my 4 year old would only smile AFTER taking the picture 😉

My daughters both enjoyed this book. They are dog lovers (although we don’t have one ourselves… yet!) and liked seeing the different activities that puppy Lucy does in each month. They also liked the rhyming text that could be easily incorporated into a poetry unit.

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Read through the book once with your child. Afterward, give your child a calendar and ask them to flip to each new month as you read Lucy Goes out Walking. (If you only have a digital calendar, you could pull that up on a screen or you could purchase a hard copy calendar at the dollar store.)
  • Go through the calendar together, practicing the names of each month in order. Discuss the special events, birthdays or holidays you celebrate during various months each year.
  • Count how many months there are in one year (12).
  • If you speak more than one language, or want your child to learn a second language, this is a great opportunity to practice the months of the year in that language. Check out these fun songs for months of the year in  Spanish and French.

For Teachers:

  • Go through the months of the year as a class. Give students a print-out of the 2017 calendar and ask them to find dates that you say – write out a list in advance. For example, you could say, “Draw a star on April 5th” or “Circle October 1st.” Review as a class.
  • Play this song for your students. Have them point to the month as the song sings each one. (Start at 0:15 to skip ad for the Learning Station).
  • Use this free resource for calendar practice as morning work, a learning station activity, or small-group or whole-group practice.

Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Just ask any parent or teacher or administrator out there: We all want to raise children to have self-esteem and ultimately, to be healthy, responsible and productive members of society. But in the midst of many differing resources and views at our disposal – and oftentimes clamoring for our attention – we find ourselves wondering how to help children develop self-esteem. Especially when it seems difficult to find the time to fit one more thing in to the day!

Still, I believe that it is worth giving time and energy to helping our children develop self-esteem.  As a Christian, I believe that it is even Biblical. (Psalm 139:14 comes to mind: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”) From a standpoint of a parent and an educator, I think that building self-esteem in a child starts with affirmation from the important adults in their lives. This affirmation should be:

  • Genuine. We’ve all been able to tell when someone is half-hearted in their praise of us or others. Kids can tell, too! Make an effort to be honest with your child/students, and don’t feel compelled to say something you don’t mean in order to boost their self-esteem. If it’s hard for you to think of things to praise, set aside some time in your day or week to write down ideas. Ask your spouse or family members for ideas, or your colleagues if you are a teacher working with students.
  • Clear. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Good job!” or “Way to go!” but long-term, those phrases don’t give specific feedback to your children or students. Even though it takes more effort – and possibly a little more time – look for opportunities to clearly affirm specific behavior, decisions or character traits you see in your child/student. Name and praise the exact instance of taking initiative, completing a task, demonstrating strength of character, etc.
  • Frequent. No, we don’t need to give children a gold star for every little thing they do in the classroom or at home, or pat them on the back every five minutes. But we should sincerely praise them on an individual and group level with regularity. For parents, it should be on a daily basis. If it’s hard for you to remember, put a sticky note somewhere you’ll see it or program a reminder in your phone. For educators, individual affirmation will vary on the number of students you work with and will take some self-reflection – and maybe discussions with your colleagues – to come up with a frequency that works for you . Whatever that may look like, try to provide whole-group and small-group encouragement on a daily basis. Put a reminder in your lesson plans or attendance records to challenge yourself to meet this goal.

Remember that the more you practice providing genuine, clear and frequent affirmation for your child/students, the more natural it will become. And the more meaningful that affirmation will be to each child’s growing self-esteem.

I can’t end a post without a book! 🙂 For those of you who have young children or work them professionally, I highly recommend the book When I Feel Good about Myself by clinical social worker Cornelia Maude Spelman. There is a wonderful note for adults that precedes the story. The story itself has great sentence starters to encourage your child/students to express what they like about themselves. (And may give you some ideas of what things you can look to praise!)

I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about building self-esteem in children or resources you’ve found to be helpful! Please share in the comments.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

All Kinds of Children

One amazing benefit of reading aloud to your your child/students is the opportunity to share other cultures and perspectives with them. And Norma Simon’s book All Kinds of Children is a terrific resource to help young children understand that people around the world (and in our own communities) have differences… but also similarities that tie us together.

All Kinds of Children has straightforward and engaging text that explains that all children have similar needs – such as eating and sleeping – and how those needs are fulfilled in many ways from family to family or from country to country. There are also phrases such as “all children” and “just like you” that helps young readers grasp that despite those cultural and regional differences, children everywhere have many similarities. The illustrations are colorful and clear, featuring children and people of many nationalities and races.

My daughters and I have read this book over and over again. We have fun comparing foods, clothes, activities and more to what we see in the book and our own lives. This has initiated conversations surrounding diversity and respect for differences while being able to uphold our family’s faith values (although the book itself is not faith-based). With a background in education, I also appreciated that the section on families included step-parents and foster parents because many children have these adult family members.

If you have other recommended books to help young children gain understanding and respect of other people, please share in the comments. 🙂

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • As you read through All Kinds of Children, ask your child to point at the foods, houses, beds, means of transportation that your family uses. Which ones in the illustrations would your child be interested in trying?
  • Have your child fill in an “All About Me” printable using this free one or creating your own. For children who cannot independently write, ask them the questions and then fill in the paper. Allow your child to color or draw a picture when you’re done.

For Teachers:

  • Prior to reading the book aloud, brainstorm with your students what types of things they think children all over the world do every day. Write the ideas on an easel pad or the whiteboard.
  • After reading the book together, review the ideas your class had about what “all kinds of children” do around the world. Which ones were seen in the book? Were there any that your class thought of that were not included?
  • Make copies of a printable “All About Me” – such as this free one or this one for purchase for $1 on Teachers Pay Teachers – and then display on a bulletin board or around the room. Or simply have students write about themselves in their daily notebooks and draw an accompanying picture.





Non-Fiction Winter Book

It’s important to expose our children to non-fiction, at home or in the classroom. I found a fabulous one for this time of year at our public library: Let’s Look at Winter by Sarah L. Schuette. The book explains the weather patterns of winter and how animals and plants go through changes in this cold season.

My preschooler liked reading this book multiple times and we were able to discuss our own observations of winter – both from memory and in light of the current and increasingly cold weather here in the midwest!

This book would be a great read-aloud for young children and an excellent read-to-self book for emergent readers. And it could be easily integrated with a science lesson or unit on climate, weather or seasons.

Check out my previous post, Animal Hibernation, for more winter learning fun.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • With your child, take out family pictures from last winter. While you look at them together, talk about the activities you did together.
  • For young children, print out and play with this free warm weather/cold weather clothing sort from Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • If possible where you live, find some time to play outside in the snow together 🙂

For  Teachers:

  • During calendar or circle time, discuss the 4 seasons. Ask students to describe the weather in each season.
  • Prior to reading the book, take out a box of clothing and ask students to sort the clothes for warm weather and cold weather as a whole class. Then show students the cover of the book and ask which collection of clothes the characters in the book should wear to stay healthy and safe.
  • Set up learning station with activities for winter. Include this warm weather/cold weather clothing sort or these Snow Much Fun Task Cards, both free at Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • During recess or free time, have students complete a relay race. Set piles of winter clothing at one end of the gym and then instruct students to run across the room and put on one item at a time, then give to the next person in line, until all the winter clothes are worn by one team member.



Books on Transportation

There are tons of book out there for young readers on the topic of cars, boats, trucks and construction equipment. My daughters really love reading these books aloud together and I wanted to recommend 4 of the transportation books we have recently read:

Little Tug by Stephen Savage

Four ships befriend one another and help each other as they go about their work in the harbor. Cute illustrations that remind me of the style in classic children’s books from the 1940s and 1950s.

To the Rescue! by Kate Riggs

Simple text with brightly colored illustrations. Great for children or babies who don’t like to sit still for a lengthy read-aloud. 😉

Best Ages: 0-3 years


I Am a Backhoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines

The perfect book for any children with imagination! A boy pretends to be various large trucks as he plays.

My Car by Byron Barton

Our children’s librarian frequently reads aloud books by author/illustrator Byron Barton. This is probably my favorite and my girls enjoy reading it aloud over and over. Wonderful descriptions of how people use a car.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

Read a Book that Makes a Difference

I was so happy to find a book that really seems to make a difference! One Tree by Leslie Bockol may look similar to other board books out there, but in addition to being printed on 98% recycled materials using soy-based ink, the book contains a sizable amount of text that makes it appropriate for preschool readers.

My preschool daughter asked me to re-read this book many times when we borrowed it from the library. She learned how a tree changes over the seasons, how it provides shelter and food for animals and how one of its seeds turns into a sapling over many years.

There are terrific notes in the back on the topics of “How do Trees Affect Us?” and “Save the Trees!” This is a great springboard for discussions on ecology, environmentalism and conservation with a preschooler.

Out of curiosity, I searched a bit and found that the publisher’s website has more green books, puzzles, games and more! These could make great gifts for birthdays, baby showers or Christmas for environmentally-friendly shoppers.

Happy reading 🙂

Best Ages: 0-4 years old

Horses: Trotting! Prancing! Racing!

The highlight of our family trip to the northern woods last month was the trail ride we took on horseback. My youngest daughter rode with my husband, while my oldest daughter rode with me. (She chattered the entire time, she was so happy and excited!)

Our first horseback ride as a family.

When we came back home from that wonderful trip, my daughters continually talked about our memorable horseback ride through the beautiful autumn woods. They asked many questions about horses – so naturally we found a lovely picture book about horses at the public library. 🙂

Horses: Trotting! Prancing! Racing! by Patricia Hubbell is a solid book to teach about popular breeds of horses and to describe the array of duties and activities horses complete. From herding cows to dancing in the circus, children will learn about the many things a horse can be trained to do.

I recommend this book to include in an animal study unit or for children who are simply interested in horses. Enjoy!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Look in your area for horseback riding opportunities at local stables or farms. Or check out a local petting zoo that has a horse or pony. Hayrides and sleigh rides could be fun, too!
  • Go through the book after reading and ask your child to describe what the horses are doing in each picture. Ask: If you were a horse, which job would you prefer?
  • Create a fun and easy horse craft using paper plates and paint.

For Teachers:

  • Ask students if anyone has ever ridden a horse or seen a horse up close. What was it like?
  • Once you’ve read the book aloud, create a list of the jobs horses can do.
  • Bring in a horse in the form of a stuffed animal, puppet or toy. Have your class vote on what job they would give the horse if it were real, based on the examples in the book.
  • Cut out horseshoes from white or gray paper and have students paint or color. Hang the completed horseshoes up on a wall or as the border for a bulletin board. (Check out these free horseshoe printables for easy photocopying!)



Teaching Sensitivity to Young Children

We were walking home from the park when my preschooler loudly said, “That man is bald, just like Uncle B!” The man, who was on his knees gardening, looked up and then continued to work. My husband said hello and commented on the beautiful weather while I just smiled and felt my face heat up to a nice bright red.

Kids will just blurt things out, right?

But sometimes those blurted observations can be more hurtful than humorous. How do we teach our young children, whether parents or caregivers or educators, to be sensitive to others?

I don’t have a magic bullet or guaranteed method to teaching sensitivity (which you probably figured out by reading the anecdote above!) but I believe we can help them to learn to be sensitive to others by modeling it in our own speech and actions… and by intentionally selecting books to read that teach children sensitivity. Exposing our children to people who are different in books – whether those differences are in culture, interests, abilities or anything else under the sun – will provide a foundation to discuss how to be sensitive to others in life.

A great starting point is the book Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley. The book has bright and colorful illustrations, rhyming text and thought-provoking statements from a child’s point of view on having a friend who uses a wheel chair. Best Friend on Wheels can help you have conversations in your home or classroom about being sensitive to others.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • If you haven’t before, explain to your child that some people need extra help getting around and may use a wheelchair, just like some people use glasses to help them see better. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
  • Ask what things people found they had in common with Sarah even if they initially didn’t think they would be able to find something in common with a person in a wheelchair. Look back through the book together.
  • Print a picture of your child with his/her best friend. Pull out art supplies and make a collage with the picture glued on to the artwork. Hang it up or give it as a gift to that friend.

For Teachers:

  • Show your students photos of eye glasses, a wheelchair, training wheels and swimming floaties. Ask them why people need to use those items. Remind them that people need help sometimes to do things better (like see, get around or swim), whether temporary or permanent. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
  • Ask students to make a list of the things they like to do with their friends. Remind them that when we have things in common with others, we can have a wonderful friendship with them, even if they look different on the outside.
  • Create friendship collages in small groups. Have each student write down an activity they enjoy doing with a friend on colored paper (lots of ideas in the book!). Have student glue their papers on a pasteboard and use tissue paper, markers and other art supplies to decorate. Ask each group to share their friendship college posters with the rest of the class. Display in your room.